I took the year off from Father’s Day yesterday. For several years I’d been making a point, in my secular newspaper column, of writing something quite opposite to “feel-good” on the subject for the Sunday corresponding to this secular occasion. But glancing through the last couple of them, I thought, “That’s enough now: People are going to think you are bitter.”
And verily, as I was reminded from another recent (unrelated) ideological encounter, “bitterness” is among the few traditional crimes that continue to be punished in our postmodern, multicultural, de-stereotyped, ungendered, ecological, and very warped society. It is among the worst charges you can hurl at someone. Lying behind it is the pained suspicion that the bitter creature is claiming a victimhood status that may be fully justified. Nothing wrong with posing as a victim — so long as one is merely earning a living from it. But to actually be a victim, and especially of something like feminist-rewritten family law! That’s bitter.
On the political level, my own case doesn’t interest me — except insofar as it prevents me from writing openly about a subject on which I have acquired firsthand experience. My own case is hardly the worst of which I’m aware. And I’ve seen many where the man (and, in one strange case, the woman) has been merely stripped of his possessions and livelihood, as well as all hope of material recovery or a gentle old age. He may still have his old steady job, but he is now living in a basement somewhere and eating from tins. Tough luck, but laboring conditions remain worse in some parts of China.
The hard cases I’ve seen all involve children, and the use of them as weapons in close-quarter fighting. And the worst victims have been, typically, the best men. They agreed, consciously, to take the crunch, rather than have their kids caught in the crossfire. They did not fight back, when they realized how ruthless an estranged mate was prepared to be. Flaws they had and have plentifully in themselves; often enough, their susceptibility to persecution began in those flaws. Yet by agreeing that, “If someone must take the crunch, it will be me,” there is some trace of Christ-like behavior.
None of us is Christ, however, and no martyrdom can be perfect except that which was performed on the cross. It is an open question whether children can ultimately benefit in any way from the destruction of their father by their mother (aided by the agencies of the state). The fallout from real injustice is never limited to what can be foreseen.
But note that invocation of “justice.” It is with real justice that some fathers have been removed from their children’s lives, and I have no interest in trying to reverse the unspoken feminist axiom, that “women are incapable of evil, and men incapable of good.” Sound family law — to which we were certainly closer before than after the feminist revolution — must acknowledge that both sexes are fully human and therefore fully capable of sin and error. And the law itself must be flavored with this knowledge; it should never itself become an obstacle to the realization of the truth.
It was the present pope, when he was serving as adjutant to the previous one, who wrote what remains I think the clearest analysis of the problems we face in restoring some balance to a society that, not only through law but through popular culture, has demeaned fatherhood and exalted in its place not motherhood but a scheme for the “empowerment” of women. The document in question carries the cumbersome English title, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” and is dated May 31, 2004.
The text is the opposite of cumbersome, however. A thinking mind will be riveted, from the start, by the shockingly concise yet accurate analysis of the feminist position and what follows from it. I count only six sentences between:
In this brief interval, everything that has happened over the past 50 years would appear to be encompassed. And this is followed by a remarkably biblical tour, not of feminine wiles but of feminine virtues, and a very confident declaration of the indispensability of what has been abandoned: the very role, and true power, of women.
It offers, to my mind, the only possible way forward. We have gone as far as we can get in settling scores, so that there is no blood left to be shed in the battle of the sexes. The answer is not to settle more scores through the “Father’s Rights” movement. It is instead, weirdly enough, to recall the original configuration, the necessary cosmic dance, of the masculine and feminine virtues.
And indeed, bitterness has no place in that meditation, as it can take no place in rebuilding the faith and trust upon which family life must be founded. Justice itself must look beyond settling scores, to the restoration of an order that is just, good, and even beautiful. It cannot stand on its own.