The suffering of orphans is the health of families

Call it “Bonald’s maxim on family health”.  We don’t sugar-coat things around here.  Quite the opposite:  my guess is that you’re all so sick of a public discourse where everything is wrapped in a haze of euphemistic niceness that you’ll appreciate some deliberately brutal language.

Fathers are supposed to be protectors and providers.  The state has already more or less taken over the protector role via police and prisons.  There are no doubt still a few killers, kidnappers, rapists, and wild animals on the loose, and it is mostly from the rare chance of ever coming across one of those that a wife or child is able to see any sort of protective function for the father.  This is a good thing;  we don’t want there to be a large chance that our wives or children will come across violent criminals or wild animals.

What about the provider role?  Let’s restrict ourselves to those lucky men, such as myself, who aren’t on welfare and who don’t have working wives.  (What’s more, my wife really would be incapable of working for medical/psychiatric reasons.)  We are the sole breadwinner–surely we are providing for our families?  Yes and no.  What would happen to my family if I were to disappear?  Would they go homeless?  Would they starve?  Would their style of life even worsen significantly?  Probably not.  In my own case, I have a large life insurance package with the Knights of Columbus, but let’s pretend that I didn’t.  There are several homes in my extended family that I’m sure would take them in.  If all the breadwinners in my family disappeared, then there would still be the “social safety net” to kick in.  It is the goal, and it has come a long way toward realization, that government assistance should prevent widows, orphans, and bastards from lacking the necessities.  So, assuming welfare kicks in as designed, my wife and daughter would be poor rather than middle class, but they’d be okay.  As Dr. Charlton has said, what we call poverty in the developed world isn’t really poverty.

So, my family doesn’t really depend on me.  I bring home the bacon, but if I didn’t, it would just mean that someone else (or some other organization) would.  I am superfluous.  Again, this is a good thing.  We don’t want orphans freezing and starving to death.  We realize that the community has a duty to make some effort to help out.  The problem comes when we get too good at it.  If we do a very good job of taking care of orphans, then orphans won’t be deprived or suffering compared to children with fathers.  But if that’s the case, then we have just made fatherhood pointless.

We can’t blame the liberals here; we are victims of our own success.  If it were the Church or voluntary organizations taking care of widows, orphans, and bastards, the problem would be the same.  Is it any wonder that men in general and fatherhood in particular are held in such contempt in today’s world?  Our wives and children know that the only thing we provide that the government wouldn’t is company.  (Of course, we fathers also do feedings, changings, dressings, cleanings, etc–but these are traditionally maternal activities and can’t provide us with our own distinctive role.)  The moment we become disagreeable, having a father around begins to look less attractive than a monthly government check.

There is an inverse relationship between the welfare of orphans/bastards and the esteem of fatherhood.  I expect that the cultures with the strongest family ethics, where men are most earnestly prepared for the duties of fatherhood, and the role of father is held in the highest esteem, are the ones where orphans starve to death.  In those cultures, what we do really matters.  Of course, we don’t want to live in a culture like that, where one traffic accident on my way home from work means my daughter will starve.  On the other hand, we don’t want a meaningless existence for ourselves and our sons.

Dependency is the life essence of the family, but dependency must mean that when one family member fails in his role, the others must suffer for it.  Society at large has a duty to mitigate suffering, and it has a duty to promote healthy families, but these duties conflict with each other.  I’m not sure what the solution is.

8 Responses

  1. Good thoughts here, except you entirely leave out the necessity of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and other non-material provision a father brings. I agree that a society that depends more on the fathers of its population for material provision would function better, but to see the necessity of fatherhood only this way seems an impoverished way of looking at it.

  2. This is a very good point, and similar to one I raised in a blog post a few months back about unemployment and society. The state may be able to fill the financial gap left by unemployment, but no amount of welfare or food stamps or Social Security can integrate man with society the way employment does. Likewise, the state may be able to care for orphans and widows (or victims of abandonment) but it cannot fill the gap left by the absence of the father’s love, authority, and positive example.

  3. Your getting close to the nub of things here- keep going!

    I think that what you may be saying is that if once you start breaking fatherhood down into specialized functions (each of which can be done by some specialized organization) then that is the beginning of the end of fatherhood.

    And of course all of these specialized organizations function purely and simply by coercive confiscation from fathers – which weakens fathers even as it strengthens the state.

    I suspect that when we made the step from voluntary and charitable contributions to state (organizational) provision based on coercive tax – that was stepping onto a slippery slope.

  4. In giving evidence to the Pécresse Commission on the Family, set up by the French National Assembly in 2006, Robert Neuburger sees a cultural oddity in “the current family, the ‘conjugal’ family, to use Lévi-Strauss’s term, which I call the ‘PME’ family – père, mère, enfant,” He notes that “the farther back we go, the rarer such families are, including in the history of France, since in this country, the model has long been the peasant family, structured around a patriarch and expanding from hearth to hearth. Children were raised within an expanded group and not by two parents.” As André Burguière explained to the Commission, “The main social functions of the family were gradually transferred to the state. Justice, production and consumption, education, health, which in the Middle Ages were almost entirely the responsibility of the family unit, were henceforth entrusted to the public authorities…”

    In the Highlands of Scotland, too, right up to 1745, it was the Sept or Clan that was the basic social unit, not unlike the Roman Gens. In both, fatherhood was vital and relationship was agnatic, not cognatic, according to the maxim, “the child is of the blood of the father and not of the blood of the mother,” for no individual could belong to more than one family – which would have meant being subject to two, possibly competing, heads of houses.

  5. Hello buckyinky,

    You are right of course, but then the State has also been assuming the educational role of parents, and in any case I don’t think that fatherhood can flourish with only intangible functions like these. There needs to be something as concrete as a monthly paycheck.

    I suspect that fathers’ educator and provider roles used to function together. The father was the one who dealt with the harsh realities of the outside world, and he knew that he had to prepare his children for these realities. He knew what it took to survive, and he had to train and discipline his sons so that they would be ready. This would not be fun; the sons might resent him for it, but they would survive, and when they had children of their own they would understand. In today’s world, though, there are no harsh realities, so education and training are much less serious things; a father’s gravitas is not necessary, or even useful. It was with the old paternal role in mind, though, that we used to call priests “father”. His job was not to make his children feel welcomed or entertained, and certainly not to make himself popular, but to protect them from the Devil, who wanted to drag them down into an eternity of torment. His spiritual guidance was thus a very serious and paternal thing.

    Again, I don’t want the world to be a harsh and pitiless place. On the other hand, I don’t want us to lose the virtues that living in such an environment gave us. This is a problem for me.

  6. Interesting post and comments. In theory, I would agree with you that it presents a problem if, as was mentioned above, all the different aspects of fatherhood were broken down and delegated to the state and fatherhood becomes meaningless. But I think you derive your principle from a theory which is unlikely. You seem to treat the difference between welfare received of the (godless) state and welfare received from the Church and private charities with a light hand, but IMO it makes all the difference.

    Considering that welfare from the Church and private charities would be given only insofar as they were able to give, meaning that they can’t just print more money and drive their business into to debt in order to provide charitable relief, their ability to give would be limited. Meaning that help could be given to some, but not to all that needed it.

    Fathers, as providers and patriarchs would be seen with the same reverence and respect, because there would be a percentage of society that could not be helped. In this case “the greater good of society” would not constitute that every family in need of aid receives aid, but that every family be able to be a family as God intended. As you can see I am no fan of government enforced intervention.

  7. Thanks for your further thoughts. It seems you are purposely tying your hands behind your back in this fight by making the assumption that your argument here must appeal to materialists? This would be a good assumption to make in appealing to our society if I’m understanding correctly, but hardly makes for the strongest defense of fatherhood.

    Otherwise I don’t understand how the old understanding of fatherhood has become outdated or useless. While most would-be rapists may be behind bars now, the Devil and his minions are apparently working overtime these days, and won’t be incarcerated in our state penitentiaries. I’ve been impressed, especially in recent days, of the necessity of a father to guard his family against these spiritual forces of evil, as articulated by Fr. Chad Ripperger. That fathers have been impeded in their ability to perform this function, whether voluntarily or involuntarily on the fathers’ part, has contributed to the illusion that fathers could only possibly be needed for physical provision and protection, and everyone languishes because of it.

    This is a Christian understanding of the problem, but I think there is much to the Christian understanding that is universally applicable.

  8. Yes, I do have a feeling that I am playing the part of bonald’s useful dimwit above! ha ha

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