(Denver Post, Feb. 24) When a prominent man says he is stepping down to spend more time with his family, it’s usually a fib. He invokes the family as a fig leaf for failure, embarrassed to admit the horse bucked him off. But nothing like that is the case, I believe, with Ken Salazar’s return to Colorado after serving as a senator and secretary of the interior. The veteran Democrat’s words rang sweet and true to this Republican's ear when he spoke of living up to “my highest moral responsibility… helping my family.” If there were a medal of honor for unsung homefront heroism, give one to Ken. Our society, however, does not heap honors on fathers and mothers and kids and kin who quietly do right by each other and, in so doing, build the future. It’s a pity, because the institution of the American family is disintegrating before our eyes. The household has literally become a homefront, a battlefield – and the me-first forces are winning everywhere you look.
According to the 2010 census, fewer than six in ten babies are now born to a married mom and dad. For Hispanic children, it’s fewer than five in ten. For blacks, fewer than three in ten. Getting married before getting pregnant is the best single anti-poverty strategy for a woman and her kids. Yet public policy, social signals, and the cultural climate are massively aligned against it. A soft suicide is in progress.
You probably didn’t notice the recent celebration of National Marriage Week. Meager funding and elite indifference doomed it. Most of our tax dollars, philanthropic dollars, advertising dollars, and entertainment dollars pour into America’s selfishness machine. Kids and adults alike are encouraged to believe that people are my instrument, love is my wish list, and sex is my plaything. Me, me, me.
Contrarian groups that work to build a marriage culture through classes and seminars, relying on the best science with a non-religious, non-judgmental tone – such as the Center for Relationship Education under Joneen McKenzie and Friends First under Elycia Cook, to name two of my local favorites – have to scrap for budgetary leftovers as they stand against the flood of money propagandizing for value-free lifestyles.
The collapsing family in our time represents a generational betrayal with few precedents in history. With shameless hedonism, we are abdicating the trust our children and grandchildren ought to be able to place in us. Families are qualitatively ever more dysfunctional and quantitatively ever smaller. A new book by Jonathan V. Last, “What to Expect when No One’s Expecting,” runs the numbers, and they are scary.
What’s to be done? Top-down policy solutions are the smallest part. Attitudes have to change from the bottom up. My family has vowed to do three things. One, respect the long run. Two, stop the selfishness machine. Three, help build the ark.
“In the long run, we’re all dead,” Lord Keynes’ cynical crack, has done worse moral harm in the world than all the harm of his economic theories. We must secure the blessings of liberty to our posterity as well as ourselves, the Founders taught. That means recognizing the far-flung ill effects of modernity’s selfishness machine, calling them out, and resisting them.
And because things may get worse before they get better, we’ll need a vessel of rescue. Every simple word and act that affirms family and fidelity, relationships and self-giving, is another plank in the ark that will float us above the coming flood. Our house has joined the builders. Will yours?
The Salazars of San Luis have a great story. But so do countless other Colorado families. Just putting them on record and praising them is a start. What’s your family story, or a family hero you admire? Email me with nominations. Let’s be the change.