I have often heard and read, in Mormon circles, that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love his mother.* I suppose this saying is probably also used in evangelical and other conservative Christian circles. It is false.
I submit that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love himself. In so doing, he not only provides an example of self-love to his children, but also refrains from using his children as a means of providing the love that he cannot find within himself. (In the same manner, he can also have a much healthier relationship with his spouse – but that topic is beyond the scope of what I’d like to say here.)
I have been working on self-love a lot since I came out 2-1/2 years ago, and I think that one of the reasons I feel (and most of my children agree) that I am a better father now than I have ever been is because I am able to love myself much better. And because I am better able to love myself, I have more pure love to give to my children. I accept them as they are, and I love them for who they are; not because I want them to conform to some ideal that will provide me with a sense of approval from others. Self-love engenders self-respect and independence from the need to look to others for approval, for validation, for love. For when we feel love is our due, we neither respect those from whom we seek love nor ourselves.
When we do not love ourselves, we seek - even demand - love from others; we become subject to the demands of others; our love for others is conditional, because behind that love is always an expectation that the love will be returned. This is especially true in a father’s relationship with his child(ren). Of course, a lot of this may be subconscious, but the effects of it are not. With each passing year, such effects become increasingly visible, though we may not be able to detect the source or cause.
Many people look upon self-love as egoistical and, therefore, bad. The road to true spirituality and true love, they maintain, is through service to others; forgetting oneself; looking outside oneself for some feeling of self-worth that will eventually flow back from a life dedicated to serving others.
I disagree. Compassion begins with oneself. Love begins with oneself. Even the oft-quoted statement of Jesus as to the second great commandment – to love others as you love yourself – assumes and rests upon loving oneself.
Recently, I wrote in my journal that I have treated myself as a facilitator for most of my life, finding and seeking love in what I DID, not in who I AM. My feelings of self-worth (let alone self-love) were dependent upon doing things for others. I had no value in and of myself; only through what I did (a way of thinking that goes all the way back to the innocent LDS Primary song, “I Am a Child of God”). This was poignantly and paradoxically best expressed in my Mormon patriarchal blessing**, in which the patriarch stated that I would meet and marry someone in the temple for time and all eternity, “IN ORDER THAT the children which bless your union may be born under the covenant of your Heavenly Father.” If that didn’t label me a facilitator, I don’t know what would.
I have fortunately stopped thinking of myself in those terms. I have stopped looking to others’ judgments for validation. In particular, I have stopped looking to others to validate me as a father. I am getting better at loving myself, and I am getting better at telling myself that I am “worthy” to be the father of my children, despite the opinions of others. I have learned to trust my love for my children and believe that it is “good enough.” And that I don’t have to apologize to anyone for who I am as a person or as a father.
Back to the children. I love them for who they are, not who they are “supposed” to be. I am better able to do this now because I love myself for who I am, not who I am “supposed” to be. I am better able to offer them love because I have it to give, asking nothing in return, hoping that my example might help them to love themselves, not because of what they DO, but for who they ARE.
* This was originally published a few months ago on another blog. From time to time, I will re-publish posts from former blogs of mine that are now closed. I also am gradually moving posts over to this blog from one of my previous blogs, "Joseph's Journeyings."
** In the LDS Church, each stake (group of congregations) has a "patriach" who is recommended for the position by the stake president and confirmed in the position by the general authorities of the church at its headquarters in Salt Lake City. This patriarch gives "blessings" to (generally) teenagers (but also to new converts such as I was) that is believed to consist of inspired direction for that person's life. It is, so far as I am aware, a practice that is unique to the Mormon Church.