"How many of these children are yours?" the girl asked.
My wife and I had just moved from an apartment to a newer, larger townhouse. Our two older daughters were playing with a ball in the front yard, while our son, the baby of the family, sat content in his stroller. Around us the neighborhood kids were introducing themselves.
The girl's question caught me by surprise. Her voice betrayed no hint of rudeness, simply interest and curiosity. We would learn from other parents in the coming day that the young lady was a favorite of both children and parents alike.
We do not live in a bad neighborhood. It is not quite middle-class, but it is working and clean. Our children have a warm roof over their heads and a warm meal three times a day. They might get a little muddy while playing at the park, but we bathe them regularly and put their dirty clothing in the washer. Our children are disciplined when they misbehave, but nobody in our neighborhood tolerates child abuse. Early in the evening, you often find the fathers — myself included — sharing a beer or two on the front porch as we discuss the latest news while keeping an eye upon our children playing in the street. Nevertheless, drunken binges are rare and I have yet to witness a wild party.
This is another reason why the girl's question caught me by surprise. Without knowing it, she had based her question upon two assumptions about today's society. The first is that marriage is no longer the presumed relationship into which children are born. The second is that it is normal for a man to raise another man's children. Thus the broken family is normal for today's young people. Conversely, the intact family is abnormal.
Marriage isn't easy. But looking into this young girl's eyes, I could tell that growing up in a broken home is much more difficult. I have never seen or met her father. Perhaps he has vanished from her life, or perhaps the courts have limited his visits to once or twice a month. I don't know.
Yet I care. This young girl is, after all, a human being, an innocent child, and a friend of my own daughter. Just as this girl caught me by surprise with her question, her face betrayed the surprise she felt when I answered: "Mrs. Vere and I have been married seven years. All of the children are ours." The surprise turned to awe before her eyes gave way to a shadow of sadness. She wanted to say something, but hesitated. I suspect it concerned her father.
My wife is a kind and gentle soul. She would never admit that I am far from the perfect husband, although my kids have dropped the occasional hint I am not the perfect father. At times I have put my own needs ahead of those of my wife and children. I have made the occasional large purchase without first consulting her, and last Mother's Day my duties as a reserve officer with the Canadian Forces kept me away from home. Nevertheless, day-after-day, week-after-week, my wife patiently endures my faults. As for my children, despite their moments of anger they are generally more happy when I am home than away.
I mention this because God gives my wife the strength to hold our family together. In turn, my wife gives our children and me the stability we crave in an often unbalanced world. Whereas Scripture teaches that the husband is head of the family, the wife is the heart. It is her love and self-sacrifice that brings life to the family unit. And thus, because Sonya is open to God's blessing in both marriage and motherhood, we are able to provide our children with the stability at home that many of their friends lack.
It frightens me to imagine what would happen to our children if either Sonya or I hardened our hearts to the culture of life. It takes two to make a marriage, but only one to break it in today's culture. This is the fate of too many children. They may have a living mother and father, but pre-marital sex and no-fault divorce have left these kids functional orphans. How these children long for the touch of a mother's kiss or a father's hug. How these children long not to feel rejected by the adults who are supposed to care for them.
These are the children for whom we must pray. There is much we can condemn in today's world, however, these children still require our prayer. In fact they require prayer more than children from good Catholic homes with less stressful family situations and more people to sustain them in prayer.
We must also pray for their parents of children from broken homes. Many of the parents are themselves the victims of the Sexual Revolt and the culture of death. They do not know better, having never been taught, and having succumbed to the culture around us. I pray that the Holy Spirit will overcome the darkness of our age and shine the light of Christ into the lives of these parents and children. May God bless my daughter's friend, when she comes of age and should it be her vocation, with the joys of motherhood within a stable and loving marriage.