The impact of righteous fathers in the gospel is real. From Christ’s relationship with His own Father to the scripture stories of Lehi and Nephi or Abraham and Isaac, there are principles learned, behaviors modeled and lessons taught. The Church’s Proclamation on the Family states, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.”
Prophets have been some of the most influential men throughout time and are often referred to in scripture as “fathers.” But what kind of men were the literal fathers of the prophets? A look at the fathers of modern-day prophets reveals some interesting and influential men who made an impact in their children’s lives.
Speaking about his own father, G. Spencer Monson, President Thomas S. Monson said: “As I reflect on my own father, I remember he yielded his minuscule discretionary time to caring for a crippled uncle, aged aunts, and his family. He served in the ward Sunday School presidency, always preferring to work with the children. He, like the Master, loved children. I never heard from his lips one word of criticism of another. He personified in his life the work ethic” (April 1992, Ensign, “An Attitude of Gratitude”).
President Gordon B. Hinckley was called as a young man to serve in the Preston England Mission. He arrived not feeling well and met with opposition. Frustrated, he wrote a letter to his father, Bryant S. Hinckley, explaining that he thought he was wasting time and money being a missionary in England. A little while later, Elder Hinckley received a reply from his father. It said, “Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.” President Hinckley explained that the letter from his father made him make one of the best decisions of his life. “With my father’s letter in hand, I went into our bedroom in the house at 15 Wadham Road, where we lived, and got on my knees and made a pledge with the Lord. I covenanted that I would try to forget myself and lose myself in His service” (Ensign, July 1987, p. 7).
The father of President Howard W. Hunter was John William Hunter, whose wife, Nellie, was active in the Church. He would attend occasionally. When young Howard wanted to be baptized his father felt he was not old enough to make such a choice on his own so he asked him to wait until he was older. “But when Howard was 12 years old he approached his father and asked that he be allowed to be baptized,” states LDS.org. “He wanted earnestly to receive the Aaronic Priesthood and be allowed to pass the sacrament. His father consented and he was baptized on April 4, 1920” (Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 2012). While Howard was traveling abroad playing in a band on a cruise ship, his father joined the Church.
George T. Benson was the father of President Ezra Taft Benson and it was said of him that he enjoyed working in the soil of the earth, had a sterling character and helped his children so they could help themselves. “Years later, after George Benson died, his eldest son [Ezra] overheard one of the few non-Mormons in Whitney (Idaho) say, ‘Today we buried the greatest influence for good in Cache Valley.’ Without question, George Benson was a powerful influence in the life of his eldest son” (Sheri Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, pp. 12–14).
Andrew Kimball, the father of President Spencer W. Kimball, was a devout man of faith. People called him energetic, zealous and an advocate of the restored gospel. For 26 and a half years, he presided over the St. Joseph Stake in Arizona. “In the years of his administration the stake developed from a few wards on the Gila River to some seventeen wards and branches of the church, extending from Miami, Arizona, to El Paso, Texas” (Jesse A. Udall, “Spencer W. Kimball, the Apostle from Arizona,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1943, p. 590).
An excerpt from the Presidents of the Church student manual states that President Harold B. Lee’s father, Samuel Marion Lee, was a quiet, compassionate, unassuming and thoughtful man. At age 18, Harold B. Lee became principal at a school in Oxford, Idaho. He said, “Because my father had financed me through school, and I was staying at home, I turned over my paychecks from teaching school to him and then paid my extra expenses by playing in a dance orchestra” (quoted in L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee, 53). Just after being called as an apostle Elder Harold B. Lee said, “I have been blessed with a splendid father.”
Much has been said about the character of Joseph F. Smith, the father of President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was also a prophet of God. Elder Samuel O. Bennion, a member of the Seventy, testified: “I believe that the Lord knew him before he ever came here, and I believe that when Joseph F. Smith was born in Missouri that God knew him, and I believe that Lucifer, the ‘son of the morning,’ knew him, and that he, the adversary of all good, sought to destroy him. I believe that he was recognized by Lucifer, that he was to become a great leader in Israel” (Conference Report, October 1917, 121).
“The older I grow the more grateful I am for my parents, for how they lived the gospel in that old country home. Both father and mother lived the gospel,” said President David O. Mckay. “It is easy for me to realize that one may so live that he may receive impressions and direct messages through the Holy Ghost. The veil is thin between those who hold the Priesthood and those on the other side of the veil. That testimony began in the home in my youth because of the example of a father who honored the Priesthood — and his wife, who sustained him and lived it in the home” (Conference Report, October 1960, pp. 85–86).
Apostle John Henry Smith was the father of President George Albert Smith. He was noted for his love of life and good humor. A fellow apostle, Elder Matthias F Cowley wrote about him: “He is loving and genial to all around him, frank and open in his character, easy to understand, a worthy example for all to follow. To know him is to love him. His disposition is a happy one, his character and record without blemish. He is generous in his feelings for others, is not jealous or envious, but quick to recognize and appreciate the good qualities and talents of others; he is broadminded in his ideas, just, merciful and kind in all his administrations” (gapages.com).
Jedediah M. Grant was a leader of the Church and father of President Heber J. Grant, a future prophet of the Lord. Jedediah died nine days after his son Heber was born, states LDS.org. He served in the First Presidency under Church President Brigham Young from 1854 to 1856 and was known for his fiery speeches. He was given the nickname, “Brigham’s Sledgehammer.” At his funeral, Heber C. Kimball said, “He was valiant, and I loved him. He was a great help to us, and you would be, if you were as valiant as he was, which you can be through faithfulness and obedience” (Journal of Discourses, 3:135-138).
The father of President Joseph F. Smith was Hyrum Smith, the brother of Joseph Smith Jr., the Prophet. He was present for many of the miracles of the Restoration. In a blessing given by his father, Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum was told to “be as firm as the pillars of heaven unto the end of [his] days,” states LDS.org. He was martyred in Carthage Jail along with his brother Joseph who once said, “Brother Hyrum, what a faithful heart you have got! Oh may the Eternal Jehovah crown eternal blessings upon your head, as a reward for the care you have had for my soul!” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), pp. 458–67).
Oliver Snow is the father of Church President Lorenzo Snow. LDS.org states, “Lorenzo’s father was frequently away from home on private and public business. On many occasions Lorenzo was left in charge when he was only a child.” It is believed that Oliver was later baptized after hearing the preaching of early Church missionaries (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1992, p. 857).
The father of President Wilford Woodruff was Aphek Woodruff. He taught his son to work hard and they often worked together at a variety of endeavors. Many times young Wilford was placed in harm’s way by not obeying the counsel of his father (Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 2012). After receiving the gospel, Wilford received a blessing that promised him his father’s family would be baptized into the Church. The prophecy was fulfilled. He said, “It was truly a day of joy to my soul. I had baptized my father, stepmother, and sister, and I afterwards added a number of other relatives. I felt that the work of this day alone amply repaid me for all my labors in the ministry” (Matthias F Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, pp. 91–92).
James Taylor was the father of the prophet, President John Taylor. LDS.org states that “the Taylor family was close-knit and religious, and the children were taught the value of hard work.” His father was a religious man and was a member of the Church of England. After John was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and ordained an elder one of his first converts was his father (Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 2012).
The father of President Brigham Young was John Young, a veteran of three Revolutionary War campaigns under George Washington. “John, a ‘small, nimble, wiry man,’ toiled unceasingly to support his rapidly growing family. But he never lost sight of his moral and religious convictions. ‘He was very circumspect, exemplary and religious,’ wrote Brigham Young, ‘and was, from an early period of his life, a member of the Methodist Church’ ” (August 1980, Ensign, “The Faithful Young Family: The Parents, Brothers and Sisters of Brigham”).
Joseph Smith Sr., the father of the prophet President Joseph Smith Jr., was the first patriarch of the Church. He was a religious man and a great supporter of his son. The prophet Joseph related him to father Adam and said, “So shall it be with my father; he shall be called a prince over his posterity, holding the keys of the patriarchal priesthood over the kingdom of God on earth, even the Church of the Latter Day Saints” (Joseph Smith Papers, Blessing to Joseph Smith Sr, Kirtland, OH, ca. Sept. 1835; in Patriarchal Blessing Book 1, pp. 8–9).
Faithful fathers have made an impact throughout time and will continue to into the eternities. “Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth (Proverbs 4:1-5).”