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Marriage and Family — Then and Now

BLOG #19, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY—THEN AND NOW
May 11, 2016

During the last few weeks as I have been leafing through thousands of old magazines, gradually, just as is true with photographic negatives developing in a tray, an image has been evolving of the American family during the first half of the twentieth century. A number of things contribute to it: magazine cover art, story illustrations, advertising illustrations, story plots, cartoons, quotations, articles, essays, etc.

The century began with an almost stereotypical template of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Initially, there was a very clear line of demarcation between male roles and female roles. Boys were expected to be strong, somewhat reluctant to exhibit emotion, masculine, competitive, work-driven, and dominant. Girls were expected to be soft, loving, emotional, dependant, homemakers-in-training, spiritual, care-givers, and appreciators of fine arts.

As I read or scanned through stories, again and again I was jolted by teenage and young adult women who were motivated to flower and achieve . . . up until a certain point: when the male has made good in the job world, has enough money to invest in a home, and proposes, the female is expected to surrender the rest of her life to him. “Love, honor, and obey” were wedding vows. In most cases, the male would assume almost total control over the purse. The jolt, for me, came in reading love stories in which the male would often threaten to spank, or actually spank, the female. Once married, women were regularly ridiculed, demeaned, and (in jokes and cartoons) depicted as being inferior to the male in judgment and decision-making.

Then came 1914-1918; during World War I, women filled many of the roles heretofore filled by males (now serving in the Armed Forces). After the war, women were more than a little reluctant to be pushed back into their boxes. World War II (1939-1945) accelerated the change in roles. I could see it changing in the fiction carried in popular magazines.

The major shifts came later, no small thanks to birth-control. Thanks to it, women had a say in whether or not they were to remain in thrall by almost perpetual pregnancies. All this was followed by Women’s Lib, the gay movement, deconstructionism, secularization, cohabitation out of wedlock, substance abuse, and a resulting major shift in male self-worth.

Which brings me to Frank Bruni’s April 10, 2016 New York Times column: “Building a Better Father.” Here are some of his observations:

“As a child I was schooled constantly in how different mothers and fathers were. TV shows spelled it out. . . . A mother’s love was supposedly automatic, unconditional. A father’s love was earned. Mothers nurtured, tending to tears. Fathers judged, prompting them.

“And while mothers felt pressured to lavish time and affection on their children, fathers could come and go. As long as they did their part as providers, the rest was negotiable.”

Then Bruni references a new book, Ron Fournier’s Love That Boy. In it, Fournier admits that it took his wife’s command (tougher than a request) that he spend more time with his twelve-year-old son who was battling autism and Aspergers. . . . Fournier’s narrative, however, ends up addressing fatherhood, then and now.

“He examines his paternal feelings and failings with a nakedness that was rare in fathers of a previous generation. He wrestles soulfully with what kind of father he is and means to be. He weeps. He trembles.

“And he mirrors many of today’s dads, who are so changed from yesterday’s. In Fournier I saw my two brothers, who don’t adore their children any more than our father adored us but who do it with a gentler, tenderer touch, unafraid to broach discussions and display emotions that most men once shrank from. . . .”

“According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, men spend almost three times the number of hours a week with their children than they did half a century ago. And they feel conflicted about not devoting more. While 23 percent of mothers said they shortchanged their kids on time, 46 percent of fathers did.”

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I know that one of my own biggest regrets, in terms of my involvement with our two children during their growing-up years, was that I let my wife carry a disproportional percentage of the load—especially time-wise. In a homily I recently gave to parents of third-grade students in six area elementary schools in our Colorado mountain community, here are some thoughts I shared with them.

Friends, up to now, everything we’ve said and done today has had to do with your kids; but now, I’d like to share some thoughts and concerns with you:

As I look back through the years to the time our children were young like yours, I can’t help but realize I failed to take full advantage of those crucial years. I had other priorities that seemed more important at the time. In the process, I let my wife bear a disproportionate share of the load at home.

But there came the day when I was shocked by the discovery that our children were already bridging to mentors other than us. If the speed of child growth could be accelerated and shown on a screen, we’d realize that our children were changing all the time—there are no plateaus in a child’s life. So I can tell you, from personal experience, that the sobering day will come all too soon to you too, and you will look at your spouse and say,’We’re all but through; whatever they are now, our children are likely to be as adults. Our window of opportunity to make a significant difference in the trajectory of their lives is closing.

So I urge each of you, in the time you have left, to make your children your #1 priority. Institute a daily story hour and spend that precious time moulding their characters while you still have time to do so. May God bless each of you and the children entrusted to you.

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TO MOTHER’S HOUSE WE GO — MAYBE

BLOG #3, SERIES #7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
TO MOTHER’S HOUSE WE GO – MAYBE
January 20, 2016

The title of Quoctrung Bui and Claire Cain Miller’s December 24, 2015 New York Times column was “Short Ride to Mom’s House Reveals a Changing America.”

In it the authors explore the changing demographics that are impacting today’s decisions having to do with holiday observance. The long-held assumption has been that, at least at Christmas and Thanksgiving, it was a given that adult children would make any sacrifices it took to travel long distances to be with family on such yearly high days.

But the reality contradicts perceptions: Today’s typical adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother; only 20% live more than a couple hours (driving time) from their parents. Surprisingly, over the last few decades, Americans have become more insular, less mobile than before. Especially is this true for those with less education or lower incomes.

So, why is this change? Chief is that our federal government offers less help for family caregivers than is true for many other affluent nations. When Social Security was enacted, few Americans lived to be older than 65. Not so today: more and more, Americans are living into their 70s, 80s, 90s, and even 100s. Result: with multiple generations depending on each other for support, baby boomers needing more care as they age, two-income families seeking child-support assistance, and jobless adult children moving back in with their parents, families are becoming ever more dependent on each other.

Women are most likely to be the caregivers since they tend to significantly outlive men.

Wealthier people can afford to pay for such things as child-care and elder-care; the same is not true for low-income people. As a consequence, wealthy people who can afford such services tend to live greater distances from the rest of their families. However, even middle-class families are increasingly finding it necessary to live close to each other.

Interestingly enough, Northeasterners and Southerners tend to live close to their families. West Coastal and Plains people tend to live farther apart. Married people live farther apart than do singles. Women are less likely to leave their home towns than are men. Blacks are more likely to live near their parents – especially their mothers – than are Whites. Because of many factors, especially the breakdown of the nuclear family, over one-third of today’s children are being raised by grandparents.

One thing is all but certain: in the future, America will have to be more creative in providing more options so that aging parents can be given the needed care necessary to remain in their own homes rather than turning to institutional care, which is getting ever more expensive.

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THE CHILD IS FATHER OF THE MAN

“My heart leaps up when I behold
       A rainbow in the sky:
So it was when my life began;
So it is now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old.
     Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man.”
                 —Wordsworth

The child is also, of course, father, mother, of the woman.

When we consider the fact that half of what we learn in life takes place before we ever step foot into a formal classroom, it makes little sense to continue blaming our schools for our plunging test scores.   For several generations now (not coincidentally, beginning with the introduction of television in American homes after World War II), literacy test-scores have been in free-fall; so much so that our nation has dropped out of the company of the leading nations of the world and now finds itself in embarrassing third-world company literacy-wise.

Somewhere during the last three generations, the intellectual, moral, and spiritual education of our children has taken a back-seat to creature comforts and ever larger homes.  Paradoxical, isn’t it, that at the very time our homes are getting ever larger (larger than is true of any other nation on earth), the parenting/educating within those homes has proportionally decreased.  At an ever earlier age, we shove our children out of the house into child-care facilities and kindergartens. All this to avoid the God-given responsibility to be there for our child.

For each day, each moment, our pre-school child is becoming.  Never again in his/her lifetime will growth occur at such blinding speed.  Indeed, so much of a sponge is the child’s brain that linguists maintain a child could master 50 languages by the age of six!

Up until World War II, no higher priority was there for American parents than being there for one’s children.  As a result, each generation’s children earned ever higher degrees (and ever-higher paychecks) than did the one before.

That is no longer true.

Jackie Kennedy famously noted that the older she got the more convinced she became that no amount of fame, position, or income could possibly compensate for having failed as a parent.

In my own life, I owe whatever success has come my way to having been blessed by parents who considered me, my brother Romayne, and my sister Marjorie to be their #1 priority in life.  Because we were missionary kids, I was home schooled for 14 of the first 16 years of my life.  During those early years I was ferried once a week to the nearest American library where I checked out as many books as I could stagger home with.  As a result, guided by my remarkable mother (an elocutionist who had memorized thousands of pages of short stories, poetry, and readings), I devoured library after library—and have never quit.  My brother became an internationally known concert pianist, earning two doctorates in music, in Austria.  And my sister became an award-winning artist with the brush.

There is an epidemic of home schooling taking place in our nation right now.  It is hard for me to admit this—being the product of two masters degrees and a doctorate, and having dedicated 34 out of 36 years to formal Christian education in my pre-publishing career—admit that today I have grave doubts about the effectiveness of our current formal education template: ever larger classes, ever less time to devote to individual students, ever more complex bureaucratic paper-work to deal with, unable to so much as touch or hug a child without being accused of molestation, graduate students being forced to take classes from graduate assistants so that their ostensible faculty may continue to churn out scholarship no one reads. . . .  This litany could go on.

But I must return to the beginning: the home.  For it is the home alone—the mother and father working hand-in-hand, led by God—that holds the answer to the sad case of Little Boy Blue.  And each time such a twosome determine to sacrifice whatever it takes to be there, be home whenever the child is home during the growing-up years (for at least one parent—be it mother or father—to be there to answer all the tens of thousands of “whys?” that each small child fires machine-gun style each day); to take the time to themselves be the pulpit, to control the avenues to their children’s hearts, minds, and souls; to establish a daily story hour during which values worth living by may be internalized; to make possible the serenity which alone can enable each child to dream…. 

            Ah!  To dream:

“We grow great by dreams.  All big men and women are dreamers.  They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s evening.  Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which always comes to those who hope that their dreams will come true.”

                                                            —Woodrow Wilson

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See you next Wednesday.