Making Space for Men to Become Fathers

The following is an adaptation of remarks made at the Life in America After Roe Conference co-hosted by The American Conservative and Belmont Abbey College on September 20, 2022.

As we discuss family policy, meaning how we can support and encourage family formation in the United States, I think of a supposedly old 19th-century newspaper that is regularly shared on social media. It is reading:

CHANCE FOR A SPINSTER. — A young man in Aristook County, Maine, who is courting a woman, speaks of himself as follows: “I’m eighteen years old, I have good teeth, and I believe in Andy Johnson, the Stars and Stripes, and the 4 of July. I took over state property last year, cleared 18 acres and seeded 10 of them. My buckwheat looks top notch and the oats and potatoes are great. In addition to a house and a barn, I have nine sheep, a two-year-old bull and two heifers. I want to marry. I want to buy bread and butter, crinolines and waterfalls for a person of female persuasion in her lifetime. That’s what I’m about. But I don’t know how to do it.”

The ad is an endearing snapshot of a very different America, and the kind of sourceless internet junk you hope is real in some concrete, historical way. But when we look at marriage rates today, that’s also a well-known cry for help. When it comes to raising families, too many young Americans, and particularly American young men, “don’t know how to do it.”

That worries Conservatives, and it should be. The family is – as Aristotle told us, but also almost all of human history has shown – the basic political unit of a stable society. Genesis also shows us the first family – a man, a woman and their children – and with it the first civil war. It also tells us the story of a man and a woman who became one nation. Abraham is called by God to become a patriarch, to go to the land that the Lord will show him to be fruitful with Sarah and multiply and take dominion.

Efforts to dismantle the family, to pretend that it is an arbitrary construct that closes rather than mediates the relationship between the human person and sovereign political power, are largely new—although perhaps we should pay tribute to Plato and a certain famous city of speech here . And these efforts, time and time again, have dehumanized and degraded us, whether recognized as totalitarian or not.

Totalitarian is a neologism and should generally be replaced by tyrannical, the older and better word. But for family policy discussions, a certain level of claustrophobia is important, and that’s why I use it here. If politics and civilization are fundamentally built on families, then families need space to grow, to become that foundation, and policy interventions should aim to give them that space. Thinking in spaces, in wide fields and fertile beds, in trellises and fences also leads away from what modernism has called the rule of quantity, and from the conservatives, who resort to monetary values ​​for everything. It helps us think more clearly about the natural family as it is—an organic, integral whole—and the people who make it up, rather than what they are—animals, rational and political, made in the image of God.

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So while I support direct economic support for families — the financial incentives, bonuses, and tax tweaks that make up much of the family policy discourse, both here and in DC — I want to remind us to think of the people and animals involved in particular Thinking about men with no college degrees and how we can help them, like the young farmer in the classified ad, to make marriage the cornerstone again instead of the capstone.

A disclaimer is in order here, or perhaps more of a clarification. For men like me, starting a family still works most of the time, or at least marriage. I’ve only recently been engaged, so I don’t have first-hand experience with children and home buying. But I have colleagues and they make it work. But we are not normal, even though we might want to be normative in a way. I have a Brainwork laptop job with a nice salary and opportunity for advancement. In addition to my bachelor’s degree, I have a master’s degree. I come from an intact, churchly, middle-class family and I go to church every week, as does my fiancée. So from a political perspective, I’m not the one who needs help the most, and I’m not the one that I hope creative thinking in family politics will help in the first place.

Family policy must begin as marriage policy. The young farmer in our classified ad has what so many American men today—about 16 million in 2015, and probably many more today—don’t have: a job. More than a job, our homesteader has a career. He knows what his job is because he farms, grows buckwheat, oats and potatoes, and he is pleased to see the fruits of his labor. He also knows what his work is worth. That makes him marriageable.

Men without a college degree will not all be able to enter manual labor, become truck drivers or become farmers under current conditions. Interventions are needed, and we must learn to view interventions in favor of men’s employment and interventions against diplomas and industrial complexes as interventions in favor of marriage. Certainly the greatest disqualification for men seeking marriage in America today is not just the financial insecurity of underemployment in low-wage services, save for a moment outright unemployment, but the discouragement of it all. Men’s educational outcomes are equally discouraging. The pathologies that plague Americans – obesity, substance abuse and addiction, crime and incarceration, endless video games in proverbial and literal basements – derive in part from pathetic work for pathetic pay with no prospect of growth, no room to roam… American men have lost her mojo; They noticed, and so did the women.

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Our Maine resident has space that has also literally made him marriageable. He owns property. Through a government program, he acquired and cleared 18 acres by the age of 18. He has a house and a barn. Do you have a house and a barn? I think you’re very lucky if you do. I want a house and a barn. But as you’ve probably noticed, there’s a disparity in America between places where there are reasonably good jobs to be had and places where there are 18 acres to be filled with screaming kids. This area might be one of the lucky places, but nationwide we can’t expect married American couples to do their fair share of baby-making when they can only look forward to decades in a tiny apartment.

This is perhaps where I get more pro-monetary intervention and more self-interest in my family policy recommendations. We need to make home ownership affordable for young people, one way or another – better yet, real acreage. To come back to Genesis: For humans, space to cope and fruitful reproduction belong together. But even if we’re talking direct cash support or worrying about a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, we should also consider the biggest distortions in America’s housing market. It goes without saying that we don’t build enough. But Chinese nationals, as well as Bill Gates and BlackRock, also own vast chunks of America’s farmland and homes. The Feds still own much of the West, not all of the national parks or leased natural resources. A confident, family-friendly statesman can probably think of a few things to do about it.

Working and property conditions are a few major reasons why American men don’t have the space to develop into a husband. They don’t have farm boys and men today. But it’s also true that our young farmer has nothing in all his free spaces that they have: a kind of negative space in the supposed freedoms of no-fault divorce. The statistics make it clear that the vast majority of divorces are initiated by women. Our homesteader is looking for a wife in a world where there will be more ties—not just cultural, but legal—that bind him and his bride together. Like the fish in the ocean, there is true freedom within boundaries and room to grow within the fence of a socially empowered marriage. There is a confidence that it would be difficult for us to approach. Marriage is a bet on the future, and the odds are worse today in part because the rules are different in a very important way.

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In the end, the farmer doesn’t know how to get married, so he asks the newspaper man for help. Material and legal conditions are not enough, although they are not nothing. It takes a culture of marriage and a culture of children to create a culture of family. And that requires hope, a real sense of hope for the future and gratitude for the present, a belief that the world is worth giving to another generation. The homesteader believes in “Andy Johnson, the Stars and Stripes and the 4th of July”; He wants to marry because of “bread, hoop skirts and waterfalls”, but also because he has confidence in his country.

The American baby boom occurred during two decades of American triumph and the space race, the new frontier. I don’t think it was an accident. Cultural Christianity and old normative societal expectations provided a script, but confident optimism about the country’s ability to grow, in the sense of real freedom, gave the American man, and with him the American woman – for the sexes rise and fall – something to strive for can, and the courage to bring many children into this world. I don’t think Mars can be that limit for us today; We have lost too much of the shared vision for the poetry of engineering that we had today during the space race for space to conquer the heart of the country. But in the depopulation period that we are entering, the real space here in North America, the real frontier, will open up to us again, and it is up to American men and their families to fill it.

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