• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


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    Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    "Marriage is for White People"

    That is the view of a student of Joy Jones, who wrote an article on the culture of marriage in America for the Washington Post. She relates,
    I was pleasantly surprised when the boys in the class stated that being a good father was a very important goal to them, more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title.

    "That's wonderful!" I told my class. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."

    "Oh, no," objected one student. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers."

    And that's when the other boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth: "Marriage is for white people."

    This does not shock me. Ms. Jones' statistics reveal what many people have said openly and at the dinner table for years: the day of the family with a married father-mother raising children is a day gone by.

    Here's the statistics: 1960, 67% of Black families were headed by husband & wife. White families, 90.9%
    Between 1970 and 2001, overall marriage rates in the USA fell 17% and marriage rates among Blacks fell 34%.
    Now, around 42% of Black adults and 25% of White adults have never been married (2001 census).

    For years, religious leaders have cautioned us about the perils of pride, the assault on the family, sexual promiscuity, etc. Now we see these prophecies realized.

    Where's the harm, you say? So we don't get married--we don't need marriage anymore, right? People can be free today to earn a living, women do not need men to support them, and transportation allows people to keep in touch from longer distances. So go out and have some fun, have a kid if you want, get married if you want the ceremony, and then join the 30% of married couples that cheat on their spouses. The world is getting along just fine.

    Or is it? Ms. Jones shows that the decrease in marriage rates corresponds with an increase in children born to unwed mothers (2.3% in 1960 to 22.5% in 2001). Where do these children go? How many times do we hear about the smart kids from the ghetto that never made it to college because he (or she) had to drop out of high school to help support the family? We call this a failure of the system, a failure to get him or her the educational opportunities neccesary, a failure to support at-risk families to help children stay in school.

    What it is really is a failure of two people to keep their pants on until they are in a position to competently handle the responsibilities of children, and a failure for those who screw up (no pun intended) to maturely handle the consequences of their actions.

    The American culture is now a culture of shifting blame. What can I do to dodge the consequences of my actions. "It's not my fault the condom broke..."

    Moreover, along with the breakdown in marriage and the increase in births to unwed mothers, comes an increase in children growing up without one or both role models. How can a child be expected to learn how to treat others, if mom is always working and dad only comes every other weekend to play ball? Such examples are no example at all.

    Ms. Jones suggests the breakdown comes from the reality marriage is a contract, and men do not bring much to the table anymore. Men want to play while women are looking for marriage, and women are successful and stable when men, weakly and with little to their name, decide to settle down.

    She is partly right. Men are playing when women want to get married. However, this stems not from the ability of women to get a good job and thereby not need many anymore. The drop in marriage stems from the pride and "eat, drink, and be merry" attitude glorified in today's music, movies, and sports heros. How many crunk videos have you seen without promiscuity, drunkeness, and a general disinterest in their repercussions? How many movies glorify the torrid love affair, the witty criminals looking for a million dollars? How many athletes personify the "forget school and focus on sports? Somebody will pay you and your ego millions to catch balls" (*cough* Terrell Owens *cough*)?

    Now Dale Carpenter from the Volokh Conspiracy opines that new reports support gay adoptions. I do not disagree that having two loving parents, even two men or two women, can be a better family life than living at an orphanage until you're 18 (although I still suspect the methodology of the study). But everyone, even the study's authors, allow that a family with a mother and father is the IDEAL. So we sit around arguing legislation on whether gays should adopt, when in reality, we are giving up on the ideal. A Native American proverb says, "if you shoot for the sun you will hit the eagle, but if you shoot for the eagle your arrow will hit the ground."

    We are shooting at the eagle.

    The correct response is to work on the social aspects that make marriage appealing. Not just marriage, but faithfulness in marriage. We need to buoy them up, show positive role models, so that Ms. Jones' children don't see fatherhood as the end all, but husbandhood with fatherhood as the highest calling they can attain in life. Then, and only then, will the other problems start to fall into place.

    Finally, my position can be summed up in this response to Ms. Jones, who said about her own chance to get married,
    "As I reviewed the situation, I realized that all the things I expected marriage to confer -- male companionship, close family ties, a house -- I already had, or were within reach, and with exponentially less drama."
    Marriage is not about companionship, family ties, and a house--it is so much more. A true marriage is where a man and a woman's lives become one, their goals become one, their hopes, dreams, fears, tears, smiles, laughs, sighs, and cries become one. No matter how loving two people are, how intimate physically and emotionally they are before marriage, there is something that heightens and deepens the feelings when you are married.

    I married my wife not just "until death do us part" like you hear in the movies, but I swore "for all eternity." That promise sticks with me every second of every day. It tells me to get up when I'm tired and take her to work. It tells me to rub her back when I really just want to watch the soccer game. It tells me to put off my worldly desires in order to cultivate a good example she and my future children will be proud of. And although I thought, like you Ms. Jones, that marriage would be just a continuation of our growing bond together, it is not. Marriage is the exponential growth of our relationship born out of sacrifice and humility and love. Any drama is a small price for something so amazing.
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