Last Sunday, I blessed Alison Edra Fox in sacrament meeting. It was a mob scene; for reasons far too complicated to go into here, all of my six brothers were present in the circle, as was my younger sister’s fiance, my father and father-in-law, a couple of friends and the bishop. We barely had room on the stand.
I’ve blessed three children now, and I’m still not sure what I’m doing, or why I say what I do. Am I saying a prayer, expressing my fondest fatherly hopes and wishes for my child with as much faith as I can muster? Am I, on the other hand, exercising a kind of patriarchal power, making certain promises (contingent upon my daughter’s obedience, perhaps?) on her behalf? A little bit of both?
Frankly, as may have come through in other contributions I’ve made to this blog, I’ve never been especially comfortable with the idea that I can make certain covenants, fulfill certain callings, perform certain acts, and be assured that the Lord will be bound to respond in a certain way. The Lord will do what He will do; that has always struck me (or at least, ever since I started thinking about these sorts of things) as a truer theology. But I’ve never wanted more to be a Grant von Harrison-“drawing on the power of heaven”-type believer than when I’ve stood in a circle, giving a name to my daughters. I want them to be happy, and sensitive to the spirit, and healthy, and free from depression and doubt and fear, and I want them to have good marriages and decent educations and be loving to all around them and to never grow up, ever. Broadly speaking, is any of that in my power? Can I seal anything upon my daughters’ heads? Or is the power to truly act as a patriarch–in the scriptural sense–to one’s own family lost when one assumes a “modern” family ethos, as I admittedly have?
I was struck by Jim’s comment, in his second Sunday School post, that we find in 1 Nephi statements about handing down records which are phrased in an intriguing way: Lehi wished to “preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children” (5:21). Normally we would simply say “for our children,” but the language here may be revealing. When I do something “for” my girls, I am interacting with them, setting something up for them, aiding them in a contemporaneous project, inserting myself in their lives; I am present to them. Were I to do something “unto” my children, on the other hand, it would make me think of delivering something to them, perhaps from afar, perhaps from the grave; I don’t think such a locution implies presence. For better or worse, that insight of Jim’s helps me express very well what little (or is it little?) I feel I can offer my children in blessing them. Melissa and I have recorded each of the baby blessings I have given, and typed them up to preserve them for our girls. When I have given them, I have striven to express, not necessarily my hopes (though obviously they are there), but principles and ideas that may be of some use to our daughters someday; most specifically, in perhaps helping them recollect our (and God’s) love for them, should any of them ever doubt that fact. So none of my blessings have ever mentioned temple marriage, mission service, callings or schooling or anything else particularly specific. That may very well be a real failure on my part: a failure to truly step up to the plate and put myself into my daughter’s life as her father. My talk about giving a blessing “unto” my daughter, rather than specifically making promises “for” her, may be a rationalization of my lack of patriarchal faith. But right or not, that is how I have always felt in those circles (even this most recent, very tight one): as if I am looking at an impossibly distant object, my child, grown and almost gone, and all I can do is offer up my heart and throw it upon the waters, and pray she picks it up someday: for she is already, even as an infant, so much larger and so much further away than anything I could ever hold.