He Was My Choice: The Male Duty to Provide (The Ethos of Civilization, Part II)

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II. He Was My Choice: The Male Duty to Provide


I see nothing but devastation around me. I don’t see anything even remotely resembling family no matter where I look. Me and my husband went to my daughter’s choir performance a few months back and I noted when I looked around me that I couldn’t find any male-female couples in attendance. There was a group of three women sitting in front of us, a bunch of elderly people and otherwise just a bunch of scattered out single individuals of both sexes scattered around the auditorium. There was nothing that even remotely resembled family or close relationships between men and women, and it’s doubtful that anyone in attendance was actually married. My perception was that the environment seemed very cold and very lonely.

Society has tried so hard to push gender-role reversal and obliteration of traditional marriage. Increasingly, social programs and legislative policies designed to get fathers to become more “involved” are pushed along with their counterparts of promoting women as being hard-lined independent money-makers. Mothers are not just pushed out of their children’s lives; increasingly, every effort is directed to completely locking mothers out of their lives, barring women from being the primary nurturers and caretakers of their young children.

While plunging into tub after tub of books looking for that one book that is (naturally) impossible to find right when it is needed, I came across the original album of my wedding pictures instead. They had been stored away for so long I’d nearly forgotten about their existence. But right in time they aligned themselves with my current thoughts. They bring to mind old memories- both pleasant and troubling on the verge of painful. And I have often wondered this: Am I so well-adjusted (in contrast to many modern women), because of his love? Because of his protection and provision and guardianship over me and our family? I would say in many ways, yes, I am. I rejected with all my might my mother’s hostile attempts to get me to put a career first. I put my husband and child first. And isn’t this something that modern society should be promoting? Wouldn’t children and families and the lives of men and women do better, wouldn’t society prosper better overall, with a civilization of women who surrendered to their feminine instincts? It is not my purpose to talk about life’s exceptions and hardships here. I only speak in generalities: My belief in my own heart, in his love, in his power to watch over and guard our family, and the ways in which society was better off whenever mothers and wives made it their first priority to carefully and tenderly nurture their homes, children, and love their husbands.

The main problem with fatherhood in modern society is that the notion of paternal involvement in children’s lives and “father’s rights” revolves wholly around egalitarian theories and modern notions of “equality,” when it should rest upon a notion of male responsibility and authority. When I placed our child in his arms and surrendered authority to him, I did not do so because I believed in “equality” or because I believed that he was so wonderful at changing diapers (I didn’t) or that we were co-equals sharing rights and responsibility (I didn’t). On the contrary, I did everything I did because I believed that we were not equals, believing that he should be our provider and protector, and as such my actions were one of placing my trust in him to assume those responsibilities; and, likewise, that those same responsibilities would not fall upon my shoulders. On the contrary, I established a close and intimate relationship with him (more intimate and closer than all others except for perhaps the initial months of mother and child bonding) where I made myself one with him. I saw it as his duty to provide for us. I had no desire to be in the workforce or be independent. I loved him more than anything in this world and my willingness to depend on him and trust him and give my whole self to him (both body and heart) showed that love in the strongest way that I could show it. It is upon this notion of oneness of man and wife that any notion of the rights of fatherhood should rest, and there is much precedent (now wholly ignored by legislators, judges and society alike) for this viewpoint:

A Massachusetts lawyer published and anonymous pamphlet in protest [of recent judicial decisions giving custody of young children to mothers]…[attacking] the contention that a wife could be granted custody without proving her husband had violated his spousal or fatherly duties. The unity of the husband and wife, he claimed, blocked such an outcome. Married women had no separate custody rights, just as they had none to sue or make a contract. Questioning the judiciary’s growing authority over child placement, the attorney charged that the Pennsylvania decision represented “nothing less than an assumption of power by a court…to determine the domestic arrangements of a man’s family.” Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America 241-42 (1985).

But when a man doesn’t understand a woman and fails to protect her; when a man won’t listen and fails to understand, most women become angry and frustrated, wishing instead that, if he just doesn’t get it, that he’d just simply leave. But of course, when women hurt and suffer it is easy for a man to walk away; it is easy for him to ignore the things she is genuinely trying to tell him. It is easy for him not to listen, but it takes a different kind of strength altogether for a man to stay, to understand, and to console her when feminine hormones, emotion, and feeling overwhelm her and spin out of control. And as for our children, in the modern world, they are all too often utilized by men as a last-ditch effort to gain control over a woman, especially if she has left him (and especially if he has NPD). In particular where the unwed father or otherwise irresponsible man is concerned, this is damaging, destructive, and obviously runs contrary to any policy goals purporting to support the formation of stable marriages, stable family units, and well-adjusted offspring. But when it comes to a husband, what cannot be lost in the conversation is that marriage is a choice- and a woman’s consent has always been necessary for a valid marriage under our laws since the earliest times:

But, where the offence is directly against the person of the wife, this rule [that husband and wife may not be witness against each other] has been usually dispensed with: and therefore, by statute 3 Hen. VII. C.2. in case a woman be forcibly taken away, and married, she may be a witness against such her husband, in order to convict him of felony. For in this case she can with no propriety be reckoned his wife; because a main ingredient, her consent, was wanting to the contract: and also there is another maxim of law, that no man shall take advantage of his own wrong: which the ravisher here would do, if by forcibly marrying a woman, he could prevent her from being a witness, who is perhaps the only witness, to that very fact. William Blackstone 1 Commentaries on the Laws of England 443-44 (11thed.1791).

Indeed, consent itself is at the very heart of contract law; that is, that by their mutual consent, individuals are bound to legally enforceable promises. The woman who enters into marriage with a man (as opposed to the unwed mother, who may or may not fully and intelligently consent to the father’s involvement in her and the child’s life) historically consented that she would come under his power and control, be supported and protected by him, and that the husband would share in the joys of having legitimate offspring. The initial idea at the heart of paternal authority was to advance the stability of marriages and give greater incentive for fathers to provide. In Nickerson’s Case (1837), the court stated: “In this country, the hopes of the child in respect to its education and future advancement, is mainly dependent upon the father; for this he struggles and toils through life; the desire of its accomplishment operating as one of the most powerful incentives to industry and thrift.” Quoted in Melvin I. Urofsky & Paul Finkelman Documents of American Constitutional and Legal History, Vol I: From the Founding Through the Age of Industrialization 293-94 (2d ed. 2002). Chief Justice Nelson in the case cited instances where the courts would intervene if a man abused his authority (they always could) and placed emphasis upon cases and circumstances where a woman had “withdrawn herself from the protection of her husband” without authorization, the entire point being that the husband’s role of providing and protecting was central to his authority (the wife being entitled to protection and provision from him and expected to accept it). Three years later, in Mercein v. People Ex. Rel. Barry (1840), it was held that “…The father’s right to his child is not absolute and inalienable. In those American cases which uphold to the greatest extent the right of the father, it is conceded that it may be lost by his ill usage, immoral principles or habits, or by his inability to provide for his children.” Quoted in Urofsky & Finkelman, Documents of American Constitutional and Legal History, Vol I at 298-99 (cited supra) (emphasis added).

Similarly, in an 1848 decision from the Cincinnati Superior Court “Judge William Johnston argued that the right to custody flowed from the parental responsibility to provide, feed, and educate a child. ‘Separate from the duty of providing,’ he sternly lectured, ‘the right to custody does not exist.’”  Grossberg, Governing the Hearth, at 256 (cited supra). The concept of husbands and fathers being primarily responsible for the financial support and protection of their wives and children is abundant in the historical records. As a backlash against these standards, early feminists- contrary to the post-1970s feminists- routinely championed women’s nurturing abilities and agitated for greater maternal custody rights to break free of the chains of patriarchy. Initially, these demands were met with hostility for threatening the security of the family:

Demands for formal custody rights secured by statute often met a far cooler public response, as was evident in an 1854 New York Tribune account of a women’s rights rally. When a woman demanded statutory custody and guardianship rights, male hecklers greeted her with cries of “Oh dry up!,” “Bow-wow!,” “Hiss-s-s-s!,” “Get out!” a more reasoned expression of the same sentiments appeared in lawyer-historian James Schouler’s 1870 treatise on domestic relations. Discussing legislative changes in married women’s legal status, he argued: “The danger to be apprehended from all legislation of this sort is that it will weaken the ties of marriage by forcing both sexes into an unnatural antagonism; teaching them to be independent of one another, and to earn their own living apart; whereas God’s law points to the family and the mutual intercourse of man and woman as among the strongest safeguards of human happiness.” Schouler declared that the law should provide “honorably, faithfully, and generously against all possible misfortune,” and teach a wife to “lean upon the stronger arm of her husband, and to look to man for guidance.” Grossberg, Governing the Hearth, at 245-46 (cited supra).

Now the hostility is towards anyone who would speak in favor of tradition and the mother’s irreplaceable role as nurturer and caregiver. Today the hostility is towards any thoughts or policies that would promote the security of the marital unit and stability of families. Not a soul would dare to tell a woman today to lean “on the strong arm of her husband,” and otherwise thoughts of a woman being soft and nurturing are met with outcry and backlash. But surely a society that cared about the state of the nation’s families and the welfare of its youth would be concerned primarily with keeping the monogamous, traditional, patriarchal family intact, not breaking it up.