Recently in Family and Society Category

No God, no fathers.


John Zmirak:

If our image of fatherhood is drawn after Homer Simpson, so we will picture Our Father in heaven -- as I must confess I used to do, figuring that catastrophes like tsunamis, genocides, and altar girls could be traced to God snoring at the controls of Springfield's nuclear reactor.
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The New Yorker on breastfeeding

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The piece, by Jill Lepore, is actually rather good -- I don't think there's much La Leche League would disagree with and some information that I'd never heard before (like the fact that nursing is explicitly prohibited in some lactation rooms "This room is not intended for mothers who need a space to nurse their babies") as well as some great snark (Lepore: "A brief history of food: when the rich eat white bread and buy formula, the poor eat brown bread and breast-feed; then they trade places.")

At the end, Lepore misses one point. Yes, the pumping craze glosses over the child's need for her mother (Lepore: "'Should I take three twenty-minute pumping 'breaks' during my workday, or use formula and get home to my baby an hour earlier?'... is it the mother, or her milk, that matters more to the baby?"), but in real life, pumping is a real pain in the a** and many women give it up, thus depriving the baby of both mama and milk.

But that's a minor-ish quibble about a surprisingly good piece.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Deranged


What I read during my lunch:

  • GOOD:

    Michael Pollan's letter to the next president:

    This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you've inherited -- designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so -- are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food -- organic, local, pasture-based, humane -- are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform. Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that "this is a conservative cause if ever there was one."

    I have a post kicking around in my head on Michael Pollan as one of the most prominent and effective opponents of materialism. Someday I'll find the time to write it.


    John Zmirak on Archbishop Chaput's Render Unto Caesar

    Having elsewhere published a thoughtful review of Archbishop Chaput's book that was mostly positive, Zmirak returns with sharper criticism. The title of his piece -- "Surrender Not Unto Caesar--Resisting Catholic Liberalism" gives you a hint of what he's getting at, but Zmirak is not throwing bombs here:

    In America, by our Constitution as it has been authoritatively interpreted, the State is now relentlessly secular. In practice, it is rigorously relativistic. Altering either of these settled facts in American life would be unthinkably hard. Therefore, any Christian engaged in public life must seek to shrink the sphere of the State, and reduce its functions to their bare, libertarian minimum--in order to leave some room for the practice of Christian life. The bishops' predecessors realized this, when they tapped the meager resources of impoverished immigrants to build an entire, nationwide system of alternative Catholic schools. Instead of trying vainly to Romanize the (then vigorously if vaguely Protestant) schools, they built their own. A very American response to such a problem--and also a deeply Catholic one. Homeschoolers today follow in the footsteps of Abp. "Dagger" John Hughes.

    The Church is officially committed to localism, rather than centralism. Catholic teaching on subsidiarity asserts that no problem should be taken up by the State which can be resolved by private action, and that no local matter should be referred to central authorities unless local institutions are hopelessly inadequate--as they are, for instance, to guard the border against foreign invasion, or prosecute interstate crimes. Empower the federal government to control (as it now does, with bishops' approval) education, social services, health care and retirement benefits, and you guarantee that each of these vital areas of life will be directed according to non-Christian or anti-Christian principles

    After tracing the dissolution of America's once formidable "institutional culture" -- a collapse which had long been stirring, became visible with JFK's embodiment of Catholics' conformity to mainstream American culture and finally exploded with the backlash against Humanae Vitae -- Zmirak notes that the Church's loss of institutional authority has led American Catholics "to depend for what voice she has on the charisma of isolated individuals, such as Mother Angelica, Fr. Joseph Fessio, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Fr. George Rutler" -- admittedly a formidable line-up, but no substitute for being formed in the faith by a family, parish, indeed an entire sub-culture steeped in Catholicism.

    Here is where he gets back to Chaput and here is where the article breaks down a bit (hence the "goodish" tag). He makes some useful comments on the temptation of Catholic liberalism to short-sell justice in favor of mercy, but nowhere does he connect this "sentimental liberalism" with Archbishop Chaput except saying that this is a "problem" with chaput's book.

  • BAD:

    A psychotherapist diagnoses John McCain as suffering from brain damage and PTSD without ever having met him.

    I feel compelled to issue a double disclaimer -- I hold no brief for John McCain and feel incapable of voting for either him or Barack Obama in good conscience and I also really, really like American Conservative.

    That said, come on, now:

    As we explore explanations for some of Senator McCain's actions, it is important to bear in mind that any professional who would render a definitive diagnosis on an individual he has not interviewed or tested is prostituting his credentials


    That said, I believe it is highly likely that John McCain suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    With the tanking economy effectively handing Barry O the presidency, is this really necessary?


    Hanna Rosin on "transgendered" children and their enabler parents.

    Apparently the growing trend is for parents to allow their children to live as the opposite sex, even giving them drugs that block the onset of puberty:

    It took the gay-rights movement 30 years to shift from the Stonewall riots to gay marriage; now its transgender wing, long considered the most subversive, is striving for suburban normalcy too. The change is fuel‑ed mostly by a community of parents who, like many parents of this generation, are open to letting even preschool children define their own needs. Faced with skeptical neighbors and school officials, parents at the conference discussed how to use the kind of quasi-therapeutic language that, these days, inspires deference: tell the school the child has a "medical condition" or a "hormonal imbalance" that can be treated later, suggested a conference speaker, Kim Pearson; using terms like gender-­identity disorder or birth defect would be going too far, she advised. The point was to take the situation out of the realm of deep pathology or mental illness, while at the same time separating it from voluntary behavior, and to put it into the idiom of garden-variety "challenge." As one father told me, "Between all the kids with language problems and learning disabilities and peanut allergies, the school doesn't know who to worry about first."

    A recent medical innovation holds out the promise that this might be the first generation of transsexuals who can live inconspicuously. About three years ago, physicians in the U.S. started treating transgender children with puberty blockers, drugs originally intended to halt precocious puberty. The blockers put teens in a state of suspended development. They prevent boys from growing facial and body hair and an Adam's apple, or developing a deep voice or any of the other physical characteristics that a male-to-female transsexual would later spend tens of thousands of dollars to reverse. They allow girls to grow taller, and prevent them from getting breasts or a period.

    The whole article is pretty shocking and disturbing. I don't mean to be insensitive, and I'm sure parents who have to deal with this have it rough, but letting your 6 year old decide their own sex is too much.

That's all folks!

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Missin' Cousins


This brief column by Anthony Esolen from a 2006 issue of Touchstone reminds me that I've never bragged here about the fact in addition to my two siblings I have at least 35 first cousins by blood.

The family had gathered around him, and in our case that meant that a few of my cousins who lived nearby stopped to say farewell. One cousin in particular hung his arm around my father’s shoulder and talked to him about the times long ago, when he was just a kid with a live fastball and my father was the coach. He smiled and told stories, leaning over to keep the old man from having to turn his head, almost whispering into his ear...

But the odd thing about this scene, for modern Americans, is not that my cousin should express his affection in so touching a way, but that there should be any cousin at all in that room--any person with intimate ties to a family beyond his parents and siblings, and a deep reservoir of shared memories with that family. Americans who live in separate bedrooms and worship at separate television sets may find it hard to imagine the bond that would link not merely brother and brother, but kinfolk a couple of streets or farms away...

Most Christians have noticed that families have become small, and many Christians see that it involves a peculiar rejection of generosity. We say that we can’t have a lot of children because we want to give the children we do have the greatest opportunities we can. Thus we assume that our children are deeply selfish, as if they would prefer a yearly vacation in the Adirondacks to another brother or sister, or, to put it differently, as if in years to come they might look at a younger sibling and wistfully daydream of hikes that never were.

But that is where our analysis stops: with the nuclear family, the hydrogen or helium family. It hasn’t occurred to us to ask what our small families do to neighborhoods and churches, or even to the families to which we are related. For if we fail to give our children siblings, we also fail to give them cousins, and fail to give what cousins they do have the number of cousins they need. We cannot isolate ourselves without doing our part to isolate others, too, and whether they like it or not.

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Edwina Froehlich, R.I.P.


From the NYTimes:

Edwina Froehlich, who was inspired to help found La Leche League to support breast-feeding after being told at the age of 35 that she was too old to make breast milk for her baby, died Sunday in Arlington Heights, Ill. She was 93 and lived in Inverness, Ill.

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For Whom?


From the "Hell in a Handbasket" file:

For teen readers

True and fictional tales of abuse, addiction and other kinds of adversity

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All Kids Lie


"My son doesn’t lie,” insisted Steve, a slightly frazzled father in his mid-thirties, as he watched Nick, his eager 6-year-old, enthralled in a game of marbles with a student researcher in Talwar’s Montreal lab. Steve was quite proud of his son, describing him as easygoing and very social. He had Nick bark out an impressive series of addition problems the boy had memorized, as if that was somehow proof of Nick’s sincerity.

Steve then took his assertion down a notch. “Well, I’ve never heard him lie.” Perhaps that, too, was a little strong. “I’m sure he must lie some, but when I hear it, I’ll still be surprised.” He had brought his son to the lab after seeing an advertisement in a Montreal parenting magazine that asked, “Can Your Child Tell the Difference Between the Truth and a Lie?”

Steve was curious to find out if Nick would lie, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. The idea of his son’s being dishonest with him was profoundly troubling.

But I knew for a fact his son did lie. Nick cheated, then he lied, and then he lied again. He did so unhesitatingly, without a single glimmer of remorse.

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But they're educational!


This New Yorker piece about our coming post-literate society contains a little nugget about one of my hobby horses.

The antagonism between words and moving images seems to start early. In August, scientists at the University of Washington revealed that babies aged between eight and sixteen months know on average six to eight fewer words for every hour of baby DVDs and videos they watch daily.

Now I suppose it could be true that these videos help other types of inteligence to develop, but do the producers make that claim? And if so, are parents aware of and OK with the trade-offs?

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That sound you hear...

| the simultaneous combustion of the heads of feminists all over the English-speaking world.

Dr Miller is an evolutionary psychologist—and the author of the theory that the large brains of humans evolved to attract the opposite sex in much the same way that a peacock's tail does. His latest foray, into the flesh-pots of Albuquerque, is intended to investigate an orthodoxy of human mating theory. This is that in people, oestrus—the outward signs of ovulation—has been lost, so that men cannot tell when women are fertile.

This theory is based on the idea that in evolutionary terms it benefits women to disguise when they are fertile so that their menfolk will stick around all the time. Otherwise, the theory goes, a man might go hunting for alternative mating opportunities at moments when he knew that his partner was infertile and thus that her infidelity could not result in children.

However, this should result in an evolutionary arms race between the sexes, as men evolve ever-heightened sensitivity to signs of female fertility. Dr Miller thought lap-dancing clubs a good place to study this arms race, because male detection of female fertility cues would probably translate into an easily quantifiable signal, namely dollars earned. He therefore recruited some of the girls into his experiment, with a view to comparing the earnings of those on the Pill (whose fertility was thus suppressed) with those not on the Pill.

The results support the idea that if evolution has favoured concealed ovulation in women, it has also favoured ovulation-detection in men. The average earnings per shift of women who were ovulating was $335. During menstruation (when they were infertile) that dropped to $185—about what women on the Pill made throughout the month. The lessons are clear. A woman is sexier when she is most fertile. And if she wishes to earn a good living as a dancer, she should stay off the Pill.

There's a lot to unpack there. First off, you gotta wonder where this guy gets his grant money.

More seriously, I do recall a comment by a female friend of mine that one of the reasons she got hit on so much at her office was that she was the only lady there who wasn't chemically neutered.

Really, this is intuitive, and the evolutionary theory posited in the second paragraph can be turned right around. It may benefit women (evolutionarily, not morally, of course) more for the signs of their fertility to be discernible to ensure that a mate is available at the right time. Even if he doesn't "stick around." In fact, looking at the reproductive tendencies of our own lower classes confirms this: women using less birth control, men not sticking around, very high birth rates.

Which, ahem, is why marriage and the traditional family are so important. Without it, society has no effective way (outside of legal coercion) of matching up fathers with the children they beget. With the drastic weakening of marriage we've seen over the past several decades, we have - ta da! - lots of fatherless children, even with widely available birth control. (Which gives the idea that men are good at sniffing out fertile women a little more credibility.)

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Speaking about the epidemic of fatherlessness in black families, Mr. Cosby imagined a young fatherless child thinking: “Somewhere in my life a person called my father has not shown up, and I feel very sad about this because I don’t know if I’m ugly — I don’t know what the reason is.”

Dr. Poussaint, referring to boys who get into trouble, added: “I think a lot of these males kind of have a father hunger and actually grieve that they don’t have a father. And I think later a lot of that turns into anger. ‘Why aren’t you with me? Why don’t you care about me?’ ”

The absence of fathers, and the resultant feelings of abandonment felt by boys and girls, inevitably affect the children’s sense of self-worth, he said.

- Bob Herbert on Bill Crosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint's noble crusade to encourage men to be fathers.

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Things we don't need surveys to know

"So you're between the ages of 13 and 24. What makes you happy?"

Spending time with family was the top answer to that open-ended question, according to an extensive survey -- more than 100 questions asked of 1,280 people ages 13-24 -- conducted by the Associated Press and MTV....

Next was spending time with friends, followed by time with a significant other....

Just under half of young people think they'd be happier with more money, while the same percentage, 49 percent, say they'd be just as happy....

Being sexually active leads to less happiness among 13-17-year-olds, according to the survey. If you're 18 to 24, sex might lead to more happiness in the moment, but not in general.

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Dawn Eden in Chicago


For all you Chicagoans, Dawn Eden is going to be discussing and signing copies of her book at St. Alphonsus Church in my old stomping grounds on July 10th. It should be a good time!

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Name That Baby

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This is nuts. Neurotic parents paying third parties to recommend names for their babies. Is there any part of parenting we won't outsource?

Some parents are checking Social Security data to make sure their choices aren't too trendy, while others are fussing over every consonant like corporate branding experts. They're also pulling ideas from books, Web sites and software programs, and in some cases, hiring professional baby-name consultants who use mathematical formulas.

Professional baby-name consultants? Seriously? This would be only laughably pathetic if it weren't a symptom of a rejection of traditional family and religious ties.

At our parish, Jenny and I are in charge of a committee that conducts classes for parents who want to have children baptized. One of the things we do is have everybody talk about their own names and the names they plan to give (or have already given) their children. We try to hit the point of having a saint's name, though really I'm equally impressed with couples who have dear family members they wish to honor as with couples who pull them out of the breviary.

Yet increasingly, the answer to "Who are you named after?" will be "Nobody," and on top of the usual angst, tomorrow's teenagers will also have to deal with the fact that, after drafting college students and unemployed poor women to carry them, and before shipping them off to daycare 6 weeks after birth, their parents also PayPal-ed five bills to a complete stranger to draft a naming portfolio. How much more will the insecurity be multiplied when they realize that the appellation strategy consisted of misspelling a perfectly good name and that they are going to spend the rest of their lives paying for their parents' idiocy by spelling their names two or three times to every customer service representative and civil servant they encounter?

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As the father of two boys 18 months apart, this resonates, though I should also point out that on Saturday little Charlie (my baby!) bludgeoned his older brother with a small but dense wooden block.

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Letting boys be boys

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The NY Sun reviews a book that sounds promising.

"The Dangerous Book for Boys" (Collins, 288 pages, $24.95), by the British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden, is a big red textbook of facts and figures, diagrams and blueprints, games and projects, and history and advice, meant to encourage curiosity, self-reliance, and fearlessness in the male of the species...

If this book ought to worry anyone, it's lazy teachers, cynical marketing executives, drug-pushing psychiatrists, and anyone else who takes advantage of children and the popular nonsense about their fragility and incompetence. The only negative reviews on whine about glaring omissions or that the contents aren't dangerous enough. They're on the right track, but they miss the point: A taste of what's cool and challenging is all that kids need to strike out on their own bruised, scraped, sometimes concussed journeys of discovery...

They've bequeathed our country a textbook for boys who hope to become men, whereas the present system produces boys who can only hope to become older, fatter, more dependent boys. The Igguldens detail the rules of soccer (along with stickball and rugby), but in their section on word origins they also give the etymology and definition of "hooligan," not to mention "quisling," "thug," and "assassin."

And "chivalry." The book is a deeply moral one, which recognizes that just because boys will be boys doesn't mean they have to be stupid or malicious ones. It's never too early to memorize useful Latin phrases or Shakespeare quotations or poems by Kipling and Shelley. Of "Ozymandias," they write, in their lapidary textbook style, "This poem was written as a commentary on human arrogance." Your average elementary school teacher would have complained that the vocabulary is too difficult, or the verse lacking in relevance, which means it isn't about drugs or teen pregnancy. The Igguldens, like most boys, know better.

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Kay Hymowitz and Brad Wilcox encourage the Republican presidential candidates to drop a different kind of f-bomb. Their argument is obviously a winning one, the problem is that they are also correct that the current "top-tier" candidates are in no position to make it.

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Natural Sex


Another worthy piece from the June 05 Touchstone: Frederica Mathewes-Green on the natural meaning of human sexuality, including this nugget from what was probably a sidebar in the print issue but is tacked on to the end of the online article:

Old Married Sex My generation found out, to our astonishment, that sexual attractiveness does not last. Even the hottest stars of the 1960s are forty years older today. Even the hottest bods of today are going to be ten years older ten years from now. Ten years from now, there will be a whole crop of brand-new gorgeous young people who are ten years younger than they are. Every decade a new crop of beautiful twenty-year-olds will roll off the assembly line.

My generation somehow didn’t think that would happen. We thought we would always be the younger generation. We thought we’d always set the standard for what it means to be sexy and gorgeous. We made fun of old married people, the ones who got hitched, settled down, had kids, had mortgages, and thirty years later were having old-married-people sex with each other.

It turns out that, even if you make fun of people like that, you still get old anyway. The alternative is not staying young forever; the alternative is being just as old, and not having formed any lasting relationship, and going to bed most nights by yourself. You’re not having old-married-people sex; you’re not having sex with anybody.


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This made it's way around St. Blogs a week or so ago, but I just got to see it for the first time.


His parents blog is here.

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Children, Family, Community,


One new, two old from Touchstone.

New, from the May 2007, Allan Carlson takes us on a brief tour of 400 years of Protestant history on the question of artificial contraception.

Old, from May 2005, but available online for the first time now, John F. Kippley addresses illegitimacy and Anthony Esolen turns the Good Samaritan around: how we can treat people like they are our neighbor when we don't have any?

It was bad enough that the industrial revolution took men (and very often women) from their homes and set them to toil in the brick monster a mile away; but at least the children knew where the monster was and could themselves go there, if they had not already themselves been impressed into that maw. It was worse when the breadwinning father had to work in some office out of town, only appearing at the end of a frustrating day or on weekends.

But now the culture of personal achievement and illusory autonomy—which is to say, the culture of total work, that has turned Sunday into at best a brief restorative for the infinitely more important Monday, if Sunday is not already Monday along with all the other days of the week—this paltry culture, I say, has atoned for removing the father from the home by removing the mother, too. The results are ghost towns, rich in things (and not even so dreadfully rich in those, either, once the unnecessary bills and the taxes are paid) and poor in soul.

No children crisscross the backyards of their playmates, because they have no playmates, nor do they even know the names of the people who own the yards. Nor are there the shouts of children to cheer the heart; those who have been graciously allowed to live, live under a sort of parole, whereby they are trucked before breakfast far away to a gaily postered miserable asylum, and then are trucked back to the groomed lawn and flophouse just before sundown.

If some delinquent child should venture onto the street before his male or female parent has returned from the commissariat, and bust up his knees by falling from his bicycle, he can cry all he wants. Nobody will hear him. The society of women is no more. There are no mothers who are not your own mother, and your own mother is not around, and, if she is around (let the truth be told), often enough she is no great shakes either. You are an appendage, or appendix, to her career, and you know it.

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Dear Single Men:


I know there are many of you out there who hope one day to meet and marry Ms. Right. Should the time come when you wish to make a proposal for life-long sacramental companionship, use this post as a guide on how to go about it.

Oh, and while you're there, you may want to congratulate the groom-to-be. :)

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Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

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