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The Value of a Dad

Last week, Michael Landauer, a new father of twins, wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Dallas Morning News entitled, “We Have Downgraded Dad,” noting the disrespectful attitude of popular culture toward fathers in general.  I’ve certainly been guilty of rolling my eyes at my husband in our house.  However, over our 27 years of marriage, I have come to appreciate the unique role my husband plays in our family.

 

When our oldest daughter was about two, my husband starting throwing her in the air and catching her.  Like most mothers, I was greatly alarmed by this practice and certain that he was going to kill her.  Later, I found out that dads instinctively throw toddlers in the air at just the right time to help with the development of their inner ears.  Research indicates that fathers play with their children differently than mothers do.  Fathers are more physical, aggressive and noisy, and this kind of challenging play is an important part of early child development.

 

I’ve also never forgotten the time my middle daughter came home from an Indian Princess campout on a Sunday afternoon, hair uncombed, covered in dirt and face paint, wearing the same clothes she had on Friday when they left.  “Mom,” she exclaimed, “it was the best time ever!”  Of course, if I had taken her, she would have come home with clean skin, hair and clothes, but it would have been a much less exciting weekend with completely different memories.

 

And when our daughters were in high school, I really came to appreciate my 6’3” husband, with his broad shoulders, deep voice, and firm handshake.  Many a high school suitor had to have some shaky knees after leaving our house for a date with one of our girls.  Also, one night a few years ago, our 16 year old daughter and a friend were driving not far from our neighborhood when a drunk, disoriented man staggered out of the bushes in front of their car.  She fled home and immediately wanted – not me – but Dad.  It was Dad who offered safety, security and comfort, while I called the police.

 

I haven’t mentioned the other 17 Indian Guide and Indian Princess campouts he went on, the 8 or 9 Father-Daughter dances, or the late night “come to Jesus” talks he had with our teenagers when they broke curfew.  I like to think I have a lot of good qualities as a parent, but my husband definitely brings things to our family that I cannot.

 

I find it hard to believe that some women can ask “Are Men Necessary?” as Maureen Dowd did in her famous book a few years ago.  Sure, female celebrities over 40 are adopting babies on their own, and the world laughed at Dan Quayle when he questioned whether planned single motherhood was wise.  I guess I’m just old-fashioned enough to believe that fathers really do matter. No doubt there are plenty of examples of deadbeat dads and dads who disappear, or dads who don’t leave but are terrible parents.  And there are plenty of heroic moms who raise children on their own.  In our own community, though, we are fortunate to have many dads who are at every Scout meeting, every football game, every concert and every track meet.  Their presence and support makes a huge difference in the lives of their children.

 

In spite of the popular trend to disparage and discount fathers, I was encouraged a few weeks ago by an episode of “Modern Family,” in which Jay, the patriarch, recounted his decision years earlier to stay in a difficult marriage when his children were young.  After a pointless and terrible fight (one of many) with his wife, he took his two children to Disneyland alone, while she stayed home and pouted.  By the end of the day, he was seriously considering divorce when he took the kids to see the robotic Lincoln exhibit.  As Lincoln spoke about “a man’s duty” and “keeping the union together” Jay said that he realized that “staying with my kids was more important than leaving my wife  . . . now that’s not the right decision for everyone, but it was the right decision for me.” The show makes clear that his continued presence in his children’s lives was definitely worth it.

 

So for all the dads who stick around, who roughhouse with their children and spend their weekends at soccer games and piano recitals, thank you, and Happy Father’s Day.  You deserve it.

 

 

Michelle Daniel Chadwick is a writer and an attorney living in Dallas, Texas.

Arrogance, Men and Birth Control

Arrogance, Men and Birth Control

 

As much as I was annoyed by the media’s complete dismissal of the Catholic Church’s teachings on birth control, I was even more dismayed by Rush Limbaugh’s treatment of the Georgetown University Law Student, Sandra Fluke, who recently testified before Congress.  Ms. Fluke argued that Georgetown should provide contraception to its students through their student health plan. As has been widely reported, Mr. Limbaugh attacked Ms. Fluke, arguing that she wants the government to pay her for having sex. “What does that make her?” he asks. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”  Even worse, he boorishly added: “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is: We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

 

I realize that commentators are sometimes paid in proportion to their ability to create controversy, but in this case, he clearly went too far.  For a conservative commentator who supposedly supports traditional values, this was a major failure, a disappointment and a setback for anyone trying to defend the position of the Church or even traditional values.  By his ugly words and tone, he grossly insulted a young woman and irreparably damaged the credibility of others who would argue against her position.

 

In contrast, I was greatly encouraged by the words of Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, who called Limbaugh’s behavior “misogynistic” and “vitriolic”, and pointed out the great need for respectful, constructive debate on difficult issues.  DeGioia quoted St. Augustine, saying, “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance.  Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth.  Let us seek it together as something that is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there is no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.”  I was thankful to see Georgetown, as a Catholic University, speak up for these principles, and, as a former Methodist, I have always been grateful for the Jesuits’ thoughtful and nuanced discussion of difficult issues.

 

In contrast, comments like Limbaugh’s feed right into the left’s argument that conservatives are “waging a war on women.”  Men in particular would be wise to tread very lightly here. Because women are the ones who get pregnant, naturally they are more affected by an unplanned pregnancy.  But to listen to the criticism of many commentators, you would think that the women are out there having sex alone!  Where are their partners in this discussion?

 

Although I am sure that there are many women who are on birth control because they want to be sexually active, but are not ready for a baby, I would bet there are a lot of women who are on it in response to the demands or expectations of men.   I wonder:

  1. How many women are using birth control in a relationship after being pressured into sex when they weren’t ready?
  2. How many women are using birth control because they are with a man who is an abuser or an addict?
  3. How many women are using birth control because they are with a man who is unwilling to commit to marriage and family?
  4. How many women use birth control – or even have abortions – because they are with someone who doesn’t want a baby and would abandon them if they had one?

 

 

Under normal circumstances (reproductive technology aside) it takes two people to have sex and make a baby. It is blatantly unfair and unkind to heap criticism on these women without even considering or mentioning their male partners.  Limbaugh’s treatment of Ms. Fluke reminded me of the story in the Gospel of John, where the woman caught in the very act of adultery is dragged before the crowd alone.  Where is the man? (I’d also like to note that Jesus was kind to actual prostitutes).

 

Although I do not intend to make this piece an apologetic for Natural Family Planning, it is important to note that it is the only birth control option where men are called upon to exercise self-control, in order to benefit their wives.  Also, if men practiced abstinence before marriage, there would be no need for contraception for single women.  Why isn’t anyone talking about that?

 

 

Catholic Women and Birth Control

Birth control has been front-page news the last few weeks, thanks to President Obama’s initial decision to require all organizations, including faith-based entities such as Catholic universities and hospitals, to provide contraception in their employee health care plans.  Most of the media coverage has painted this as a battle between the “out of touch” men who lead the Catholic Church, and women in general.  As a Catholic woman, I have been increasing annoyed with this assumption.

In making this argument, one statistic has been repeated over and over again:  that 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives (emphasis mine).  This fact has been used to argue that most Catholic women blatantly and callously ignore church teaching on this point. As a Catholic convert and mother of three, I am irritated by the implication that Catholic women have no respect for the Church’s position on this issue.  I have been a member of a large Dallas Catholic community since 1994, and I can tell you that most faithful Catholic women have great respect for all issues relating to life, including the issue of using birth control.

Whether or not you agree with the Catholic Church’s prohibition on artificial means of birth control, it is worth noting that there are deep moral issues raised by its use, and it is unfair to assume that Catholic women place no value on the Church’s teaching.  The underlying principles behind this teaching are well worth considering:

First, Christians (as well as many other faiths) believe that children are a gift from God, to be treasured and cherished.  The Bible clearly teaches that children are a heritage from the Lord, and “blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”  When we know someone plans to give us a gift, aren’t we usually eager to receive it? Many prominent and successful people in our society – including Oprah Winfrey and Tim Tebow – were born under difficult circumstances.  If their parents had used birth control, or gotten an abortion (as Mrs. Tebow was advised to do), they would not be alive today, and the world would be poorer for it.

Many Christians also believe that human life begins at conception.  Some forms of birth control, such as the IUD, are designed to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.  Similar questions have arisen around the drug known as “Plan B.”  If you believe that human life is sacred from its earliest moments, then these are, in fact, serious moral issues.  All of us were once tiny embryos, the smallest beginning of the miracle of life.

The widespread use of contraception outside of marriage has also helped to weaken the traditional bond between sex, procreation, and marriage.  Today, more than half of all pregnancies in women under 30 occur outside of marriage.  In contrast, in the last century, almost a third of marriages occurred because the woman was pregnant.  Men and women were encouraged to assume the responsibilities of marriage to promote the wellbeing of their children.  Although there are many factors contributing to the increase in unwed mothers, the idea that sex should be available without consequences has surely contributed to the problem.

In living out our marriages and raising our families, Catholic women rely on the Church to give us the strength and wisdom we need. Just because people disagree with some aspect of church teaching, or sometimes fail to follow it, does not mean the teaching has no value.  It should be obvious to everyone that Catholics and other Christians are imperfect keepers of our faith. Most of us would freely admit that we fail on a daily or even an hourly basis.  We yell at our kids, repeat ugly gossip, speed on the highway and fail to help the needy.  But that’s why we go to church– to hear again the voice that calls us to lead better lives.  With the increasing complexity of technology and the myriad advances of science, moral issues are growing more and more complex as well.  We need voices such as that of the Catholic Church to keep calling us back to basic principles.  Even when we don’t always agree with them, or fail to live up to our own standards, we are still listening.