Becoming a Parent by Being a Parent

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
― Aristotle

In parenting, we must be willing to step into the darkness of ignorance and learn through action. In order for this active-learning to make us good mothers and fathers, we should be humble enough to see what works, and what doesn’t – and adapt accordingly. Its a poor engineer that won’t admit when his bridge is starting to lean.

It can be a bit unsettling to consider that each new mother is handed a precious spirit and she really has no idea how to be a mother. Yet, we are compensated for lack of experience with love, with desire, with access to the wisdom and experience of others, and with many hours of practice before us. Our children will learn much more from a mother who courageously changes direction when things aren’t working than from a mother who stubbornly keeps her course when things go wrong.

I remember in high school my friend’s mother had an “epiphany” and threw his video game console out with the trash. He didn’t take it well, but his mother refused to get him another one. His anger slowly abated and by the end of the year he admitted that he was probably better off.

Start a new tradition, drop an old habit, shift your family culture in a new direction. We can keep learning through trial and error in the 18 years we have with our child, parenthood is a long apprenticeship. Being a “Master parent” is not defined by the same terms as a Master Tailor or Master Carpenter, we don’t have infinite power over parental outcomes, human souls are not as malleable as wood or fabric. However, if we are humble, it is never too late to repair and improve our parenting and our relationship with our children.

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”
— Carl Rogers


Artwork by Robert Panitzsch

Raising Romantics

As we conclude our study of our world’s lost romanticism, we must consider how we can reverse the trend. Things can’t improve unless the next generation is better than the last. We, as parents, have to help our children turn the tide of cynicism.  We need to raise Romantics. See Part 1 and 2

A year ago my husband and I decided to show our two oldest an excellent Spanish series, Grand Hotel.  We were planning a trip to Spain and wanted to help our children with their Spanish, as well as get them excited about the culture and history of Spain.  We wondered if a subtitled series would be able to keep their attention.  We were surprised to find they quickly became riveted, every night begging to “watch one more episode.”  The acting and production of the show are excellent, but it was the romance that drew them in, particularly the love between the leading intelligent and beautiful woman, Alicia, and the passionate young man, Julio.  My 13-year old son, whom no one would ever describe as a “Romantic”, had the most surprising reaction. Typically his thoughts are consumed with basketball and soccer, but he became enthralled by Alicia and Julio’s relationship. He would yell out with impatience, “Are they ever going to get together? Why is Julio so stupid?”  

Julio and Alicia, Grand Hotel

At first, I wondered if my children were too young to watch such a romantic show. (It is surprisingly wholesome for modern content, and I only had to skip a few scenes.) But as I saw another world open to my son, I decided it was good. I saw a deepening of his perspective, a world outside of self and sports seemed to open to him – a world of romance. 

To be clear, I have no desire for my 13-year-old to start worrying about girls or relationships. We may fear that introducing our children to romance will cause them to seek it prematurely.  This just isn’t the case.  When we fill our children with knowledge,  ideals, and a deeper understanding of love, we prepare them for what is to come.  They discover the reasons to wait for the time and place they are most likely to achieve the love they see depicted in art and life.   When we open up this world of romance to our children, we open up another perspective on life – one of empathy and self-sacrifice.  They start to see that caring selflessly for another person is a beautiful thing.  We allow them to develop romantic dreams of true love, of marriage and family. A young woman should seek the virtuous knight in shining armor. A young man should strive to be worthy of his princess. If we wait until they are teenagers to introduce them to romance, it may be too late. 

Couple Embracing, William Ladd Taylor

As we watched this dramatic show, we had wonderful discussions with our children.  The selfish and dishonest Belen, a manipulative housemaid who dupes the naive Andres, became their “bad” example.  We were frustrated by the missteps often made by the heroes but reveled in the constancy of Alicia and Julio’s love. Children have an intrinsic understanding of right and wrong. I was often amazed by the insights of my children as they watched with us. 

“Children can be told anything—anything. I’ve always been struck by seeing how little adults understand children, how little parents even understand their own children. Nothing should be concealed from children on the pretext that they are little and that it is too early for them to understand. What a miserable and unfortunate idea! And how readily the children detect that their fathers consider them too little to understand anything, though they understand everything. Adults do not know that a child can give exceedingly good advice even in the most difficult case.”*

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I can think of no knowledge more important to bestow upon our children than that they are loved, and that they are capable of genuinely loving another.  This belief in receiving and giving pure love, in all its forms, is the basis for all romantic art. They can gain confidence in this truth by seeing our example, watching and reading good romantic stories, and practicing loyal devotion to their families.  

“My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery.  The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”

L. M. Montgomery

Like any story, our world has a hero – this glorious gift of romantic sentiment, and it has its villain – it has the cynical, dark, and destructive world of self-interested pleasure.  The tales of King Arthur and Merlin can help children understand this dynamic between light and darkness, good and evil.  In Merlin, a British series, we follow Merlin, an impetuous young man with a good heart.  He is our hero.  Morgana is a young woman with compassion, who desires mercy and is disturbed by the brutality of Uther.  The series follows these two realistic, flawed, but well-meaning young people.  As the story develops, you see Merlin remain hopeful and Morgana turn cynical. You see the fruits of their contrasting mindsets: the magic of Merlin is good, and the magic of Morgana turns dark.  When Merlin encounters situations where he has to make a choice, he usually opts for the difficult but honest option, one based on his hope that the truth will prevail.  When Morgana is faced with a choice, she makes her decision out of cynicism – a belief that the ends justify the means.  We see this beautiful girl turn her heart towards dark magic.  The difference between hero and villain lies in the hope or hopelessness which guides their actions to righteousness or wickedness.

Morgana, Merlin

Dark Magic

Unfortunately, we live in a time where we see many villains depicted but heroes are rare.  In the words of Jack Johnson, Where did all the good people go?  Modern stories are driven by cynicism – full of seedy and dark relationships, sexual and gender confusing messages, immorality, and the debasement of women.  Perhaps we should return to the archetypal stories of the past.  Fairy tales show us clearly what is good and what is bad.  They show imperfect heroes driven by hope and misguided villains driven by despair and fear. They show the consequence of allowing our hearts (hope) to fail us. 

I think the imagery of good magic vs dark magic is useful as we explain romantic love to our children. Good magic is true love; it joins people together despite tremendous obstacles. It is miraculous and endlessly satisfying. But there is a draw to dark magic.  The Dark Magic of today – sexual hedonism – thrives on hopelessness.  It creates nothing, only distorts. It never believes, only doubts. It takes and never gives. This dark magic draws us in with false promises and half-truths.  It tells us we will be satisfied with sex devoid of love. It can turn others into a tool for manipulation or self-gratification.

Our society has the formula for healthy sexual development exactly backward. We should introduce children early to the idea of romance and the importance of families. Then when developmentally appropriate, they will begin to incorporate the reality and purpose of sex into that vision of romance.  Instead, we expose children to confusing and often traumatizing images of sex without context or morality before they are mature. Then without an understanding of love or purpose, they fill in the pieces of their sexual identity. Is it any wonder young people are confused, depressed, and nihlistic? It is tragic to see so many children begin this dark journey while their parents are oblivious. 

The destruction of a modern young person’s romantic view too often begins with porn.  Just think about the words of the great lover Romeo…

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite.”

Romeo declares the magic of true love. The more he gives the more he receives. The more pleasure he gives, the more pleasure he experiences. Romantics are free to promise fidelity, devotion, honesty, and their bodily freedoms to each other. They understand the infinite nature of love. 

“It is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another.”

George MacDonald, Phantastes

There is nothing more contrary to romanticism than pornography.   I love you — but I need to look at other naked women.  You are great, but you can’t expect that you will be sufficient to fulfill my needs.  I just can’t see Romeo saying that.  I don’t think Mr. Darcy needed any more inspiration than Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice.  Pornography can turn a once beautiful desire and capacity into a destructive force. (88 percent of the pornographic scenes online contain physical aggression and dehumanizing action by males against females). 

The Legend of St. George, Maximilian Liebenwein

Many claim that pornography is necessary or even advantageous to intimacy, but this claim reveals their cynicism. Good magic doesn’t mix with dark magic. Billions of people found a way to romance, love, and passionate intimacy before the proliferation of porn.  Now fewer people are forming relationships.  In fact, fewer people are having sex than ever. The truth is that porn kills intimacy, love, and passion and leads to sexual dysfunction, perversions, and unfulfillment.  Our minds and hearts are capable of intense passion, adventure, and creativity when we are committed to our spouse.  True lovers shun outside influence in their private heaven.

I do not say this to shame anyone who struggles with pornography addiction.  The makers of porn know how to reach what is good in us – our desire for love, connection, and our attraction to another – and twist it and addict us.  

Good Magic 

We need to warn our children.  We should shield them where we can, but pornography is nearly impossible to avoid completely.  As stated before, children are capable of great understanding. We need not fear.  If we have fill their lives with “good magic”, they will recognize darkness and avoid it.  They will want to be heroes and heroines and live happy lives full of romance.   If they understand the path that leads to true intimacy, as well as the path away from it, they will choose the path of the hero. If they make a mistake, if they veer towards dark magic, they will want to return to the light. 

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of [evil]. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of [evil]. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

G.K. Chesterton (The Red Angel)

Every first Sunday of the month my husband has a “Father’s talk” with our children.  They have some one-on-one time to talk to their dad about their lives.  During this time, my husband takes particular care to talk to our sons about sensitive topics such as pornography.  As a man, he understands and is sympathetic to the unique struggles and temptations of adolescent boys. We also speak to our 11-year-old daughter. It is important that our children have a safe space to speak about anything they have felt or experienced. 

When children enter the inevitable and necessary transition into sexual interest, they will start to see those romantic movies differently.  They now can understand the reason and purpose behind their new desires and interests. They, like a true romantic, can point these sexual feelings towards the dream of finding their Alicia or Julio.

Sometimes religious or traditional parents may forget that their job is not simply to shield their children from bad, but also to give them clear examples of good. If we become the purveyors of “no” “bad” and “sinful”, our children are more likely to seek a road that at least claims pleasure. We can say porn is bad but we have to follow that by showing how good true romantic love can be. There is absolutely no shame in sexual interest, our beautiful bodies, or sex itself- rather these are the gifts of God.  However, these glories should be directed towards a noble quest. Our children, and we, must gain hope that one day they can have sexual fulfillment that exceeds the dark, self-defeating promises of porn or loveless casual sex. 

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, a man who has become disillusioned with the emptiness of our modern sexual culture, described the dilemma of married Romantics.

“It’s strange that we live in a culture that mostly views marriage as a sexless wasteland. Even as a person who has become very pro-marriage, I still don’t know where we turn for positive cultural messages about how passionate marriage can be. I hear people definitely say that’s the case. Then again I don’t know how married and religious people would make that case without violating the boundaries of their marriages and being pornographic about them. Fornicators really have the upper hand in terms of. . . marketing, shall we say.”

We live in a sex-obsessed world.  Sex is marketed everywhere – in music, art, advertisements, and even snuck into children’s shows – most often it is of the “dark” variety.  And yet, I have come to realize through much observation, inquiry, and research that it is all show and no substance, or as we say in Texas, “all hat, no cattle.” They advertise a journey of erotic adventure but in reality, the typical destination is a lonely dark basement or a room full of cats. Children are capable of seeing the consequences of sexual hedonism- they can look to examples in movies and literature or the pitiful personal lives of many music and movie icons. It is not “judgemental” to acknowledge the inevitable sorrowful destination of a life of vice.

“You disempower evil by seeing it.”

Bishop Robert Barron

The truth is that sexual fulfillment is best, and much more often found, within the vow of marriage.  We have truth, goodness, and beauty on our side.  Let’s not be shy about sharing the hope, excitement, and beauty of romantic love with our children.**  Of course, there are sacred boundaries around our intimate lives, and while that may weaken our “marketing” prowess – it is this very sacredness that produces passion.  Together with our spouse, we can still give our children glimpses of the superior “magic” of married romantic intimacy: a kiss goodbye, an embrace in the kitchen, cuddling on the couch during a movie…these small symbols of love will be real to our children.  They see a love they can one day attain, and one superior to the shallow claims of the fake cowboys.

A Tearful Farewell, Maynard Dixon

There Is Hope

“Yet I know that good is coming to me—that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it.”

George MacDonald, Phantastes

I often wonder what kind of men my daughters will find to marry.  Will she love a good man? Will my sons find a kind and nurturing woman? I worry.  I look at the world around me and start to develop a skeptical view of their prospects. 

But when I look at the love in my own family and the many families that surround me, I see romantic visions of beauty and love, and I gain hope. Our children are not a statistic  – they will not follow the negative trends if we can build up a home and tradition that are on a different trajectory.  As Dostoyevsky reminds us, children are wise, if we clearly show them, and live ourselves, a life of good romantic magic they will want it for themselves.  A “Belen” may tempt them, but they have seen her before, they will wait for their Alicia. There are still many good parents raising children worthy of our own.

The Romantic view of life is one of hope.  It does not just seek romantic relationships but beauty in all its forms.  A Romantic looks forward to a better world and creates it by glorying in the evidence of God’s love that surrounds us.  A Romantic trusts that love conquers all, and recognizes the evidence of that conquest everywhere. We parents have great cause to be Romantics. We are surrounded every day by love as we raise our beloved children.  They point us to recognize the beauty of all God’s creations – for they still have a sense of wonder. We, and our children, can live in a Romantic world again.

“‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’- that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

John Keats

Movies and Literature to Reignite Our Belief in Romance

Realistic and virtuous depictions of life and love are good for children.  Below are movies and books I recommend in helping our children develop a romantic view of life. These works of art give us something to hope for,  work towards, and an idea of what true love looks like. 

  •  Far From the Madding Crowd – As discussed my previous piece, Gabriel Oak is every woman’s dream, or perhaps should be. He can be a hero to our sons as they see a man who doesn’t weep over lost love or resign himself to lesser love but moves forward in strength and vision despite obstacles. He is the man Bathsheba desperately needs. The other two male love interests are important bad examples. Our daughters need to see the snares of the deceitful Sergeant Troy so they can recognize them in others. They need to see the controlling nature of Bolwood and the signs of twisted love. 
  • Grand Hotel – Grand Hotel is a very well-done Spanish period piece.  The costumes are gorgeous, the acting superb, and the storyline intriguing.  It is similar to the British show Downton Abbey but more dramatic.  The many characters and their poor decisions allowed us to have many conversations with our kids. I suggest watching it in Spanish with English subtitles. There are a few scenes that were inappropriate that we had to fast forward. Unfortunately, this series was on Netflix but is now hard to find with English subtitles. The linked version has no subtitles. If you can find it, please let me know. There is an American version which I do not recommend. 
  • The Nativity Story – The love between Mary and Joseph shown in this version of the Nativity is simply beautiful. I particularly love the depiction of Joseph whose quiet faith and strength is a wonderful example for our boys to see. We watch it every Christmas Eve with our children. 
  • Victoria and Albert – This BBC series shows the story of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Albert. Children will not only learn history but see a real-life love story in this series. There are many versions of their love story in film and TV – Victoria Series from Masterpiece and the movie Young Victoria – but this series is great for the age range of 10+.
  • Pride and Prejudice – We showed this to our kids when they were still quite young and they loved it!  There is no better way to portray how not to speak to each other than in the interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth – and also how prejudice and pride can get in the way of love.  Luckily it all ends well.
  • Jane Eyre – I love this particular version of Jane Eyre, and there are many versions.  I love the fact that Jane is a simple woman, not overly beautiful or accomplished – yet she is loved tremendously by Mr. Rochester.  She stands firm in her virtue despite great temptation. She is a wonderful example for girls to show what attributes draw good men to them and what a woman with strength of character is capable of. 
  • Sense and Sensibility – This is a beautiful movie with beautiful music.  The depiction of the cool and collected Elinor and her passionate sister Marianne shows how different personalities fall in love and the pitfalls of an unbalanced personality.  The depiction of Marianne’s poor choice of men is a good one for our girls to see – better to learn from others’ mistakes if we can.
  • Samson and Delilah – This story is depicted in a few movies but I prefer to read it from the scriptures.  It is important for children to understand that marrying within their religion or value system is important. This will lead to some good discussions as you see the many mistakes made by Samson as he lets “love” take him down dark roads. 
  • Merlin – The battle between good and dark magic is depicted beautifully here. This series is romantic in its hope.  It has depictions of romantic relationships but it is the brotherly love of Arthur and Merlin which is most impactful. Boys and Men need male friendships. Unfortunately, modern society has twisted the need for these relationships.  This series shows this male bond, courage, honor, and sacrifice in King Arthurs’s court. (The series Psych is another good series where  a strong male relationship is presented and it is more contemporary.)
  • The Princess and The Goblin, The Princess and Curdie – Children’s books by George MacDonald that show childlike romance between the Princess and Curdie develops into something stronger and more true as Curdie becomes a man. This story is simple yet deep so your children will enjoy it as much as you do. G.K. Chesterton said, “Of all the stories I have read, including even all the novels of the same novelist, it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life. It is called The Princess and the Goblin, and is by George MacDonald.”

Music, art, poetry, and nature can also open our senses to Romantic feelings.  I share a lot of artwork with my children and hang classical pieces in my home. When I read something beautiful or hopeful, I share it with my children.  I am currently reading Dante’s Divine Comedy and my children love looking through the beautiful artwork by Gustave Dore. Also, encourage your children to memorize poetry so the beautiful words and messages will then be forever in their memory. (I paid my son $10 to memorize “If” by Rudyard Kipling, no regrets).

There are many other great books, movies, and series.  I would appreciate your suggestions as well. I will continue to add shows/movies/books to this post.  

-Ally

*I would make an exception here that children should not be burdened with advising on their parents’ personal mental health or marriage problems.  Also, it is parents that should discuss sexual topics with their children, not teachers or other adults.

**I understand that it is not always within our power to achieve the passion we desire.  This advice is for people who do feel they have room and ability for improvement. 

Resources:

A piece on pornography and our kids. https://philosophyofmotherhood.wordpress.com/2021/11/11/mothers-awake-darkness-seeking-our-children/

A Mother’s Beauty

Oh mother, oh mother
from thee I know love
No other, no other
than she I dream of

The beauty first clutched be
the heat of thy breast
No duty more touched me
the beat of thy chest

Dear mother, dear mother
to me gentle sing
Another, another
softly strum thy string

The shape of thy nape bare
a nature so sweet
The bent of thy shape fair
a treasure replete

Oh mother, oh mother
a home giveth me
Forever, my lover
this poem ‘tis for thee


Contributed by Patrick Webb

Louise Nursing Her Child, Mary Cassatt

Becoming Romantics Again: The Hope of Love

In my last piece, I wrote of the endless loop of modern romantic cynicism. Increasingly, our culture has come to doubt love, doubt our own ability to love, and doubt others’ ability to love.  So we go around the hopeless circle.  But how do we exit that circle?  How can we rediscover the love our culture has lost and develop faith in romantic love?

You may be stuck in a marriage darkened by addiction, betrayal, or another ongoing struggle. You may have tried all you can to overcome these problems, to no avail. The purpose of this piece is not to accuse anyone of not being loving enough, or of not being a true romantic.  Romantic sentiment sometimes crashes against harsh realities. Many good men and women find themselves in difficult relationships.  Nevertheless, even in a cynical age, we can keep the hope alive that love exists in the world and we can be touched and inspired by observing it and desiring it.   

My favorite romantic movie is Far From the Madding Crowd (2015 version), an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s famous novel.  Bathsheba Everdene is an impetuous and independent young woman who, while working for her aunt, meets a young and promising shepherd, Gabriel Oak.  He soon proposes to her. She rejects him – desiring to live free and unburdened by marriage. She soon inherits a prosperous farm, moves away, and becomes a woman of some influence. Gabriel, who falls on hard times, happens upon her farm and asks to become her shepherd. The story details Bathesheba’s trials in love with two other men: a passionate and ruinous marriage to Sergeant Troy and a reluctant but useful relationship with Bolwood.  The viewer can’t help but become frustrated by Bathsheba as her pride and vanity lead her to make poor choices. However, she is also the victim – of the deceitful Sergeant Troy and possessive Bolwood.  Gabriel Oak stands in the background of her life – a strong and stabilizing force of unfaltering love.  At the end of the novel, we see that Bathsheba is a changed woman, humbled by her experiences and able to appreciate the virtuous man Gabriel. 

Perilous Romance

“See how she leans her cheek upon her hand.

O, that I were a glove upon that hand

That I might touch that cheek!”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous works of literature. It calls to us as the standard of true romance. But why?  It was irrational and risky and doomed, but even cynics are still drawn to it. Perhaps, subconsciously, we know we have to adopt the same attitudes as these lovers to retain romance and love in our relationships.  We must be willing to throw the world away to maintain our love. These young lovers faced the anger of their families and their ending was tragic. We face a culture full of temptation, crumbling morality, and human weakness, yet love can conquer all.*

Romeo and Juliet

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8 

Gabriel Oak, to me, stands as a greater standard of romance than Romeo and Juliet. His silent devotion and moral strength endure despite his beloved’s imperfection, and when all hope seems lost. When the passion of Sergeant Troy proves false, Gabriel Oak’s quieter love proves true.  He stands as the one true romantic of the book. Bathsheba becomes worthy of his love as she deepens in her tribulations.

″‘I love you,’ he whispered, and kissed my brow. ‘Thorns and all.‘” 

Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd

To be romantic is to be optimistic, visionary, and idealistic.  These qualities may seem naive, but they need not be.  They are qualities that hold fast to an ideal – an ideal love. We can hold to these even in knowing the reality of darkness and weakness.  Trusting in goodness is not naive; it is the only way to bring goodness about.  Without a hopeful outlook, life is doomed to be a tragedy.

“To transcend cynicism we say, ‘Even though I know there are just as many snakes in your heart as there are in my heart, I’m going to hold out my hand in trust because that’s the best way to elevate both of us.'”

Jordan Peterson

If we opt to forgo the risk, if we decide it is safer to avoid devotion to another “snake-filled” heart, we risk living a life without love.  Unburdened by commitment and sacrifice we may become new creatures. As C.S. Lewis explains, our souls are meant to love. 

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket… it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The Need for Both Heavens

In order for hopeful qualities to find a place in our hearts, we must have them grounded in something spiritual and transcendent, not rational and material.   Is there room for such emotions in the harsh world of scientific materialism? For romance to last, we must trust,  leap,  and pray that someone not only catches us, but continues holding us. But our modern atheistic philosophy teaches us one thing loud and clear – we will not be caught.  We are simply atoms bouncing off each other and love and devotion are evolutionary mechanisms, nothing more. Our instincts will determine our choices and self-interest is a much more powerful mechanism than love.  If our “beloved” is no longer useful, they will likely be cast aside. Our modern perspective is like living in a world where Pandora shut her box one moment too soon.  The one thing that makes life worth living – hope – has been left inside the box. 

Pandora, John William Waterhouse

But this has not always been the dominant outlook of mankind, and it still isn’t for many.  The world of our ancestors was physically harsh –  ours is spiritually harsh. Our forebears were romantics. Their art and literature show that despite their sufferings, they held firm to an ideal of love and beauty. 

William Wordsworth, the great Romantic poet, illustrates this hopeful viewpoint, one we only see when we look beyond our initial rationalism: 

“Look for the stars, you’ll say that there are none; Look up a second time, and, one by one, You mark them twinkling out with silvery light, And wonder how they could elude the sight!”

We must not forget to blink and look again for deeper truths, for a happier alternative.  A whole host of Romantic artists dedicated their lives to portraying love and romance to the world.  Poetry, painting, sculpture, and literature tell the story of love between a man and a woman, and the triumph of hope over cynicism.  

Their stories depict the miracle of love: the self-abandoning journey of St. George as he sought to save the princess, the courtly love depicted in the tales of King Arthur, and the unyielding love of Agnes for David Copperfield.

Charles Dickens was a true romantic.  His early life was marked by tragedy. He worked in a factory as a child, while his father was in debtors’ prison.  Yet, despite acknowledging the reality of human depravity, he maintained a hopeful view of life and humanity. Chesterton compares his view to the perspective of our modern writers:

 “The fierce poet of the Middle Ages wrote, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,’ over the gates of the lower world. The emancipated poets of today have written it over the gates of this world…
Dickens (a Romantic author) urges us to…’forego for a little the pleasures of pessimism. Dream for one mad moment that the grass is green. Unlearn that sinister learning that you think is so clear, deny that deadly knowledge that you think you know. Surrender the very flower of your culture, give up the very jewel of your pride, abandon hopelessness, all ye who enter here.'”

G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study

But with time, romance faded from our art. The hopeful romantic period of the mid-18th century was followed by Realism and Modernism and ultimately the meaninglessness of Postmodernism. Many credit the rise of more cynical perspectives to the harshness of life after the world wars. But life has always been difficult and suffering does not breed cynicism – lack of hope does.  Hope must be grounded in a belief in the divine good of the world, that good will be rewarded, that truth will set us free, and that love is more powerful than hate.  Without the divine, hope is lost.  As religious faith withered, so did hope and love. 

“Love is an act of faith.”

Erich Seligmann Fromm

 As our world loses faith in a merciful and loving Creator, we lose faith in humanity at large.  From Ayn Rand to Charles Darwin, we are endlessly reminded that every action is reducible to biological urges or self-interest.

Reality of Love

But let’s just shake off this alternate reality for a minute and remember some eternal truths. 

Divine Love is the beginning and end of creation. Therefore love is at the core of our existence. Romantic love is powerful. We can follow our passionate love, and make something real and lasting. The bonds of family are stronger than any man-made philosophy. The joy to be found in a happy home exceeds any found in an office. The positive influence we can have on the world through our righteous posterity is limitless.  The relationship of marriage between a man and woman engages their complementary natures. It enables us to restrain our excesses and expand our limitations as we face life together – loyal and committed. The intimacy worked at and built up in a healthy and mutually compassionate physical relationship with a spouse can bring passion and adventure to even the most “ordinary” life. The sacred bond between husband and wife and their children can carry us through the most difficult trials – sickness, death, poverty, and heartbreak. To love is to be alive and to enjoy life. 

“At home by the fire, whenever I look up, there you will be. And whenever you look up, there I shall be.” 

Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd

Romance Can Last

Part of our cultural revolt against “true love” is due to a lack of understanding of what love is. We reject what we do not understand. As suggested in my last piece,  unexpected passionate love demands a vow, and one we moderns are increasingly leery of making.  

Love is more than a passionate declaration, it is a welcomed acceptance of restricted freedom.  For it to be true, it is also continuous action.  It requires our will and our sacrifice to sustain it. It often has a passionate and spontaneous beginning, but its power is found in its endurance.

“The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — ‘free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.”

G.K. Chesterton, In Defense of Rash Vows

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 reminds us of the ideal enduring nature of love – neverending, never altering.  

Let me not to the marriage of true minds 

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds, 

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

I don’t just want to be married to a Gabriel Oak (I am lucky enough to be), but I want to be a Gabriel Oak. I want to be a woman my husband can depend upon. We often hear that someone “fell out of love”. True love is not fickle and unpredictable, it does not fall of its own accord.  Love is given to us and it finds a home in us.  We must ensure our hearts and souls remain faithful to that love.  

Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak,
Far From the Madding Crowd, 2015

When you live with someone for many years, there will be ups and downs.  There will be days you wonder if you made a huge mistake.  There will be passionate weeks, and weeks you fall asleep on the couch watching The Office.  But if you hold fast to your vow and remain committed and close to each other, forgiving each other’s imperfections, there is great hope that you can live in that greater circle of love, and create a heavenly home for your children, spouse, and yourself.

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling….Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other.  They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. it is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.” 

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The Next Generation of Romantics

For our children’s sake, we need to show the rest of the story. Romeo and Juliet’s story ended quickly. Their demise was brought on by external forces that interrupted the beauty of their love. We must show our children that Romeo and Juliet can live, have kids, pay their mortgage and remain unaltered in love.  To believe in love, they must see its reality through times of trial. They must see their parents laugh with each other, be affectionate with each other, go through disagreements and come out on the other side.  They must see a love more desirable than the twisted, self-interested love of our modern age.  Even if our own home has had divorce or difficulty, they can see us overcome our dashed dreams and yet not descend into cynicism but maintain hope and faith in love. 

“All love will, one day, meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad.”

George MacDonald

A happy home is an earlier heaven. It’s worth believing in and seeking. The foundation of that heaven is the loving relationship between husband and wife.  Marriage can bring immense joy and constancy to our lives.  Our spouse won’t be perfect and neither will we – but “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”  Love is a promise, it is a choice, it is constant.  It extends beyond time and circumstance and we should believe in it again.  

….

The last installment on this romantic theme will be on helping our children develop a romantic vision of life. I will include a list of literature and film to share with your children that can spur some good discussion.

Additional Quotes

“If once there has been love,  if they have been married for love, why should love pass away? Surely one can keep it! It is rare that one cannot keep it. The first phase of married love will pass, it is true, but then there will come a love that is better still. Then there will be the union of souls, they will have everything in common, there will be no secrets between them. And once they have children, the most difficult times will seem to them happy, so long as there is love and courage.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

“New love is brightest, and long love is greatest; but revived love is the tenderest thing known upon earth.”

Thomas Hardy, The Hand of Ethelberta

*Interesting insight into the source of the phrase “love conquers all”. 

https://sulondon.syr.edu/teaching-learning/virtual-classroom/omnia-vincit-amor/#:~:text=The%20idea%20of%20%E2%80%9COmnia%20Vincit,(Kingsley%2DSmith%208).

Why Have We Stopped Believing in Love?

Part 1 of a 3-part series on rebuilding Romantic belief (Part 2, Part 3)

In a hymn written in the late 16th century, John Bowring proclaims, “A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” Life was difficult then, in ways it is impossible for us to comprehend in our comfort.  The promise of celestial heaven brought solace to the weary world – but so did the promise that any man or woman –  poor and uneducated or rich and powerful – might attain an earthly heaven – a heaven of love.  But our modern world doubts that such a heaven is even possible.  Marriage in particular has taken a cultural beating.  

I remember speaking to my friend in college who swore she would never get married and it was foolish for anyone to do so. She was raised in a stable and happy family until she was 13, when they were torn apart by a bitter divorce. Once a daddy’s girl, she now has an angry relationship with her father. One of her brothers was so depressed by the chaos of his broken family, he became a drug addict. Her mother remained bitter and resentful a decade later. When she told me her story, I could see she had every reason to swear off marriage –  she had seen the dream end in a nightmare. She could list many friends and relatives who also had horrible experiences with marriage. She had the evidence to back up her decision. It was difficult to make a rational case against her conclusions. And yet – perhaps she was missing something.

Literature and history are full of stories of couples who risked much “for love”: Jane Eyre, Jacob and Rachael, Mayor of Casterbridge, and every Jane Austen novel.  These are stories where love conquers all –  where fortunes are lost, reputations are tarnished, parents are angered, yet all end when lovers unite in marriage.  But we don’t write these kinds of novels anymore. Romantic movies, once a staple in theaters, are now rare.  It seems as if we have shaken off the fairytale and now live in a harsher reality –  a world full of unfaithfulness, broken homes, and individualism. Romantic sentiment is viewed with skepticism. Our art portrays a new perspective – modern music lyrics are more likely to rip on Xs than praise a beloved.   Movies are more likely to display the unraveling of family life than show loving and stable homes.  Dating apps more often seek out one-night stands rather than a life-long partner.  What has happened?

Today, we doubt the reality of both heavens – eternal and familial. 

But we need to reverse this cultural shift.  We need to understand and step back from our cynical precipice and rediscover the reality of love and be faithful to it.  As we regain hope in Romance, we can raise a new generation of romantics capable of building a heaven on earth with their family.

“Love makes all safe”. 

George MacDonald

The Reality of Modern Romance

Many have stopped believing in marriage or fidelity.  A culture that emphasizes pleasure over duty may cause us to shun the responsibility and the sacrifice of a committed relationship.  Many young people are no longer raised in a cultural or religious tradition that looks forward to the day when they will have a family of their own.  High rates of divorce have certainly contributed to our distrust. While divorce may be an unwelcome necessity for some, few would doubt that its ubiquity indicates that something has gone wrong.  

“Science” has also proven to many that monogamy is an outdated practice.  We are just animals, after all, so why not just do what comes naturally? Polyamory is now increasingly seen as the “natural” state of mankind. This is despite evidence that monogamy has been the dominant practice in successful societies for millennia. Pornography, dating apps, and weakening morality cement in our psyche that love and fidelity are childish romantic dreams. 

Even for those of us who believe we are more than mere self-interested animals, we have cause to doubt love. Love is a two-sided affair and in an amoral world, it often seems like wisdom to be skeptical.  Altering the course of our life because of a feeling, and one that may well fade, is risky. 

In the chaotic world in which we live, perhaps we should “hedge our bets.”  Should we really jump head first into a relationship when so many of them fail?  In the past, a strong sense of duty and commitment tied us together when our hastily-made romantic promises began to feel foolish. Social stigma and religious belief put a fence around our commitments.  Now divorce is common and casual sex the norm. 

With the accepted doctrine of “do what feels right in the moment, obligations be damned”, it is rational to protect ourselves from the heartache that “falling in love” will likely bring.  So we begin to see why “rationality” is rarely the harbinger of love. 

Rising Cynicism

My friend in college had lived through a nightmare, caused by her parent’s divorce.  She used her personal experience and logical reasoning to come to a conclusion about marriage.  But her rational circle of truth was too small;  there were other truths she was missing. 

G.K. Chesterton describes this “rational”, yet small, thinking we all engage in which can lead to a sort of rational loveless madness.

“His mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way, the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. . . He is in a clean and well-lit prison of one idea.  The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle, just as a man in a third-class carriage on the Inner Circle (London ring-road) will go round and round the Inner Circle unless he performs the voluntary, vigorous, and mystical act of getting out at Gower Street.”

G.K Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We must get off at Gower Street by stepping outside the misery of our own experiences and seeking more truth, and a reason to hope. It is more difficult to get off the carriage when at every stop we see marriages falling apart with evidence of self-interest, bitterness, and resentment.  So much seems to confirm our truth.  Perhaps we ourselves have experienced the malevolence and dishonesty of those who claimed to love us. Our modern realities make it reasonable to stay in our small, logical, and secure circles. We can stay there –  keep being right, and keep being miserable.

Our rational cynicism must be stepped out of because it will not help us, it will not protect us, and inside of it, we cannot build a heaven on earth. There is a larger circle that surrounds us, one of optimism, forgiveness, and unconditional love – but we may not discern it in our cynicism.  

“Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Genuine selfless love is in fact a miracle, a light that shines through cynicism. It may be rare but that does not make it less powerful or real.  Even a life full of deceit and unfaithfulness is likely to hold one example of genuine love – perhaps a grandma, a teacher, or a kind stranger. That love is the truth and the true light we seek. The rest is a lie. Like all miracles, love points us to a higher and more genuine reality, a larger circle. We can recreate that miracle in our own life despite the rarity of our experience with it. 

“The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cynicism is an outgrowth of experience or teaching which convinces us that love isn’t authentic and that we are all selfish and untrustworthy. When we are immersed in cynicism, toxic relationships become self-fulfilling prophecies. As a society, we have allowed a cynical reality to become reality, and to shape our outlook. We see the happy family as the exception, not the rule. Underlying this cynicism is the belief that we don’t have free will after all and are just a product of our environment, an environment that increasingly seems intent on our destruction. We no longer portray the ideal to our children.  Those ideals as seen  in such shows as  “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Brady Bunch” have vanished and now they are left with the  worst-case scenarios in  “13 Reasons Why.” 

We see in the culture of young people that the cynicism about love is bearing fruit. Many dating websites, borne from twisted perceptions and porn (link), turn intimate relationships into transactions. Rather than prioritizing relationships, many delay or forgo marriage and trade it for a “career”. Divorce rates rise and birth rates plummet. The sexes turn against each other and see the opposite gender as a threat rather than a partner.  

Our modern gender wars are an outgrowth of this cynicism. If we don’t trust in the power of romantic love, we don’t trust the opposite sex. If men and women don’t encourage or respect each other, they won’t establish deep relationships and society will collapse.

“We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty.”

G.K Chesterton

Without a foundation of genuine love and respect, even the extended family crumbles. Rather than a gathering of familial love, the Thanksgiving dinner table has become a political battleground.  Young people roll their eyes at the views of their elders, while their elders look with disdain at the ignorance and naivety of their children’s worldview. Loyalty to ideology trumps loyalty to family.  

Be a Fool, Make A Vow

We don’t make vows anymore. We don’t jump in passionately to romance. We swipe right and throw others into the relationship dustbin based on a millisecond judgment.  We live together before getting married, just to be sure.  We keep open the option of escape. The rational side of me says this might be good – look how much suffering has come from “fools jumping in”?  But it isn’t good. It has not produced good fruits –  it has stifled romance, and it has increased loneliness and unhappiness.  For love to exist there has to be a leap,  vulnerability, and there has to be risk.  

Despite our modern cynicism, many are still drawn to love stories, to rash vows.  Falling in love is one of the most transcendent experiences in a person’s life. Do we forgo one of the great adventures of life because it is risky?

I went to tour a friend’s almost-completed house the other day. It was a beautiful home, however, I noticed that nearly everything was white – white walls, cabinets, and tile. Even the fireplace was surrounded by white walls. I asked her if she was going to put stone or brick around the fireplace.  She said, “I don’t think so, I keep going back and forth on what to put there and I just feel like I would start hating it, or it would go out of style- so I am leaving it white.” I am no interior decorator, perhaps she was right, I myself worry about changing styles. However, I was struck by her statement as it relates to our modern philosophy. She was so unsure of herself, her own tastes, and the world’s shifting perspectives, that to be safe, she was just leaving it white. She is not alone, color is disappearing from our world.  

Walk through St. Peters, Seville Cathedral, or any of the architectural masterpieces that millions visit every year and you will see that they are full of color and style, rash and bold statements of beauty and love.  Each colored marble floor and each ornate altar is a vow. A rash and unchanging statement that says, “The world may change, tastes may change – but this will not change.  If it should stand for the next thousand years unchanged, it will still be beautiful.”  

“Do not swear by the moon, for she changes constantly. Then your love would also change.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Continuing with G.K. Chesterton in his superb essay entitled, In Defense of Rash Vows, he describes our modern doubtfulness of self and how it leads to an inability to make and keep the kind of vows needed for romantic love to thrive.  

“The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place. The danger of it is that himself should not keep the appointment. And in modern times this terror of one’s self, of the weakness and mutability of one’s self, has perilously increased, and is the real basis of the objection to vows of any kind. A modern man refrains from swearing to count the leaves on every third tree in Holland Walk, not because it is silly to do so (he does many sillier things), but because he has a profound conviction that before he had got to the three hundred and seventy-ninth leaf on the first tree he would be excessively tired of the subject and want to go home to tea. In other words, we fear that by that time he will be, in the common but hideously significant phrase, another man.”

We have lost our confidence in vows, and in our ability to keep them.  Without the belief in the unchanging nature of love, and our own ability to be unchanged – true romantic love will continue to fade from our culture. But we can rediscover this love, gain confidence again in our own ability to love, and raise a new generation of romantics.

Next week we will discuss how to turn from a passionless culture and rediscover romance.

Ally

Continue to Part 2, Becoming Romantics Again

Resources:

On moving beyond Cynicism, 1 minute

Sex and Dating in Modern America

On Pornography: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-33/may-2014/how-pornography-harms-children–the-advocate-s-role/

On Birth Rates:

https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-05-05/us-birth-rates-continue-to-fall

An Ode to Date Nights

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

By: Alexia Jolie Villa

My husband and I have been married for almost 14 years, 10 of which we’ve spent as parents.  We are deeply, deeply grateful for our three healthy young children, who have brought so much meaning to our lives, both in terms of challenges and joy. 

However, no matter how much we love our kids and love spending time with them, I’ve instinctively felt for a very long time that it is important – actually, necessary – that we regularly spend some time alone as a couple. The passing of time has turned this feeling into a certainty.

The first time we went out on a date after becoming parents was a year after my eldest child was born. Looking back, frankly, we waited too long, but, as a first-time mother, I just didn’t realize the importance of such moments. We didn’t do anything particular: just went out for a quick pizza and a movie at the theater. But I remember very clearly what a revelation it was to me to be able to focus exclusively on my husband again, basking in feeling attractive for him and in the feeling that I was having FUN with him again, especially after spending a very hard few months as first-time parents.

Ever since then, I’ve tried to spend at least two hours every week alone with my husband, leaving someone else – either a grandmother or a babysitter – to look after the children. We don’t have to do anything fancy, though it is very enjoyable to have dinner at a nice restaurant. A simple walk to fetch the newspaper or some fresh fish will do. We rarely go to the theater because that means we can’t talk to each other, and there is so much we need to talk about – our plans for the future, musings about the present, our hopes, dreams, fears, doubts – and so little time to do it during the week, between my husband’s work and everything I need to do to take care of our home and children.

Of course, there are stretches of time when we can’t have our date because life gets in the way: the kids get sick, there is something else going on during the weekend, or it’s one of “those days” for me.

But it is so fundamental to have that bit of time alone with each other. 

Whenever my husband and I have the opportunity to focus solely on each other, without anyone or anything else demanding our immediate attention, we have the opportunity to focus on the magic, both physical and spiritual,  that brought us together and still holds us together. We talk about those things which represent the origin and foundation of everything we hold most dear in our lives: our children, our home, our dreams, and the good we bring out in each other that adds to the good in the world. To me, imagining my marriage without romance feels like imagining life without poetry, without the search for what is divine in the human experience.

This is Jordan Peterson’s definition of sexual romance: “The adventure, pleasure, intimacy, and excitement people fantasize about experiencing when they are feeling in need of a touch of the divine.”

There are many ways to capture the divine in our everyday lives – with our children, with nature, with family, books, music – but there is something special about sitting with your husband and being overwhelmed by the awareness of the power that lies in your love for each other. Despite the inevitable flaws we will both always have, we have the power to create and nurture new life and to transcend everything, including those personal flaws. We just have to believe in our bond strongly enough, and be willing to offer in exchange the necessary amount of blood, sweat, and tears.

Auguste Rodin, Cathedral Hands

There is a deep sense of awe and gratitude that the simple touch of my husband’s hand is capable of inspiring in me. When you’ve been married for a while and have had to get through many difficult moments or weeks or months with your spouse, and you know how to get on each other’s nerves, it is a miracle that we are both strong enough for those moments of connection. 

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage

Lao-Tzu

The resilience of intimate connection means that you’re both still alive. So much of our daily lives are spent on the brink of tragedy: one second too late and your car crashes, or your child chokes, or you hurt seriously injure yourself. I don’t know how long I will be alive. I don’t know how long my husband will be alive. I don’t know which challenges life will throw at us in the future, and neither does he, but I do know that we’re capable of savoring the moments we have with each other.  We can use the passion and gratitude we have for life to help us to survive any tragedy that may occur in the future.

My beloved is mine, and I am his

The Song of Solomon 2:1-17

My husband is my knight in shining armor: isn’t that how we all need and want to see our husbands? And don’t they need to see us as their ideal woman, whom they cherish and will do anything to protect? Men and women alike, we need to be reminded as often as possible by our spouses how important we are to them. There is no a better way to do that than with some dedicated attention, especially in view of the long term. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to someday be one of those elderly couples who’ve been through the whole life spectrum – work, raising children, all manner of psychological and physical challenges – and still look at each other with stars twinkling in their eyes?

Norman Rockwell, The Old Couple

Loyalty To Home

“A man who really loves his country will love her in her ruin and degeneration–“England, with all thy faults, I love thee still.” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Today Americans celebrate the independence of our nation – and yet we know that many of us are not celebrating. There are reasons, on this 4th of July, to be a bit jaded.  There is much division. Foundational principles seem to be dissipating. We may be disappointed in our leaders, disappointed in our institutions, and disappointed in each other.  There is cause to be pessimistic and angry.  And yet, this is our home. We should love it, be grateful for it. It is a truly sad thing when people start hating their own home, their own countrymen.  Often we seek to convince our pessimistic countrymen, we speak of the many wonderful and unique freedoms and blessings of America, all the reasons we should love Her. Perhaps it would be better to stop looking for reasons and just love her because she is ours.

The idea of loyalty seems increasingly lost in our modern mindset. Yet loyalty is a glue that keeps imperfect people together.  My husband and I teach our children to be loyal to their siblings, “Don’t speak badly about your brother to your friends, be loyal.”  But why loyalty? Family is important, much more important than schoolyard gossip- it is a gift God has given us.  It would be wonderful if our brother was perfect, he isn’t, but he is our brother, and that has to mean something. When we treat our family with respect and loyalty, we can become great. Loyalty is trusting that the “accidents” of our birth are blessings rather than curses. Loyalty grows into strength.

“A mother does not give her child a blue bow because she is so ugly without it.  If men loved [their home] as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, their home in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. People first paid honor to a spot and then gained glory for it.” 

G.K. Chesterton

And so we love America still. We do not shut our eyes to faults, but we love with what seems an irrational loyalty. Chesterton summarizes it well, (his words “our home” is replaced with America)

“My acceptance of [America] is no optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty.  [America] is not a lodging house in Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it.  The point is not that [America] is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is the reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This loyalty, this patriotism, this “irrational optimism”, as Chesterton calls it, for our homeland is not stupid or naive, it is gratitude and love.  Today as we celebrate America, let us love her, our home, with loyalty. 

Ally

Salute the Flag, Norman Rockwell

Resources:

C.S. Lewis on Patrotism. https://ponderingprinciples.com/2019/08/17/lewis-on-love-of-country/

Hope and Fathers

With the recent decision on Roe vs Wade, we see a lot of concern for women and the burden placed upon them. This concern is justified as raising a child is difficult (we may make it more difficult than necessary by imposing modern and materialistic expectations on parenting). I hope we see a shift start to happen in our society, a return to time-tested sexual morality, and a new emphasis on the crucial role of fathers. A present father not only relieves the financial and emotional burden on mothers but shares in the joy of raising a precious child. This excellent article may help us see fatherhood for the mighty role it is.

“Why do men work, says the poet Charles Peguy, if not for their children? The father throws himself away in hope, looking forward to the time when he will be no more on earth than a name or a rumor of a name but his children will be alive, and people will say of him—if they remember him at all—that he was a good man but his children are better. He hands on his old tools to his sons, tools shiny with the wear of his hands.”

Why is modern motherhood burdensome? Some essays that attempt to answer…

Defeating the Devouring Mother

Happiness is Destroying Parenthood

The Myth of the Mother-Type


The Frodos of Fatherhood

A powerful scene in the Lord of the Rings is a wonderful metaphor for fatherhood. Frodo, the insecure and lowly hobbit of the Shire, is given a colossal task – take the Ring of Power into Mordor and destroy it.  He is shown in vision the terrible destruction that awaits the world should he fail in his quest. The elf queen, Galadriel, is there with Frodo. After this terrifying vision, rather than softening the blow, she tells him, “This is your burden to bear, if you do not find a way, no one will.”  With this harsh and necessary perspective, this imperfect hobbit goes out into the dark world.  He overcomes great obstacles.  After much tribulation, he climbs the stairs into Mordor.  He is spurred on by the knowledge that the future of mankind rests in his hands and his hands alone. He is indispensable.

Every young father is Frodo. 

He is unsure of his ability to perform the difficult task asked of him. He is weak, inexperienced, and immature. Like Frodo, he prefers beer to responsibility. Yet if he fails in his task, the world suffers. 

Watch Frodo as he discovers the urgency of his quest. 

You can see the feelings of inadequacy in his countenance. He looks to the elf queen, “You are wise and fearless and fair, Lady Galadriel, I will give you the One Ring, if you ask for it. It is too great a matter for me”. 

I have seen this look before, I remember it well. It was the same look my husband had in a hospital in Hawaii, as he was handed our shrieking first-born son. I was bed-bound due to my C-section. My 24-year-old husband was left to scale the cliffs of parenthood largely alone. 

He tried to hand our son off to the nearest nurse. She wisely left the room – he would have  to figure it out. 

Frodo made many mistakes. He trusted the untrustworthy and for a moment he even gave into the power of the ring. But, through God’s grace and the assistance of others, he made it. He was the man for the task. An imperfect but willing young father is also the man for the task. The Frodos of Fatherhood are heroes despite their imperfections. They do not shirk from their duty.  As they carry the burden, they grow stronger under its weight.

The man that embarks on the adventure of fatherhood will not emerge the same man. “There is no real going back”.  He will gather scars along the way. He will learn what he is made of.  The future of our world truly does depend on the everyday man, or hobbit, taking his child in his hands and bearing that precious burden. 

My husband is a different man now than that young man unsure of himself in a hospital room.  Now 13 years and 4 kids later, he doesn’t fear the duties of fatherhood but carries his burden well.  Like Frodo, his journey of Fatherhood has included tribulation and overcoming obstacles. Yet Frodo seems deeply traumatized by his experience with evil, for his burden was a wicked one and grew heavier.  Yet as Fathers carry the righteous burden of their own precious children – it does not grow heavier, but lighter. Looking back, I love that brave 24-year-old man that tried to pass off our son to the nearest nurse, but he was a smaller version of the mighty man we have today.  He now has a greater capacity for hardship, self-sacrifice, empathy, and spiritual discernment. Fatherhood, for him, has been primarily a journey of joy and laughter.  We, his family, see him for the Hero he is.  

Happy Father’s Day to all our Heroic Dads.

Small acts lead to great victory

“The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Lewis describes the power of a small “good” action. One of Aesop’s fables describes the terror of a young mouse, caught by a hungry lion. He pleads to be released, “Spare me!” begs the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.” The lion laughs, how could such an insignificant creature help him? But in his mirth, he releases the mouse. A few days later the lion is caught in a hunter’s net. His angry roars reached the mouse. He runs to the rescue and chews the Lion free. “You laughed when I said I would repay you,” said the Mouse. “Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion.”

We may feel we are as insignificant, but this mouse didn’t. He heard the cries of the lion and ran to the rescue.

The sacrifices we make today equal peace and happiness in the future. These offerings are often begun simply by opening our eyes to the needs of those around us. The accomplishment of each “good act” requires a sidelining of distraction and selfish inclination, and actively engaging with the soul of another.  This miracle of selflessness is that it is so often accompanied by joy.

I hope we can have the attitude of this mouse – No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. For parents this may mean: resisting the impulse to anger, putting down the phone and cuddling with our toddler, staying up late to talk with our struggling teenage daughter, encouraging our sensitive child to face a fear. These small acts will lead to great victories.

-Ally

I loved his Babylon Bee article which hilariously demonstrates how a perspective on the smallness of our roles as Mother’s is so very wrong.

https://babylonbee.com/news/i-accomplished-nothing-today-says-mom-who-cared-for-infinitely-precious-children-of-god

Reading Lesson, George Hardy, 1889