What We Tell Our Daughters

Confluence of forces. In the last week or so:

– A young woman I know & love, upon achieving the well paying highly respected job after 19 years of schooling and multiple degrees, wrote her father a letter asking: what is the point of all this? She’s unmarried and unattached, and, given that she’s spent much of her youth pursuing academic achievement, it’s unclear if or where or how she would find a husband if she ever wanted to. A symptom of modern insanity, taken down to the personal level: We leave nothing to chance in the work world, and so believe it wise to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars over two decades to ensure a good financial future. Yet happiness, which for most people, men and women (and children), is found in family, is supposed to happen automatically in the cracks left over from our relentless pursuit of Career.

– One of my daughter’s best friends, age 16 or 17, recounted an encounter at school, where she had ventured (out loud) that she would like to get married and stay at home to raise a family. This triggered a reflex response in her young unmarried female teacher. Seems that my daughter’s friend would be, in the eyes of this teacher, selling out and letting women everywhere down by just marrying some guy and staying at home to raise children. This seems to be a decidedly majority position.

This post appeared in First Thoughts.

So, what do we tell our daughters? We have 2 teenage daughters, age 15 and 19 – what guidance should we offer them?

It seems obvious that few of us are the trail-blazing mavericks we might want to imagine we are. Most of us want nothing more desperately than to have a Place. To fit in. To be loved. To have someone to love. For all but the few of us for whom our career is a vocation, the only justification for a career is in how it makes possible a life of love.

From the First Thoughts essay linked above:

It reminded me of an earlier but quite similar perspective on the same issue in Sigrid Undset’s 1932 novel Ida Elisabeth. The speaker is the lawyer Herr Toksvold:

There will never be more than a small percentage of either men or women who can create for themselves a field of work which they could not exchange for another without feeling it as a sacrifice. But because a few women have succeeded in making themselves a position which it would be a sacrifice for them to give up if they married, perhaps nine times as many are forced to go out and do a full day’s work as breadwinners, and to do the work of a mother and housekeeper the rest of the twenty-four hours, or as many of them as they can stand on their feet without dying for want of sleep. Because a few females of the middle class have discovered that it is a disgrace to be kept by a man.

Which reminds me of GK Chesterton quip from around the same period:

A liberated woman is one who rises up and says to her menfolk, ‘I will not be dictated to,’ and proceeds to become a stenographer.

Honesty and my Christian faith would require the following ‘talk’ by dad to his beloved girls:

My beloved daughters, you have the talent and opportunity to do a huge, dizzying variety of  things with your lives. You could be doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, run your own business, or any of dozens of other things. Whatever honorable path you chose, you will have my blessing and support. You will always have my love. That said, take a look around. Look at the adults around you. Who is happy? Who is fulfilled? Whose life would you like to pattern yours on? 

Among our family friends and acquaintances you see old married couple (like your mom and dad), single people, widows and widowers, divorced people, happy people, angry people, the hyper focused, the completely lost. I offer you this: the happiest people I know are people who have found and followed their vocation with their whole heart. While this includes a number of happy and holy priests and sisters, by far the largest group is happily married, completely faithful couples. 

So, my beloved daughters, you should listen and pray for the guidance of God. Perhaps you are among the few chosen for a professed religious life. Perhaps God intends for you to serve him as single women. But, more likely than not, you will find whatever happiness that is your lot in this life by being married. Therefore, as your father, I pray every day that you find your vocation. And pray that if that vocation is marriage, that God give you a good, Catholic man who loves you completely. 

And by the way – children are wonderful! 

And, in fragments over time, I think this is the message I’ve delivered. But by far most important, I hope my daughters see that my happiness in this world springs from my love of my wife their mother, and from them, my beloved children. And I hope they see that their mother takes joy in them and in our marriage.

* Long aside: I’ve hated since I first heard it the sometimes stated by always implied idea that men have had it so much better than women through history. What history would that be? Until modern times, for almost everyone in every civilization that’s ever existed, life options have been very tightly constrained – for men and women. It’s sheer fantasy to imagine that the man who works himself to death farming or dies of his wounds in a war he had no choice about fighting is somehow so much more free and has such better options that the wife and daughters he leaves behind.  Only once the Middle Ages  came around were there any real choices for any but the wealthiest few – peasants could and did become priests and nuns, clerks in the courts, and leaders in the villages. Unmarried women such as Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Sienna wielded far more authority than the typical medieval man, who spent the bulk of his anonymous life slogging through the mud to raise enough food to survive. In general, men and women have always shared the same fate – they lived and died as a team, at the same level of poverty or affluence.

We perhaps get the impression from the 1% of people who lived at court, about whom much of history is written, that life was full of political intrigue and social climbing, and that women either conspired along with the men or ended up mere prizes and chattel. But even if that impression is true, life at court was not available to a huge majority of people.

An evolutionary biologist (Dawkins, maybe?) once wrote about the mistake contained in naming one bee the Queen. For while it might be explained that she sits in the heart of the hive having her every need met by workers willing to die to defend her, it also true that she is the kept slave of workers, who fly free and see the world while she is trapped inside a dark cell for all but a few brief hours in her youth. Both these views are wrong – the workers are no more exploiting the queen that she is exploiting them. And none of us should want to be a bee of any kind.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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