“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
This witticism has seeped into the consciousness of many young women since its first utterance in 1970. It may seem harmless, and even helpful in developing confidence in young women. However, this belief has, in fact, had a devastating effect on children. An independent young woman may feel she is getting along fine without a man – but if she has a child – she needs him, and so does the child. Single Mothers are capable of miraculous feats – but very few, in their honesty, would claim they wouldn’t welcome help from a loving and competent father of their child. Now, oftentimes that loving man isn’t a reality, and that is the fault of the man. However, it is important for young women to see that their future children do need their father and they should adjust their “fish and bicycle” view of the world. Men and women need each other, and what a beautiful thing that is, for we all crave connection and love.
This article from The Art of Manliness shows the harsh reality many fatherless-children face.
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
A scene in the TV series “The Last Kingdom” has stayed with me since I saw it. The series follows King Alfred, a medieval king of Wessex and a devout Christian who sought to convert his subjects to Christianity. He was forced into exile due to the advancement of the brutal pagan Danes. He was protected by the warrior Uhtred. King Alfred is standing alone in a flat featureless marsh where the protective Uhtred finds him and asks:
“Were you worried that I would lose my way?” asks the King.
Uhtred says, “One path looks like another.”
Alfred asks, “What do you notice about this place?”
Alfred says, “There are no horizons. No sense of something beyond. My priests have visited here once or twice to preach. The people are oblivious to God.”
I pondered that a bit – A simple yet profound exchange. Why would a horizonless landscape produce such a faithless mentality in its people?
An open and featureless plain does not give our eyes a place to rest; it provides no quest or goal to yearn for.
Featureless horizons do not direct our attention, or call us to a destination, or produce a beckoning. Our soul looks for beauty; it longs for the hope found on a path leading towards a beautiful destination. The more worthy the destination, the more joy we can hope for in its attainment. Boundless potential and subjectivism produce oblivion. If we are capable of anything and everything, and all roads are of equal worth, we are easily lost in the marshes of life.
For all of human history a woman’s purpose has been tied up in her biological capacity to have children. Now, she has more choices – limitless potential paths.
As King Alfred learned – with no sense of a horizon, it is easy to become lost – and not even know we are lost. Today women are lost. Women are less happy than their grandmothers, despite our freedom and opportunity.*
So how do we follow a path that leads towards something worthwhile when our culture is increasingly unwilling to point us towards such a purpose, and instead actively discourages us from looking to our female progenitors for guidance? Ironically it seems that our path is often found more easily in what we reject than what we choose.
“Creation means rejection…for a man cannot make statues without rejecting stone.” **
“For in self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being.”
We all strive to create a beautiful life. And yet, we must understand that in every creation, we are rejecting another potential creation. I remember the difficulty of deciding whether I should attend a prestigious graduate program or work to help my husband finish his undergraduate degree. When I made my decision, mostly out of financial necessity, I pictured my future potential-self, a graduate of Cambridge, blowing away in the wind, like a victim of Thanos.
The act of creation through rejection is evident in many aspects of a woman’s life, and it is a painful process. It is never easy to forgo a passion or to prioritize one thing over another. It is difficult to turn our backs on potential; we are often unsure if the path we have chosen will bear good fruit.
The archetypal feminine is often depicted as Mother Nature. She has the power to destroy and create. The death of plants in Winter will eventually give rise to Spring. Lighting strikes and burns down an old decaying forest – a new one grows in its place. There is suffering in those destructions, and hope.
Women create – often through mysterious and chaotic ways. We create new life; we renew humanity; we produce beauty in the world around us – this is a terrible and beautiful thing.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
What Is Beauty?
“Beauty matters. It is not just a subjective thing but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.”
Sir Roger Scruton
We know beauty when we see it. Encountering a sculpture such as Michalangelo’s David is a truly spiritual experience. Beautiful art is truth revealed to an artist, and each artist produces unique work. We don’t judge Monet for not painting like Van Gogh – both their works are masterpieces.
As we look to our own horizon, we must decide what to discard to create our beautiful life. Some things that might be beautiful must be cut out to reveal what is more beautiful. Smaller truths must be overcome by ultimate truth. Worthy desires must be forgone for greater purposes. As the artist we are the ones with the chisel; we discard these lesser beauties to unveil our creation.
Some would say that art is simply in the eye of the beholder, there is no real beauty or true art. They say that any choice can lead to a beautiful life because all is subjective. These opinions come from those living in the featureless plains spoken of by King Alfred. Those who subscribe to this view of life will find it hard to find a horizon to fix their gaze upon. They will turn this way and that with the ever-changing winds of passion and emotion.
As C.S. Lewis explains in The Abolition of Man, there is objective beauty and truth and we know it when we see it (assuming this perception has not been brainwashed out of us). No one standing before the sublimity of a waterfall can question its awe-inspiring beauty.* No one walking under the dome of St. Peter’s can say it is equal to the local community center. No one seeing a devoted mother hold her precious newborn baby can doubt the goodness in their embrace. So there must be some creations more worthy than others.
A Rejection of Motherhood
Recently an actress was awarded a Golden Globe. She was emotional as she spoke of her gratitude at being able to make the choices necessary to receive such an award. She was referring to her choice to have an abortion. She felt having a child would have blocked her path to this “great” achievement. This is obviously a creative and talented woman. However, she allowed her drive to create and her ambition and desire for recognition to limit her potential. In her desire to be the author of her life, she aimed too low – she settled for less. She made many choices and those choices led to what seemed to her a necessity – if she were to have the life she wanted. She chose to reject the creation of a life and instead to receive a lifeless golden substitute.
The actress wanted to, “Recognize my handwriting all over my life…A life I have carved with my own hands.” She declared, “we should make the world look more like (women) who are…seeking their own self-interest.”
She created and rejected what she desired so her life became what she wanted. This is the mantra of modern life, I want what I want in life, all else be damned. But is the art this produces beautiful? It seems unlikely when its creation is based on wandering desires and self-interest. Beauty comes from truth and virtue – not desires. Many now regret the choices they once yearned to make.
“The idea of beauty is the fundamental idea of everything. In the world we see only distortions of the fundamental idea, but art, by imagination, may lift itself to the height of this idea. Art is therefore akin to creation.”
A great artist attempts to create beauty that can lead to many and varied creations – but they will leave many lesser creations unmade. This actress left a greater beauty unborn.
Every statue Michelangelo chiseled meant another statue was never born. But what if instead of a beautiful statue, he could make a man? What if he could build up a real David, capable of conquering armies and raising a nation? Would that not be more glorious than the man made-substitute we must now be content with? But only Nitzevet, King David’s mother, had the power of bringing David into the world. When comparing the beauty of a statue versus the beauty of a human being, do we want to live in a world that would choose the former?
So when we embark on this journey to create a masterpiece – the carving of our own beautiful life – we should not carve out a statute as imperfect as our own desires, as weak as our own failings, as ugly as our own selfishness. Rather we should be true artists, seeking out beauty and truth to guide our sculpting. Otherwise, we produce narcissistic and disjointed art that is not a reflection of truth but an idol of self-worship.
“Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”
We are often told, as women, that we can have it all, and in the next moment we are shown we must choose between a child and success – and that the latter choice is the more worthy one. A beautiful life requires no victims to achieve, only the discarding of our own pride and weakness.
I want to make this clear – Not every woman can, wants to, or will have children – and they are no less of a woman and no less capable of creation than a mother of seven. Mother Teresa, John of Arc, Julian of Norwich- these and millions more women never had children and created lives worthy of admiration. They gave up their own “self-interest” and progressed toward a greater hope – one we can all look to. When I write of motherhood this is not limited to the act of raising biological children- all women become mothers-of-humanity as they create beauty in the world.
“It is an ancient view that truth, goodness, and beauty cannot, in the end, conflict.”
Sir Roger Scruton
True femininity is not limiting but expansive. Yes we must reject much, but we gain much. Women can’t do it all at the same time, we must put first things first, but life is long. We don’t have to drop passions- we can integrate them into what is most important. What version should we accept – the one that tells us we must end a life to live the one we want? Or the one that tells us that bringing life, bringing love, and sacrificing self for others supersedes any man-made glories?
Michelangelo carved an even greater statue than his David. This other masterpiece is his most acclaimed and admired. This statue has drawn millions of pilgrims to stand before its awesome beauty. It is not like the David; it is not of a man that defeated giants or conquered nations. It has a much more remarkable subject – a mother and her child – a humble and poor woman, deemed inconsequential by most in her time. It is of a woman gloried not for her accomplishments but for her sacrifice – for her rejections: the rejection of her reputation as she carried her child; the rejection of comfort as she journeyed to Bethlehem; the rejection of a safe and simple life as she accepted her role as the Mother of God; the rejection of good for better, of pride for humility, of wickedness for righteousness. It represents the rejection of a “life of self-interest”, to make way for a creation that makes all rejections trivial – the Savior of Mankind. The beauty and majesty produced by these rejections is clear to any standing before this masterpiece – this horizon of stone.
**“Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense, every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else… Every act is an irrevocable selection and exclusion. Just as when you marry one woman you give up all the others, so when you take one course of action you give up all the other courses… Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel from the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of the Triangles”; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing.”
I highly recommend reading the linked piece by Michael Matheson Miller. He examines the ideas of great thinkers on happiness and virtue.
We all just want to be happy, but paradoxically our most ardent attempts to be happy seem doomed to failure. Yet, when we simply go about our day – without rumination on the presence or lack of joy- we play with our baby, we enjoy a meal with loved ones, and happiness is there.
As Frankl said, “…happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue…It is the very pursuit of happiness, that thwarts happiness.”
“Children need to sit alone in their boredom for the world to become quiet enough so that they can hear themselves.”
Dr. Vanessa la Pointe
Boredom breeds creativity, it frees up the mind to see the beauty we are usually blind to: the majesty of a tree, the sound of a cricket, the cute mannerisms of a toddler, the insights and revelations of own mind. Our children, and we, are too often distracted by phones, video games, or the urgency of life to discover the reality that surrounds us. As parents, we know those forts don’t get built while Fortnite is on, that spontaneous obstacle course in the front lawn would not have happened if they were huddled around a screen. As we face the long-days of summer, it is useful to see boredom as an opportunity for our children – and something we should try and produce in our homes.
“Certainly work (and play) is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.”
The article linked explains the utility and blessing of boredom.
A mother took a piece of clay And idly fashioned it one day, And as her fingers pressed it, still It moved and yielded to her will.
She came again when days were past, The bit of clay was hard at last. The form she gave it, still it bore, And she could change that form no more.
She took a piece of living clay And gently pressed it day by day, And molded with her power and art A young child’s soft and yielding heart.
She came again when years were gone; It was a man she looked upon. He still that early impress bore, And she could fashion it no more.
The influence our mothers have had on the shape and quality of our lives cannot be overstated. As the great George Washington expressed for all of us, “All I am I owe to my mother.” Thank you to all the loving mothers who sacrifice self and comfort to mold their children.
We recently taught our son to ride a bike. The first day was rough. He would weave this way and that, quickly taking a sharp turn into the sidewalk. Memories from my own first bike-rides came flooding back. I remember being as unbalanced as my son. My dad yelled the solution, “Stop looking at your feet! Look at where you want to go!” As soon as I, and my son, stopped looking down – fearing a fall, we balanced ourselves and magically began riding in a straight line.
Too often we walk our ‘path of life’ looking at our feet. This creates a chaotic and haphazard pattern – a path not constructed with forward-looking goals in mind or informed by logic, morality, or truth, but laid down in the same way my son’s was. These paths can be created by attempts to avoid imminent pain, or by following the winding of our own fleeting pleasure-seeking. This insightful poem represents this idea well.
By Sam Foss
One day through the primeval wood A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew, A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled, And I infer the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail, And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day, By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too, As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o’er hill and glade. Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out, And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath, Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed—do not laugh— The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane, that bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road, Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun, And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet, The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware, A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half, Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout Followed the zigzag calf about
And o’er his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.
A Hundred thousand men were led, By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way, And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent, To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun, To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track, And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue, To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove, Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh, Who saw the first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach— But I am not ordained to preach.
The calf will wander this way for shade, or that way to nibble on yummy grass, or may take a turn to avoid low-lying branches. The calf lays out a path without foresight or ultimate purpose. Generations after him many unquestionably follow his careless trail.
However, we must look towards our desired destination and turn away our attention from distracting temptations or obstacles. We, as parents, do not have to walk on careless tracks. We can lay down better ones.
When we become parents, we envision the relationship we want to have with our children – now and in years to come. We want mutual respect. We want to trust each other. We want to pass on our values and morality. We want our son or daughter to be capable of greatness, to be a positive influence on the world and their future family. So we intentionally walk a path toward this ideal, and encourage our children to join us. They may choose to wander from time to time, but a road laid in love can entice them back – especially after experiencing paths of chaos. If other parents abdicate their responsibility and leave their children to roam on trails laid by a degenerate culture or by ill-informed philosophy – that is their choice. Our choice is to intentionally raise our children, laying out a road with a destination fit for a King or Queen, not a cow.
“I do not think that the road to contentment lies in despising what we have not got. Let us acknowledge all good, all delight that the world holds, and be content without it.”
George MacDonald, Lilith
Often we are driven to envy or false disdain for that which we don’t, or cannot, have. “What a Dandy that man is, always fiddling with his hair!”, says the bald man. Beauty and achievement can be gloried in – even if we may not be the direct beneficiaries. The bald man can still admire a good head-of-hair. I can praise a well-decorated house, despite my own lack of style. One of the most difficult things to learn is how to be happy for someone when good things happen to them; to glory in another’s success. But first, we must recognize when we hold-back from celebrating with another’s good-fortune, or when we despise what we cannot have. In our honest introspection, we can begin to open the doorway to a more joyful interaction with others’ success.
If we can master this vicarious joy, we will always find a path to happiness- for beauty and good fortune abound. If we acknowledge all the delights of the world, one man’s gain can also be ours.
In the marvelous story, The Princess and Curdie*, by George MacDonald, we follow a lowly young miner, named Curdie. He comes to love and admire a wise and righteous old woman, a Princess – known as the “dear old Grandmother”. He promises to serve her, and she tells him that he must go and help the King. She does not say how he must help him, or where he must go, or what he must do – but she says he must go. And so, obedient servant that he is, he departs on his quest.
After many misadventures, he finds himself at the king’s doorway, on the run from the King’s own guard. He stops for a moment unsure if he should go in – as it would be impertinent of a lowly miner to enter the King’s chamber.
“He felt sure this must be the King’s Chamber, and it was here he was wanted. Or, if it was not the place he was bound for, something would beat him and turn him aside. For he had come to think that so long as a man wants to do right, he may go where he can. When he can go no farther, then it is not the way. Only…he must really want to do right, and not merely fancy he does. He must want it with his heart and will, and not with his rag of a tongue.”
So often we question our place; we doubt our path or we don’t understand how or why something will be accomplished. We also doubt our own motivations – “Am I truly trying to do good, or am I just seeking praise or acting out of self-righteousness?” Here Curdie is confident, however, because he really wants to do right – with his heart and his will. He isn’t seeking glory, or riches – he doesn’t care how many likes he gets on Instagram or if the other miners will be impressed by his courage. He just wants to do right. He wants to obey the truth he has found.
So he moves forward, into the unknown. As we all must. And when he hits a wall where he can go no further, he turns and finds another way. In the story, we see him reach many of these “dead ends”. Yet he does good on the path that leads there – so perhaps they aren’t so “dead” after all. Curdie, in one way, has found the answer to the complexity of life. Rather than needing to know the why, how, or where of life – he only knows that he “really wants to do right” and rely on the faith he has in his righteous Princess. He knows she is good, he knows she sent him on this quest and there is a plan and a purpose. With his heart set on doing right, his path is always the right one.
But how do we know our heart is right, and not just our “rag of a tongue”? I think in this story Curdie gives us a big clue – he is mocked and harassed by many along his path, yet he remains undaunted. He is thought to be a thief, a devil, a traitor, yet he is not seeking the good opinion of others – he seeks to do what is right. Oftentimes we question our course when we are mocked or judged by others – we start to look to others for affirmation of our “rightness”. We imagine that if we are not valued or praised we must be off-course. But the opinions of “men” are often muddied by envy, resentment, anger, or just ignorance. It is better to keep looking at our “Dear old Grandmother” and her good opinion – to keep attempting to align our steps with the will of God, or goodness, or conscience.
The scripture says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” So when we think we have made a mistake, or question which choice we should make – let’s first make sure our heart is where it should be, and then all else will unfold for good.
*I highly recommend the books The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie. A truly magical and profoundly-deep set of books for adults and children.
But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
G. K. Chesterton, one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, said that MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin , which had been read to him in the nursery, was a book that “made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start.”