Saturday, August 30, 2003

Off the top of my head about families: from Mark Shea's comment boxes

Mark wrote on his blog yesterday:

It's amazing how social revolutionaries steeped in the Deep Thought of the 60s think that all of human history began in the 1950s. Someone needs to alert them to the fact that the concept of the family as one man and one woman with children is... gosh... decades older than that.

which triggered one of my particular convictions about the tribulations of this age, so I wrote back:

But not very many decades older than that.

The idea that a family is one man, one woman of approximately the same age, their children, and only their children, and nobody else is an extremely modern conception, dating from approximately the industrial revolution.

The family, as known for centuries and millennia, is much less atomistic. Of course, there's the couple, and their children. But also the parents of each of the spouses, the spouses' brothers and sisters and _their_ spouses and _their_ children, and the children from previous unions of any of the above, and maybe a maiden great-aunt or two and a few of the neighborhood stray children turned fosterlings......sometimes all living in a single household, or at least within holler-across-the-back yards distance. Family as basic and major social and economic unit, rather than legal convenience.

Mark replies:

Karen:

It's a tough sell to get from there to gay marriage, gay adoption, polyamory, and the various polymorphous perversities which current redefinitions of marriage seek to impose.


and me:

And it's the atomistic, legal-convenience idea of family that's been taking us right there fast. I mean, if all that family is is an arrangement about pensions, real estate ownership rights, and the right to get legal help about child custody and support if things fall apart, then why shouldn't everyone be allowed to have those advantages for their life-partners and their children?

But at least recalcitrant traditionalists like me believe that family is meant to be so much more, even more than I wrote in the previous window. Not even just basic social and economic unit, but also the primary Icon of the Church.

There's an extra nag and suit of rusty armor over in the corner if you want to be my Sancho Panza....Maria Mater Ecclesiae can be our Dulcinea.....

thus endeth the comment-box colloquy, _but_......

I'm entirely serious. Our children are being deprived and stunted, our society is wandering all over the place, because the family has been degraded, and rootedness is derided and selected against. It is a perversion to see family as, at most, two adults and their preferably no more than two or three children, detached, isolated, and without support, which is called "being independent."

Due to the increased life expectancies, marriages are lasting much much longer before death does part, therefore they need much more support, but yet they are receiving much less --- elders out of communications, siblings scattered across the continent, neighbors only vaguely known. Children have always needed a wide variety of grown-ups in their lives that are not their parents: for unconditional care, for varying examples of how life can be lived, for someone safe to talk to, for a safe place to vent, to learn the stories and grow the roots, foundations if you choose, that will keep one from blowing away in the first storm front. Now that our world has become more confusing to grow up in than ever, the grown-ups available for our children has shrunk to only their parents, and often not even two of _them_. The African proverb is right, that a child requires a whole village to grow up strong and sane; but we have lost the family bonds, and the village with them. And we wonder why so many of our children suffer and wander and become lost.

We need our grandparents, our aunts and uncles and cousins, our neighbor ladies and best-friends'-dads and pious old gents and all the rest of those who used to be our societal ties-that-bound.

That's part of why this blog is. I'm a member of some families. My email boxes and my phone bill testify to the family I was born into, which has dispersed from coast (Uncle Bob's Chrissy who's a nun in New York City) to coast (two bachelor brothers in Long Beach). I've eight nieces and nephews scattered all over northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania. I have a parish family, actually two parish families, here in Milwaukee. And I have to tell the stories that I possess of the saints of old and the ways of faith, so they will not be lost. If the stories of holiness and faith are not told, the next generation will not know them, and to the generation after that they will be totally lost, unless some historian accidentally finds their mummified remains.

So I tell my stories here of the desert Christians, of the Fathers and Doctors, of the heroically virtuous of every era, of the new-martyrs in our own times, so they may set good example, that they may not be forgotten. And I talk about my own journeyings, in case something that has happened with me might be useful to somebody else, that I might serve, at least a little, despite my many inabilities.
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