The comments on the Growing Fatherlessness post have been an occasion of deep, deep thought for me, and prayer for one commenter in particular, New Divorcee. I learned several years ago to simply shut up and listen, actively listen to women when they speak as they have here.
This is a topic that deserves more than a drive-by posting, and so I return with the greatest respect for the women who have offered searing insight and commentary, because I believe their voices ought not be buried in that thread. A few quotations from the thread (which really should be read in its entirety for ALL of the women who posted) and a few thoughts of my own in response.
Mary Catherine responding to New Divorcee:
“What I can’t see is how to break the cycle. He can’t provide what he doesn’t know and what he isn’t mentally well enough to offer. I can’t be the father that he should be and I can’t give him the skills to do it, I can only be the mother that I am. I just don’t see where the healthy substitute father figures are supposed to come from, and there sure don’t seem to be enough of them available.”
Yup. These men can’t give what they don’t have. We learn to be mothers because our biology really does help us along.
But men have it much tougher and maybe that’s why the example of a living breathing at-home father is so very important.
And of course the media message is that fathers are useless dumb-asses whom women can do without anyway.
Donna responding to Gerard Nadal:
“What feminism has destroyed is mutual respect, which starts with an understanding and acceptance of the fact that men and women are very different creatures.”
Indeed we are very different creatures.
However, Gerard, there is more to “mutual respect” than that. It’s treating your spouse – regardless of the gender difference, and regardless of their financial contribution – as your equal. Conservatives, including my father, will never own up to the fact that the caste system at home was a driving force of feminism. I grew up in a home where my stay-at-home mom was nothing more than an indentured servant. My father made ALL of the decisions, regardless of my mother’s wishes. If she asked for help with the children, she was told, “That’s YOUR job.” That is the short version of what she endured. And she is one of MANY who endured the same. It wasn’t a picnic for us children, either. We would have been better off without my father.
So much for the Biblical quotes (Ephesians, et al) about cherishing one’s wife. Nice concept. Realistic? Not so much. (My parents were Catholic, for what it’s worth.)
I will confess myself disappointed and distressed by the continual focus, in homily and the prayer life of the Church, on vocations to the priesthood and religious life while the vocation of marriage and the foundation of a stable society just crumbles around us.
(I’ve been saying the same for years, Geek Lady.)
Getting to the roots of the alienation that produces these rates of fatherlessness:
I heartily agree with Donna on the need to treat one’s spouse as an equal. However, radical feminism’s conceptualization of equality is that of identicalness; that which we are not, nor shall we ever be.
The equality so sorely lacking is one of establishing an authentic communion of persons through the acknowledgement of our complementary differences which are to be celebrated and not held in derision. Along this line of thought, Geek Lady has written a brilliant commentary in the rest of her comment on the loss of women’s unique contributions to family and home life post-World War II, which set the stage for radical feminism.
New Divorcee, barring the specifics of her husband’s emotional difficulties, makes the prescient observations:
“I just don’t see where the healthy substitute father figures are supposed to come from, and there sure don’t seem to be enough of them available.”
Mary Catherine rightly responds that the men cannot give what they haven’t got.
If I may suggest to young men, it is our wives who are the font of life in marriage.
Young men are testosterone-fueled and pretty untamed in their perceptions of love and sexuality. Pornography has only catered to their adolescent expectations of what sexual union is all about. Not only is the porn devoid of love and commitment, but the acts themselves bear little resemblance to the sexual expression of love and devotion. They are devoid of all tenderness and affection.
My counsel to young men is that we men can only learn the language of conjugal love from our wives, in the context of a lifetime commitment. If we are to forge the bonds of intimacy necessary for a lifetime of commitment, we must enter into the inner sanctum of women’s being with reverence, much as one enters a house of worship.
It is there that men learn to “settle down”, because it is there that we encounter the civilizing influence of women’s very nature, which is love. Men who don’t do this do not develop meaningful and lasting sex-lives with their spouses. They fail in the expressions of intimacy in all other areas of the marriage as well.
In marriages marked by reverence, men learn to slow down, to appreciate beauty, to learn the language of communion from our wives, or we never learn it at all. If we fail to establish communion with our spouses, we fail at the next step, which is fatherhood beyond the biological act of reproduction. It takes tenderness as well as strength to be a good father.
The commitment to our children ought to flow freely from the commitment to our wives. We learn much of that nurture from our wives if we’re wise enough to open ourselves to it.
Of course, with every pre-marital sex buddy, we diminish the fundamental capacity to enter with reverence into women’s inner sanctum. We learn to avoid that encounter during the sowing of wild oats, as the consequences are simply too messy and unsustainable for a lifestyle of casual sex.
So to answer New Divorcee’s question, we break the cycle by being very honest with our children about the language of conjugal love and how it is learned. In so doing, we reveal to our young the great dignity of women and their civilizing influence, without which marriages and society crumble, as duly noted by Geek Lady.
And yes, we need to let our sons know that they will be perfected as men in marriage only if they learn to make that encounter with women on women’s turf, in women’s inner sanctum.
Those who reject God’s wise design in a lifestyle of promiscuity make their path so much more difficult than the process of mutual submission is, and learn to scoff bitterly at scriptural injunctions to do so.
The perversion of promiscuity is the very perversion of mutual submission.
My generation has raised this to an art form.
In the end, the epidemic of fatherlessness is the expression of despair that mutual submission could ever be a reality, that the authentic communion of persons is nothing more than an abstract theological construct.
Whether we have come to these truths through a lifetime of faithful obedience to God, or have learned through the painful consequences of past infidelity to God, we need to break the cycle by witnessing to the great dignity of women’s civilizing influence, as well as the great power and dignity of male sexuality perfected by women’s love.