Monday, July 13, 2009
It is not all that comfortable to talk about marriage in this crazy culture, this brave new world of ours. We can no longer assume “traditional” marriage these days. We do not like to be the one to force awkward little explanations; who lives with whom for how long or which children belong to which adult or who is the bio-parent or if the settlement is final and if the custody arrangement is working out alright. These are personal matters. We have learned (sometimes the hard way) to avoid them in polite conversation.
Take for example the flight attendant last month.
Circumstances all came together in one great convergence of coincidence. As a result, I accompanied my niece and her two young children on a direct flight from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California. We bid farewell to her husband and and the boys’ father. He hugged his two little guys sending them off with their mom and their Uncle Ken. It was not an easy send-off for Jared; or for the boys to say good-bye to their dad. Our destination: a wedding, which was also a large family reunion. The agent arranged for us all to sit together in the same row for the nonstop flight. When the seat-belt sign went off, I took on the assignment to walk young Wesley down the center aisle to the in-flight lavatory to take care of business.
That’s when the flight attendant commented, “What an adorable boy you have!”
Before I could offer a clarification, she asked, “Is your wife doing alright?” She nodded in the direction of our seats. “Can I get her anything?”
When I snickered and explained that I am her uncle, the flight attendant blushed. “Oh. Sorry.” She flashed one of those smiles that must of got her hired in the first place, and waved her hand as a gesture of “silly me.”
Understand that I am an aging, mature man. My niece looks every bit my daughter. Wesley, a grandson. But we are living in a New Modern World. No surprise, I guess, that she would assume that this Baby Boomer is, like so many of my contemporaries, starting over. Giving it another try. Maybe get it right this time.
Hardly. This summer, Carolyn and I reach another milestone. We have been together as husband and wife for four full decades. We cringe whenever we receive accolades as a model couple because the two of us know that it hasn’t always been easy and we still have a lot to learn. We do, however, commend the lifetime gig. Whatever challenges come along, and we have seen our fair share, it is well worth holding on. The benefits and rewards at this stage cannot be bought; and growing together through the stages of adult life brings a depth of gratitude that goes beyond words.
We run with the evangelical crowd so we are quite accustomed to speeches on the sanctity of marriage and the horrors of the widespread collapse of traditional values and the surety that these are the End Times. Generally the message comes from the pulpit or Christian radio or Christian books. But occasionally, that message comes from an unlikely source like it did this week. TIME Magazine.
Caitlin Flanagan likes to make waves. She sharpened her writing skills as an English teacher in an upscale high school in North Hollywood. Then she landed a job at the New Yorker. When TIME published her first article in 2006, she aimed her verbal arsenal at her own Democrat Party. She proclaimed that the party was hopelessly out of touch. Her passion for the Democrat social agenda had been established in several articles appearing in the prestigious New Yorker magazine. But after her years of loyal votes and determined activism, the party shunned her. Why? Because she also believes in marriage, in fidelity and the need children have for both a mother and father. For many of the party leaders, this mighty contradiction was punishable by banishment. She warned two years before the Presidential election that the party had better step up and articulate support for home and family or risk alienating most of the country.
Her rant published in TIME could well be the reason that the candidate with the healthiest marriage won the party’s nomination; and went on to White House.
Caitlin Flanagan authored a lengthy article in the current issue of TIME. It got my attention. In a section called Marriage Matters, she poses the question: “Is There Hope for the American Marriage?”
The recent spate of high profile marriage calamities dominating the airwaves prompts the question. You know the names of the current offenders. The evening news headlines the salacious details. (Why is it that television news more and more resembles the magazine rack at the check out stand over at the grocery store?) Flanagan’s article is chock full of quotable quotes. Here is a sampling -
“Adultery is not about sex or romance. Ultimately, it is about how little we mean to one another.”
“How much does this [the high incidence of children born without marriage] matter? More than words can say. There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage.”
“Growing up without a father has a deep psychological effect on a child. ‘The mom may not need that man,’ Kefalas [Maria Kefalas, a sociologist who studies marriage and family issues and co-authored a seminal book on low-income mothers] says, ‘but her children still do.’”
Well, you get the idea. TIME magazine sees it, too.
Marriage does matter.
Copyright Kenneth E. Kemp 2009