MEN IN AMERICA
Few issues touch hearts as deeply as those affecting families. From the 1992 presidential debates to the disputes between parents and school boards, from the Focus on the Family fans to the homosexual community’s quest for legalized one-sex “families,” our nation struggles with family matters. Exploring books expressing various views is one way to at least understand some of the concerns which abound.
Let me first recommend a fine book by a good friend and colleague, Dean Nelson, entitled New Father’s Survival Guide: Devotions for the First Year of Parenthood (Minneapolis: Augsburg, c. 1994). Prompted by his wife, Marcia, Dean kept a journal, reflecting on various aspects of parenthood, continually aware that “What the world needs now are stable, mentally healthy moms and dads who love God and take their roles as parents seriously” (p. 49).
From the uncertainties and anticipations of pregnancy, through the childbirth classes, to the marvelous birth of Blake, readers share the inner longings and fears, the apprehension and wonder, of a father who accepts a child as a gift from God. Once the baby arrived, momentous changes transformed the Nelson home. The house itself was altered to suit its newest inhabitant. The parents’ schedule shifted dramatically to accommodate the baby’s time-clock. Priorities concerning work and leisure suddenly had a new focus.
The book divides into thirty chapters, styled as a devotional book with Scripture references suggesting a theme and closing prayers imploring divine assistance. As those of us who know Dean would expect, careful observations and humorous insights enliven the meditations. More important: the love and joy of a dad pervade the pages–a love which comes from God and needs to be channeled through parents to children.
The book’s final prayer makes a provides a fine summation of its message: “Father, you participate every moment with your creation, and you take such delight in it. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your joy by making us parents. We delight in these good gifts. Because of them we will never be the same” (p. 128).
New Father’s Survival Guide makes a perfect Father’s Day gift, and I assume any father reading it would remember with Dean the joys and anxieties of caring for a youngster. (I gave a copy to my dad, and he read it half-way through before he could put it down, which is a high compliment for any author!) Even non-fathers such as I, however, can learn important lessons while perusing it and share with its author in the simple joy of life. Great book, Dean!
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John Paul II has issued an important encyclical, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1993) which deserves the attention of Protestant as well as Catholic Christians, whether or not one agrees with certain traditionally Catholic teachings on such issues as birth control and divorce.
In the Pope’s judgment, “Willed by God in the very act of creation, marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ and have need of His graces in order to be healed from the wounds of sin and restored to their ‘beginning,’ that is, to full understanding and the full realization of God’s plan” (p. 13). The family, in fact is “the first and vital cell of society” (p. 67). Still more: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (p. 129).
Surveying the contemporary scene, John Paul sees a mix of “bright spots and shadows for the family today.” Clearly there are a multitude of shadows–such things as divorce, loss of proper authority or authoritarian wielding of power, abortion. “At the root of these negative phenomena,” he says, in an important passage, “there frequently lies a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being” (p. 17). We urgently need to recover the wisdom and sense of responsibility which have always sustained traditional families.
What we most need is to recover God’s plan for marriage and family. In revealing Himself to us as a loving God, He seeks to draw us into a lasting, loving, covenant relationship. Reflecting that is the “covenant of conjugal love which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator. A person’s freedom, far from being restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every form of subjectivism or relativism and is made a sharer of creative Wisdom” (p. 23).
Christians who marry should work with God to be what He designed them to be: a family. Doing so constitutes the heart of our calling, our vocation as believers. “To bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage is one of the most precious and most urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time” (p. 35).
Both men and women are equally called, equally dignified as created in God’s image. Their roles in marriage, however, have durable distinctions. In particular, the pope says that “society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home,” that a family should be able to live on a man’s income (p. 40). The husband must accept the responsibility of providing for his family–providing not only material goods but emotional and spiritual strength and guidance.
Families, of course, include children. In procreating, parents are “cooperators in the Love of God the Creator.” To parents are given the marvelous opportunity of transmitting life, of replenishing the species. As Love, God gave us life. His Love, indwelling the love of a man and a woman should overflow into the loving gift of life to their children.
Once blessed with children, parents must accept the responsibility for their education. Nurturing children means caring for their hearts and minds as well as their bodies. Parents have a unique role in helping children develop, guiding their emergent, blossoming beauty. Parents educate by involving youngsters in the life of the Church, teaching them in the home, praying with them. Indeed, John Paul says: Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother–exercising their royal priesthood–penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface” (p. 89).
This encyclical solidly roots itself in Scripture and Church Tradition, giving Christians of all sorts some valuable foundational perspectives upon which families may securely rest.
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One of the main trouble spots plaguing the modern family is the absent father, identified by Weldon M. Hardenbrook as Missing From Action: Vanishing Manhood in America (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, c. 1987). Hardenbrook once served on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ and now pastors an Orthodox church in Santa Cruz, California. In his judgment, “the American male is in a fundamental struggle for his identity” in part because of “the touch of feminizing forces that have taken over the land” (p. 7).
Despite the widespread media attention to the plight of women in America, Hardenbrook contends the nation’s men are, in areas which really matter, even more benighted. “In almost every way measurable, the stresses of modern life now seem more damaging to men than to women” (p. 9). They die sooner, suffer more diseases, commit suicide more frequently, are more addicted to various substances, kill each other more frequently, get imprisoned more often. Other than making more money for a few years, men have little in their favor!
Complicating this, Hardenbrook believes, men have retreated, abandoned the challenge to be truly masculine. “The single most devastating factor contributing to the feminizing of American males is the desertion of families by their fathers. Writer Edwin Cole insightfully notes that ‘the absentee father is the curse of our day.’ It is a national plague that is reshaping the very foundations of U.S. society” (p. 80).
Modern men evade their rightful roles by asserting their “masculinity” in false ways, strutting about in a macho style, pretending to be clones of “the Duke, Dirty Harry, and Rambo”–movie models all! Or they play the bumbling Archie Bunker. Or the “world-class wimp: Dagwood Bumstead.” Even worse, some assume the ambiguous stance of “gender blenders” such as Michael Jackson and Boy George.
We need real men, not media models. We need males who recover a vision of what it means to be husbands and fathers. “Real masculinity involves a willingness to remain committed to loved ones no matter what circumstances arise,” Hardenbrook says. For too many men in America, however, it’s been reduced to playing roles on stages, to “starring” in athletic contests, rather than learning how to live at their fathers’ sides.
In traditional, patriarchal cultures before the Industrial Revolution, a boy spent the first few years at his mother’s side, enjoying her nurturing love. But when he was seven or eight, he moved to his father’s side and began to do the work necessary on farm or shop. Such a young man in a patriarchal culture easily established a healthy sense of identity.
The past 200 years, however, have witnessed the emergence of an socio-economic system which dissolved patriarchal bonds. Traditional rites of passage, important for young men in all cultures, slipped away, only to be replaced by such activities as “getting into fistfights, drinking booze, and having sex outside a marital relationship” (p. 52).
Along with the Industrial Revolution, Hardenbrook points to the wave of revivals in America’s Second Great Awakening as a source of men’s discomfort. Charles G. Finney and the revivalists appealed to “feelings and emotions” rather than “manly characteristics, such as courage, aggressiveness, and a desire for justice” (p. 58). Thus there appeared a “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” sizably at variance with the New Testament portrait.
Consequently, many men in the Victorian Age, a century ago, abandoned their calling to spiritual leadership. They left it up to women to support the church (largely running the Sunday school, for example), to rear the children, to teach school children. Young boys, constantly taught by women in school and Sunday school, often turned rebellious, causing discipline problems in class, dropping out of church rather than attend Sunday school. So men went AWOL. They detached themselves, emotionally if not physically, from their main responsibility, the family. In time, many refused to marry. In Hardenbrook’s opinion, single men in America are “the epitome of irresponsible self-indulgence. These spoiled, self-serving, self-seeking brats live in singles apartments and frequent singles bars; a primary goal is to try to find a mate for the night” (p. 109).
The answer for us, as for cultures in the past, he says, is a resolute return to patriarchy. Here Hardenbrook holds up Job as a model for emulation. Job’s sense of continuity with the past, his concern for his children, his commitment to justice, his concern for permanent things, his wisdom and pursuit of God, all make him a model to follow. Like Job, today’s men face challenges: “A moral and a spiritual war is raging in our land that can be won only by men who know who they are and who are willing to confront the enemies of authentic manhood” (p. 136). That means restoring patriarchy as the only legitimate familial structure. In a patriarchy the father’s given a charge to keep: taking responsibility for wife and children.
After listing some of the “marks of manly love,” Hardenbrook challenges America’s men to return to their calling, to be real men. Men need to move back into school classrooms, teaching children. They need to accept responsibilities in the church, assuming positions of spiritual leadership there as well as in the home. They need, desperately, to embrace and live according to a standard of sexual purity. They need to be “gentlemen,” recovering some of the chivalry, the courtly courage and civility of earlier eras.
Just as Pope John Paul II’s encyclical gives us a Roman Catholic perspective, so Hardenbrook’s treatise sets forth an Orthodox view on the family. Both speak from traditions rooted in antiquity, giving guidance to Christians concerned with the continuity of viable communities of faith.
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Twenty years ago George Gilder published Sexual Suicide, then revised and expanded and renamed it Men and Marriage (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, c. 1986). Gilder is better known for his work on economics, Wealth and Poverty, a supply-side manifesto widely discussed in the 1980’s, though as a professional writer he has addressed a wide variety of social issues, including sexuality. Though his presentation has religious overtones, his argument is mainly philosophical and pragmatic.
First he focuses on “the facts of life.” No issue needs more attention, Gilder argues, than that of men and marriage, for our hedonistic culture encourages men to behave irresponsibly. The oft-touted sexual revolution, praised in some circles for liberating women, has fundamentally freed men from family ties and obligations. Unattached, predatory males endanger our civilization–as do vandals and gang members on urban streets.
Historians and anthropologists assure us that men, in every culture, have found their identity in providing for women and children. Women conceive and bear and nurture children as an inescapable biological reality. Their role is fixed. Men, however, need marriage to find their role. “The crucial process of civilization is the subordination of male sexual impulses and biology to the long-term horizons of female sexuality” (p. 5). Thus the health of any society depends upon the health and durability of its marriages.
Resisting those who willfully blur sexual distinctions, who naively assert (in highly utopian ways) that sexual differences are cultural rather than biological, Gilder insists there are indeed ineradicable differences which must be recognized and respected.
Citing an “authoritative text on the subject, The Psychology of Sex Differences by Carol Jacklin and Eleanor Maccoby (who chaired the department of psychology at Stanford), Gilder contends: males’ sexual hormones make them innately more aggressive; sex differences appear quite early in life and resemble those found in non-human primates; men crave leadership positions in groups. Men, for example, bond together in hierarchical structures, finding fulfillment in athletic teams, military units, street gangs, or revolutionary movements.
Divorced from women, men turn barbarians–“they rape and pillage, debauch and despoil the settlements of society” (p. 39). Only when their sexual drive is restrained by the structures of marriage, only when their bounty-hunting tendencies are overcome by the responsibilities of fatherhood, only when women say “no” to footloose males, can a men be “tamed.”
That’s not happening in our society. Consequently monogamy is crumbling. Couples “live together” rather than marry. Those who marry frequently divorce–the men moving on to other mates, enjoying a socially-approved “system of polygyny” (p. 76). Gilder notes that young women have no difficulty attracting males, but 15 or 20 years later they discover themselves abandoned or ignored. Shiftless males forever focus on “sexual princesses” who are most physically attractive. So, sadly enough, single women over 35 have only a five percent chance of marrying.
The collapse of monogamy most strikingly appears in America’s inner-city ghettoes and–surprisingly enough, Scandinavian welfare states. Race is irrelevant. So is income. What is relevant is a welfare system which incubates fatherless families. Unneeded as a provider, the man seeks identity in a series of sexual conquests and violent adventures. “All civilized societies train their men to protect and defend women.” When they abandon their post, when male aggressions turn against women, “the group tends to disintegrate completely and even to become extinct” (p. 136).
Like Hardenbrook, Gilder unapologetically calls for patriarchal families and societies. Alleged “matriarchies” have simply never existed; they never can exist. It’s either patriarchy or anarchy. Experimental androgynous communities, such as the Communist communes and Israel kibbutzim, slowly and surely swing back to patriarchal structures.
Certain segments of modern America, following utopian advocates of androgyny, illustrate what Michael Levin described as “‘the feminist road to socialism'” (p. 150). The quest for “egalitarian marriages” in places such as Sweden, for example, has led to “the obsolescence of marriage itself” (p. 152). Tragically, “The United States is enacting many of the policies that brought sexual suicide to Sweden” (p. 153).
Nothing is more important than restoring the health and integrity of the family! Such wisdom typified ancient China, as is evident in this statement in I Ching: “The family . . . is the native soil on which performance of moral duty is made easy through natural affection so that within a small circle a basis of moral practice is created, and then is widened to include human relationships in general . . . .” (p. 165).
In Men and Marriage, Gilder simply seeks to recover that ancient Chinese wisdom, declaring: “Most achievement in the world, I believe, reflects the force of family, first the patience and patrimony of parents and relatives, then the inspiration and support of husband or wife, finally the challenge and responsibility of the next generation. Some children can thrive in the absence of all this; but the society as a whole depends on family connections to succeed” (p. 193).
Gilder’s message finds few adherents on soap operas or among the elite intelligentsia. But it certainly squares with the portrait presented us in Scripture and traditional cultures. Whether our nation can survive while ignoring it is a question only future historians will decide. This book’s readable, challenging, irritating, fascinating in part because Gilder dares to take a strong, “reactionary” stance.