Catholic Husband

Love, Lead, Serve

The American Family: Then and Now

Family walking in wheat field towards barn

I'm interested in American history, in particular, American military history. As a son of the South, I enjoy learning about the Civil War from the Southern perspective. I’m currently working my way through the book “Rebel Yell.” It's an exhaustive 650+ page biography of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Jackson was a brilliant strategist and one of our nation's greatest generals. The book focuses on his life story as told through his personal letters. Turning the pages, I feel like I'm living in the period. I now have a much better sense of what America was like in the 1850s. The American family then stands in stark contrast to the American family today.

In 1850s America, children were quite useful. Large families pulled together to share chores and support one another. Illness was rampant, and death was common. Scores of children became orphans in rapid succession. Typhoid fever, tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia, and many other nasty diseases ravaged families. Surviving parents, destitute, would seek remarriage. When that failed, they sent their children to live with their relatives. Despite this constant reshuffling of the family, parents seldom shirked their responsibility. They did everything that they could to hold their family together. When no longer possible, children went to live with relatives. It must have been a heartbreaking choice to make.

Stonewall Jackson lived this reality. When he was just a boy, his father died. His mother remarried, but was too poor to support her children. Like so many mothers in a bad spot, she sent Stonewall and his sister to her cousins. A month later, she was on her deathbed. In less than two months, these kids went from a stable family to being orphans. Just reading that unfortunate chapter of his life was difficult for me as a parent.

In the last half century, the American family has been in decline. Strong support structures have given way to nominal participation among parents. The staggering rate of fatherlessness is shocking. This decline is due, in part, to the sexual revolution. That revolution created a disconnect between the loving martial act of sex and the transmission of new life. By untangling the act from its natural result, we have to face a slew of consequences. Children are now an unwanted burden, women must bear all responsibility, and a lot of hurt is left behind.

There was never an idyllic time in the life of the American family. Each generation has faced its set of obstacles, challenges, and difficulties. The difference being that in the past, the family faced these hard times together. That structure has almost disappeared from the American life. The family is to be, much like the Musketeers, is all for one and one for all. It’s a structure of service, of giving up the wants of the individual for the good of the group. This innate sense of sacrifice can only continue when the sexual act is properly understood. When we reclaim the beauty of sex and its natural end, only then can we start to rebuild the determined strength of the American family.
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