Married love is a potent educator. The family, as the Church points out, is the “school of love”. 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. The debt of justice is created when one has given another something of great worth and value. There’s a “strain” on justice when one has given but has not received in proportion to what was given. Our wives 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 a thing. And the life that a mother gives does not end in pregnancy and birth, but begins.
(My wife and I went through the suffering of infertility before finally conceiving a child. To the women out there suffering in this way – I know how bad it hurts. You suffer in an invisible way, and bear a cross that a world of contraception and abortion seems to mock. Thank you too for your motherliness, and for the suffering you endure that too is a witness to life.)
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, physically than most working dads probably realize. 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 astoundingly hard work.
And let’s be clear: the world does not place a high value on the moms at home. If they were running marathons and climbing the corporate ladder you would hear praises all day, but instead they suffer those disdainful stares at the grocery store. You know, the stares that ask, “Look at all these kids – do you hate the planet?”
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 in the mean time the bond of mother and child is practically of the same flesh. Children often forget to 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 mystery and even value than a man’s temporal work. Even the platonic form of the homesteading father merely grows the food for his family, the mother still prepares and brings the nourishment to the lips of her babes.
We all know the family is in trouble, at least those that are sane know. This most basic and obvious of human realities is getting distorted. And I’m not only talking about the perverse pseudo-family experiments out there, but the distortions right in “normal” homes—the chaos and error being force fed into our sanctuaries—the screens that steal hours from us; the advertisements that try to jam happiness into plastic toys and gadgets, creating false ideals that drive us to be shallow consumers.
Men, do you want 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. Your wife needs to feel and know that you see her, know that she suffers for love, and is highly priced in your eyes. Pay it in kindness, service, and 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! At least you can go to the bathroom in peace – she might not even get that much quiet time in a day!
“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 sole vow that was ratified by heaven.
I love you Katie. Thank you.