Married love is a potent teacher of truth. The family, as the Church points out, is the “school of love”. And as a father, I’m learning more and more how vital the love I have and live towards my family has consequences beyond my home. It’s a school of love, but I am probably not the best headmaster. But, this headmastership is not an appointment but a vocation, a calling, and God has promised and proven that He sustains and directs those that he calls. God be with this fool, and if I am a fool may I be one for you.
And for us as fathers and husbands, there is a foundational reality that we must accept: we owe our wives, the mothers of our children, a terrible and awful (as in full-of-awe) debt. They have born our children in an experience that is unique to them, paradoxically joyful, painful, triumphant, humbling, bloody, and life giving, what St. John Paul II called a “unique experience of joy and travail.” Outside of childbirth, only the cross can claim such an achievement.
Outside of the womb mothers nurture in a way that men cannot. People call my family old-fashioned because my wife stays at home, and some hint at a repressive attitude – we’re “patriarchal” and such (to which I say thank you and you’re welcome). My wife is not at home because she is unable to do the work that men do, she’s at home because men can’t do the work that she does. No one can – no expert, state, or man. Her body literally sustains the children, and that is merely a symbol for the daily nourishment she provides this home in body and soul. And I’ve now been working from a home office for nearly 3 years and I’ve learned something: the mother’s work is actually harder physically, emotionally, and mentally. I’ve had a good variety of experiences in the office, on the jobsite and farm, and in the ditch, but none of it compared to the struggles of a mother with young children. It’s hard work.
The mother’s work is the care of immortal souls, and a variety of care that is close and intimate– a beautiful mystery. There is a time when the kids grow and stretch forth from her side more into the world of the “other”, of the father. But the bond of mother and child is practically of the same flesh. Children don’t tell their mothers “thank you” because it would be like telling themselves “thank you” – they know deeply their existence and hers is like one thing. The father’s offering of his “seed” is more distant than the fleshly union of a mother and child. You can even sense the desire for that flesh to be reunited when apart in Mary’s Assumption – its almost as if Jesus was in a hurry for that specific bodily resurrection, simply because of her motherhood. It’s a special communion. In short: the mother’s work has more value than your temporal work.
We forget that. We feel entitled. Those of us that are the primary support of the family often think that because our work is essential (because providing food and shelter is essential), that it has the greatest value. It doesn’t.
You see the attacks on the family. This most basic and obvious of human realities is getting distorted. And I’m not talking about the perverse pseudo-family makeups out there, but the distortions right in our homes – the chaos and error being force fed into our sanctuaries – the screens that steal hours from us; the advertisements that snatch happiness from the heavens and jam it into plastic toys and gadgets, creating false ideals that drive us to be shallow consumers and eventually drive us insane.
What is the best way to fight back? Love your wife! How can you restore the family? Restore your marriage! We cannot properly love our kids or champion the full and holy vision of the family without properly loving our wives. That debt I said you owe – pay it. Pay it in kindness, service, verbally expressed gratitude. Write a note, a letter, a poem. You’re tired when you get home? So is she – splash some cold water on your face and get in there! And men, let’s stop acting like the world revolves around us because we bring home a paycheck. If the economy collapsed tomorrow, what value would be left in that check then? Let’s remember what real worth is. St. Joseph had to quit jobs and start new ones in new places to protect the holy mother in his care, don’t let the holy mother in your home have to suffer for your job. (I am not speaking to those that suffer because of economic necessity, but those whose praiseworthy professional drive leads them to an unhealthy excess or an undisciplined ambition.)
“The way to restore the family,” recommends John Senior, “is to bring to incandescent exercise the latent fruits of love in husbands and wives, which they have received as supernatural habits in the sacrament of marriage.” Senior says that a husband and wife should long to be united, that like the notes of Gregorian chant which strain away from a central note always come back to that note – being separate is necessary but hard. Let her know that it’s hard. Remind yourself of that! Examine yourself constantly knowing that you must take a break from loving your wife in order to go to work, not that you must take a break from work to sleep and eat at home where your wife lives. When you return home, to the center of your life, set your mind and heart to the task of a lifetime, because that’s your true commitment in life, your vow.
I love you Katie. Thank you.