Marc Munroe Dion: Family values more casual today
I write a lot about local politics and, as is proper to a small city columnist, tend to let the big world rush by my desk while I wrap myself in Fall River’s latest fiscal disaster.
But I get tired of writing that and assume others get tired of reading it, so sometimes I cast around for something that happened outside my fish bowl.
Which I found recently.
Newspapers, television and radio all went coverage crazy over the news that 17 teenage girls were pregnant in Gloucester. Original reports said the girls made a “pact” to get pregnant. Everyone is backing off the pact part of the story now, but the story remains.
I doubt we’ll ever find out what really happened. Teenage culture is unreadable to most of the people who do most of the news writing.
What’s clear is that, as usual, the culture is way ahead of the people whose job it is to interpret its movements.
Frankly, in Fall River (and in many other places) 17 pregnant, unwed teenage girls wouldn’t attract too much attention unless they were heavily armed and travelling in a group.
One thing is certain, lifetime marriage and the production of children bearing the father’s last name is just about done. I oughta know. I don’t have any children, but I just announced my engagement and, as I’ve spread the news among people I know, I’ve come to feel that what I’m doing is almost crazily old-fashioned.
“You’re not gonna live together first?” people ask me.
“Do you live together?” people ask me
Of course, I’m over 50, so my domestic arrangements do not concern the future of the nation. Young men and women, however, are breeding the next generation and should at least be aware of marriage as an option.
Not that I can talk. Until recently, I was more or less unaware of marriage, other than to remember it as something my parents did before I was born.
By the way, as an aid against nostalgia for the “good old days” of morality, I remember my father telling me that, in the 30s and 40s, when he was a young man, he couldn’t count the number of guys he knew who “had to get married.”
It was crude, but that was how society handled out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The woman became pregnant, the man married her and the two of them were stuck with each other. Forever. It’s “out of wedlock birth” now, but in 1932, it was “pre-wedding pregnancy.”
Mathematicians could have predicted it and, sure enough, by 1980, the year 1932 was long gone. In my memory, 1980 was the year when “just” vanished from the phrase “just living together.”
Up until about 1980, you’d ask a couple if they were married and one of them would say, “No. We’re just living together.”
The “just” implied that living together was less valuable than marriage. When the “just” vanished, the institution of marriage didn’t die, but it did start coughing up blood.
Fall River is on the sharp point of cultural change, principally because we’re a poor city and, when things don’t work out for the poor, the results are easily visible.
For centuries, it was particularly important for poor people to stick together because family softens the effects of poverty. Fall River’s population includes 80-year-old people whose childhoods were spent in European farming villages where morals hadn’t changed since the 1600s. Imagine how those people must feel when confronted with current patterns of marriage, non-marriage, co-habitation and child-bearing. My guess is a lot of them spend a fair amount of time NOT saying how they feel.
What we’ve got in 2008 is less family and more “casual breeding,” and it doesn’t make any difference if you like it or not. The trend against marriage may have been reversible 35 years ago, but it isn’t reversible now. A writer’s shock at the breeding practices of some young people just proves the writer doesn’t know that many Americans are choosing to combine in tribes and not in families.
One of my great burdens is that I like to read history. I read about the year 1215 and the year 1565 and the year 1834 and there is a continuity. People farmed. Few lived in large cities. Customs, language and culture changed slowly in the small places.
And sometimes it seems that I was born just after someone lit the fuse on a skyrocket that will blow us all up or take us all to the stars.
And I watch this from a red brick and gray granite town where teenagers, pregnant and otherwise, live in 105 year-old tenements stuffed with big screen televisions, computers, iPods and the future of the human race.