January 6, 2009
Time for Pre-Canine Counseling
My girlfriend and I are getting serious. We’ve been involved, on and off, at long and short distances, for several years and have begun to feel the tug of the inevitable — the beckoning warmth of a common hearth, the prospect of bearing each other’s burdens as helpmates, of building up together our own Domestic Church. (This edifice, as married folks tell me, is chiefly devoted to kitchen, restrooms, and confessionals.) Indeed, we already have a family in common — two wonderful little beagles named Susie and Franz Josef, of whom we have joint custody, and whom we call "the babies."
With every relationship that inches toward the sacramental, it’s critical that the two parties establish common ground on the central issues that arise in any marriage. We’ve spent the past few years hashing out healthy compromises on most of the subjects over which we’d disagreed. (Okay, which frightened her.) In consultation with each of our spiritual directors, we have established at last that I’ll no longer:
- Help ex-girlfriends with their rent. Especially the really cute ones.
- Spend hours in earnest conversations with Commies, neo-Nazis, or racists of any color, in the hope of "reforming" them and luring them into the Church.
- Give make-work assignments to BUCLs (Brilliant, Unemployable Catholic Losers) of whom I’m fond — then dash about at the last minute cleaning up the mess so they can get paid.
- Let sociopaths sleep on my couch. For months.
- Run up debt buying overpriced "crunchy" groceries and cases of imported monastic beer, on the excuse that I’m "researching my next Catholic cookbook."
- Pay only utility bills that have already been disconnected.
- Respond to my beloved’s rare, hormonally-driven binges by hiding every carbohydrate in the house.
- Pretend that letters from the IRS demanding payment are "junk mail."
- Practice what I call the "Trojan" filing system — in which my correspondence piles up in layers like the seven cities of Troy, and I retrieve it by digging archaeologically through the sediment.
On the positive side, my lady-friend has no problem with my policy that any and all dogs we acquire will sleep in the family bed. And in return for all these binding resolutions, she undertakes not to keep bringing up past instances of any and all occurrences of the aforementioned phenomena. So now I think we’re golden.
Aware that more marriages founder on financial rather than sexual disagreements, we spent a lot of time talking through our different monetary habits and expectations — most of which we’d inherited. She hails from prosperous, skinflint German surgeons and Southern aristocrats; my family tree is full of Irish cabbies who knew it was time to go home when they fell off the barstool, and Slavs who took ship to America one step ahead of the hangman. Her parents repair old flip-flops with Gorilla Glue; mine piled up debt to finance tacky weddings. And so on. We’ve worked through all this, and come to an arrangement: I’ll earn the money, and she’ll refuse to spend it.
We’ve agreed on the kind of neighborhoods where we would be willing to live, what priorities we have about choosing a home — counterbalancing my interest in gargoyles and the proximity of a Latin Mass with hers in "a foundation that isn’t cracked and pipes that actually work." Which is probably prudent, since I’m one of those New Yorkers who deals with a burnt-out light bulb by calling the super.
We’ve agreed to be open to life. We have two beagles together already, and will prayerfully welcome any other hounds whom God sees fit to send our way.
That leaves just the issue of progeny. We’re neither of us young, and we’re both pretty high-strung. A houseful of homeschooled Patricks and Philomenas is biologically unlikely — and would anyway land one or both of us in the sanatorium, and the kids in foster care. On the other hand, the Church teaches that child-rearing is the primary purpose of marriage. (All that love and companionship is crucial for happiness, but it’s icing. The kids are the cake.) What is more, we have private reasons for wanting a decent-sized family. My beloved finds children as cute and funny as puppies, while I feel responsible for spreading my genes around the planet — if only as a form of posthumous sabotage.
Most importantly, though — and I hope that some of you will take these considerations into account — we’ve decided that having some children would be very good for our beagles. Veterinary psychologists have established the character-building benefits that children can bring to family pets. For instance:
- They teach a dog responsibility. Whenever a toddler drops a binky on the street near Susie, she already knows that it’s her job to pick it up and chew it. (I’ve carefully trained her to do this, and on most moms it makes a real impression.) Likewise, a child’s toys need to be "broken in" by a beagle carrying it all around the house, then dropping it in the toilet.
- They train a dog in unconditional love. There’s nothing quite like a baby’s face smeared in Gerber franks ‘n’ beans to draw out a hound’s affectionate soul. He will slather the child’s face with kisses until it’s clean — thus saving mom the work.
- They teach a dog that the world isn’t "all about them." As modern psychologists tell us, the natural narcissism that in moderate doses is healthy can sometimes grow out of control. You don’t want a dog who refuses to share the baby’s crib, for instance, who steals food from a high chair, or greets incoming visitors with a snarl. The presence of children can help to mitigate this character flaw and train your dog to "play well with others."
- They help to socialize a dog. If you’ve given up on public or private obedience schools, and exercised your right as your animal’s primary educator to teach your dogs at home, having children will offer the interaction they otherwise might not get.
We’ve heard the Malthusian arguments against bringing more human children into the world. We’ve worried together over the environmental, political, and economic situation our offspring might inherit. I have even noted with alarm the research that shows the common thread linking Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Margaret Sanger, and Adam Sandler: Each was at some point a child.
But we can’t dwell on dark thoughts like that. They are not of God. We’re commanded by Christ to live in hope, in the hope that a loving Father will provide for our children and beagles a livable world — or at least a really smokin’ and satisfying Apocalypse. As the song says, "Be Not Afraid."