Family
    Family values are deservedly praised. A well-functioning family is a microcosm of society as it should work. Many problems faced by individuals had their origin in unhealthy family life.
    Although the picture is changing, until quite recently most North Americans of our era considered the nuclear family as the norm, indeed, as the ideal. To not be in such a unit was to be insufficient. Men and women were expected to marry and raise children. The children, upon reaching adulthood, were to leaves and follow their parents' example.
    The study of anthropology and history makes it apparent that in many other societies and ages, familial relations differ from ours. Sometimes units are small, sometimes large and extended. Work is divided variously among sexes, and curiously, in at least a few cultures women dominate either economically or in terms of reverence and spiritual significance.
    In almost every society, aged members are treated with a great deal more respect than in our modern, fast-paced, industrial society. It seems logical that those among us with the most experience have the most importance as guides and leaders, of teachers and guardians of our collective learning and traditions. Yet old people are usually given appalling treatment by today's young. This scares me. It is stupid and disrespectful -- worst of all it is alarming. A culture fixated on youth, or rather young adulthood, is not likely to endure in a long, sustainable, healthy way.
    One way to strengthen family units may be to encourage households in which three generations coexist: grandparents, parents, and children. This would mean, in theory, 4 adults instead of two, helping raise children. It would mean more sharing, more communication, and less privacy. There would be fewer housing units needed if more people lived per house. What is more crazy than the numerous empty large mansions on Capitol Hill, inhabited by lonely widows?
    Extended family units can be other than generational. Sisters and brothers can live together as adults. There are co-housing and cooperative households where nuclear families share much in common, except bedrooms. There are families where live-in nannies do child-rearing while both parents work full-time jobs, Many urban group houses consist of 3, 4 or 5 single adults, whose interactions are more-or-less familial.
    I suppose the big definition of family properly includes children. For without them, all we are left with is a pair or a group of adults. Is a couple a family? Is a group of 3 adults a family? In today's prevalent value system, a family is whatever folks choose to define it as, just as "home" is.
    I favor the definition of parent(s) and children. To me, family life without children is at best a related phenomena. To draw a gardening parallel, a garden has more going on in it than does a collection of scattered houseplants. To call the potted indoors plants "a garden" is stretching the definition. Yes, sometimes it will qualify; usually there is no serious competition. If a childless couple wants to send forth seasons' greetings "from the Jones' family" that is their right; but it is my right to call them a couple. It's a matter of precision in terminology, not a value judgement.
    Sexual equality in marriage should be the norm. Still, in many cases men wield more power, whether or not they contribute more. To many fundamentalist Christians, men are properly regarded as the heads of households, women secondary, and children the third tier. Where religious beliefs of this nature are sincerely held by both partners, there should be no problem. Let live. But let us not impose such an order on any woman involuntarily. Personally I am attracted to strong women of independent tendencies; I am left unmoved by (if not repulsed by) weak women who seek in a man a protector, a leader, a master. I seek a peer, not a servant or a weakling.
    The role of relatives in family life is well appreciated by everyone. Either you have cousins and kin with whom you interact and share, socialize and help -- or you're without such and you miss it. To be a stranger in a strange land is a severe disadvantage. Alternatively, to have dozens of relatives is to have safety and power. I am blessed by a family and relative network which is remarkably free of discords, feuding and the like. We are not immune to strained marriages, or some coarseness -- but on the whole, are a very well-behaved and likeable lot.
    Children, as I said, are what really define a family as opposed to another sort of association. In earlier times, indeed for much of human existence, child-bearing was critical for the sustaining of humanity. Now, birth-control and a movement towards zero population growth seems to be our only sakvation. For if we instead breed thoughtlessly, our sheer numbers will cause massive starvation, pollution, fighting and disease epidemics. How to intelligently and justly regulate reproduction is one of our most pressing concerns. In ideal, only well-qualified couples would be allowed to bear and raise children. By qualified I mean emotional and social maturity, economic ability, and enough time, love and health to do the job properly. Such a vision will not come about without fighting. People are emotional first, logical second, and would, alas, rather have their perceived personal rights unfettered than the good of the whole preserved. It is very sad. The good news is: at least educated, economically affluent people, have lowered their birth rate voluntarily. That suggests that if we want to change people's behavior, we can do it with dollars and books if not with appeals to reason and distribution of birth control devices.
    If children present defines family, we could say that a single parent raising a child is a family of sorts, albeit a handicapped one. As for childless couples, I prefer to not call them families, regardless or whether or not they are married. Indeed, I am not sold on marriage as something to promote except where children are involved. But marriage is potent. It has the force of law, economic advantages, is a sacrament to many religious faiths; and to be married is to generally be held in higher esteem than to merely be a couple cohabiting.
    What about age? It would be fascinating to compare divorce rates with ages at which couples married. I'd expect that younger adults, not to mention teenagers, would be more likely to divorce than couples who waited to marry until in their late 20s or 30s. It is deplorable how many marriages break up, and I want to know why, so I can help couples, and be more likely to enter into a strong marriage myself.
    I am fond of describing my four legs to support a strong marriage. In my view, just as a single very stout leg, well centered, can support a table, it is still not so safe or desirable usually as 2, 3, or 4 legs. The 4 legs I describe as targets or goals, but not actual requirements -- some marriages last without one or more of them. But personally, I would be highly cautious about entering into a union where any legs were weak.
    The first leg or foundation of a strong marriage is the maturity for a lifelong commitment. I think many people never achieve this level of maturity. A marriage, or anything lasting decades and involving intimacy -- will suffer hardship, sore periods, friction, and will need ongoing maintenance. The individuals, by agreeing to marry, must embrace not only each other, but the notion that "we are a couple, in the long run." They must have patience, understanding, strength, forgiveness, humor. My hunch is few people less than 26 years old are ready. Some of us are really much better off by age 36.
    Living together in day to day life with peace and compatibility is the second leg. Some couples can be ideal as lovers meeting once every week or so, but can't stand living together. We hear about neatniks and slobs, about night people and day people. For my part I wouldn't marry a smoker. A woman who cannot stand the soil attendant to a gardener's life, or calloused hands, would do well to avoid one such as I. If one is extroverted and wants to be active socially, don't marry a shy, introverted person. Living together before marrying can be a very prudent experiment. Of course, many of us are gladly willing to change some habits, to overlook some imperfections, in order to save a marriage. But there must be a general, tolerable rapport, just to begin with.
    Seeing eye to eye on main topics, along with an ability to compromise on areas of disagreement, is the third leg. Essentially this could be called effective team playing. There must be open honest communication about such important matters as child-rearing, financial planning, where to live, how to spend free time, what sort of social ties to emphasize, religion, ethics, and everything else that needs discussion and resolution. A good marriage can, in my view, be made by the blending of two sets of convictions. I hate the cases where one of the two partners dominates, making unilateral decisions, controlling the funds, etc. Compromise means each partner yields somewhat. Of course, if one partner desires to be the leader, and the other desires to follow, so be it. But again, I seek a strong wife, who will argue her case every bit as much as I mine. We'll weave together a tapestry of love, and wrap ourselves in it.
    Love is the 4th leg. I realize that many loveless marriages exist, and it is possible to have such unions last for decades. But our ideal is wholehearted mutual love. Not the immature, hormone-driven heat of teenagers, nor the ephemeral flashes of desire felt by adults periodically. Rather an abiding, deep warmth and affection. A love that smiles at each other's imperfections, not scorns them. A love that playfully banters; that is sensitive, understanding and eager to serve. Such love is rare. Not everyone is mature enough to give it. In the same fashion that we cannot determine our needs by consulting our desires, so we cannot rely on sexual attraction alone to reveal our true love. Many factors are at play in love, and it is more complicated and risky than the other three legs I described. It touches our very core, our deepest emotions and subconscious.
    There are some seemingly thoughtful and educated people who insist that of all the billions of people on earth, only one person is their perfect lover. Well, I truly believe that any of thousands, perhaps millions, of women could be loved by me, or could love me, wholeheartedly. What it takes, however, is a match of all four legs, and at a mutually agreeable time and place. I want a wife who desires, like myself, to live in Seattle, and help make it a better place; to raise our children here. I figure Seattle has 500,000 people, and at least 30,000 are eligible women of child-bearing age. No doubt, as soon as I make it a priority to find a wife, I'll succeed, with no need to spend years searching the earth for the single, ultimate Ms Right. Actually, I've met more than one woman who was, as far as I could tell, all I could desire. But these women didn't, ahem, happen to have the same opinion about me.
    And those women who did think I was Mr Right for them, have not excited equal feelings in me. At this moment, I would unhesitatingly marry only one woman. But she is to be given her privacy, and I'll say nothing here to reveal her identity. There's another woman, about whom I have considerable warmth -- yet I suspect it is not so much because she's ideal for me, but because she's gorgeous, we share much in common, and see each other often. A third woman of recent interest is, I think, too young, but she shows such poise, good work habits, and has such quiet attraction, that she's got me saying to myself "well, maybe."
    This little tangent of three women is but a fraction of those who I've been keen about. In a matter of months ago I was keen on four more. But one of them disappeared, another wants to live far from Seattle, the third I confess I like primarily because she's got a Miss America body and is loads of fun, and the fourth turns out to be lesbian.
    More than once I've fallen for lesbians. Similarly, some gay men have swooned over me. It makes me wish we had some sort of unambiguous mark to show our sexual orientation and availability. Anyhow, even though homosexual unions are abnormal, they needn't be outlawed, after all they don't hurt anyone. As long as they're ethical and involve only consenting adults -- who cares? When I recall how many serious crises face humankind, it amazes me how we spend so much time and money persecuting homosexuality. Big deal, I say. Insofar as it is ridiculed, many stressed individuals will hide their sexual urges, and remain unhappy. That is poor for society.
    Families can be deeply hurt, and often are ruined, by tragedy. I have in mind here death and divorce, but severe diseases, terrible luck, and other things can also create chaos. Divorce is especially on my mind. This year, five couples I know split up. All but one had children -- and the remaining couple split in part because the woman desired children and the man didn't. All of these couples were of thoughtful, highly educated, economically stable, well adjusted people. Somehow, their unions to each other evaporated, in some cases to be replaced with antagonism.
    Having so many friends suffer break-ups at once, hit me hard. It is shocking, and initially made me ask "well, how can anyone be sure it won't happen to himself or herself?" I looked for explanations, knowing it is a sensitive matter. But I do want to try to learn from other's experiences, I want to blurt out "what would you do differently?" or "what advice can you offer?" After all, it is more than prudent, it is critical, to look closely at marriage and child-rearing. At the same time that I am trying to learn what went wrong in failed marriages, I keep abreast on the factors visible in successful unions. It is with great relish I reflect on the long-term happiness and love evidenced by some couples I know.
    What is it that makes certain couples stick lovingly together over decades, while others split? Obviously there are as many variables as their are couples. Just as every individual has some strong points and some weak ones, so do relationships. To preposterously insist on anything to be free from stress, for some ideal state of bliss -- is an immature dream. I'm sure that with taking the time to be honest about one's needs, desires, and expectations, as well as sincerely listening to one's partner, a firm, clear understanding can result, which might lead to a break up in the early going rather than later on. I fear too many people are so instinctively burning with desire to love and be loved, that they settle for imperfect unions out of impatience. For a lifetime marriage, and the rearing of children, deliberate attention is as needed as a warm heart. Marriages need not only be celebrated at weddings but worked on as ongoing projects. With children involved, and relatives, an even greater need exists to have realistic, reasonable budgets of time and emotional resources.