August 29th 2015

  Buy Issue 2955

Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Same-sex marriage and the SOGI ideological agenda

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Canada: basic freedoms lost since same-sex marriage came to town

CANBERRA OBSERVED Abbott, Shorten fixin' for some feudin' next year

OBITUARY RIP Frank Scully, last survivor of the Labor Split

EDITORIAL Colleagues digging holes Tony Abbott has to fill in

EDUCATION There must be a better plan than Naplan

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Sukarno makes way for Suharto's "New Order"

HISTORY Fateful indecision: the tragedy of Rabaul

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part I

SCOTUS: JUDICIAL ACTIVISM On the having of the cake and the eating of it too

LIFE ISSUES When an abomination becomes good business

CINEMA Spy sequel vies with a spy history repeat Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

BOOK REVIEW An important biography of B.A.

Books promotion page

A father's presence in the home: part I

by John A. Cuddeback

News Weekly, August 29, 2015

In the face of woeful marriage statistics, appalling portrayals of marriage in the arts and entertainment, and mounting negative political and legal pressures, defenders of marriage find themselves falling back, fighting simply to salvage the freedom to articulate, yea even to live, basic aspects of traditional marriage. It might seem that this is a time to restrict our focus to the most fundamental issues: one man, one woman; permanent commitment; openness to life.

But another possible approach exists. Now is the time to redouble efforts to discover and implement the fullness of marriage and family life. But it is not enough. Or in any case, there is yet a whole art, a virtue of how to do this well. Living family life well means unlocking the potential that marriage has to be a powerhouse of joy and blessing, even far beyond its own borders.

Aristotle once noticed that a society tends to produce the kind of men it honours. Defenders of the traditional family are well aware that our society neither honours nor understands the traditional family man.

The bigger question is: do the defenders of marriage really honour and understand this man in all his richness? The conservative vision of the family – leaving aside the biggest issues – is often in reality surprisingly like the dominant progressive vision.

Many defenders of the traditional family look back to the 1950s. When we picture it at least the image includes a home – with one man and one woman and children. But a closer look at this image reveals a man too blithely disconnected from the warp and woof of home life; indeed, it reveals the 1960s and ’70s and 2010s in incubation.

I would like to make a radical suggestion: we need to reimagine and then reinstate a different model of family life. At the centre of this model will be a husband and father whose very success in life is fundamentally, though not solely, seen and judged in terms of what he does in the home. Indeed, a central measure of his manhood will be the quality of his presence in the home.

We turn first to a great, if almost forgotten, or simply rejected, tradition of thinking about household life. In light of this tradition, we will then consider the general transformation in household life in roughly the last two hundred years. Here we will focus on a seldom considered reality: how fathers first left the household to find work elsewhere, and then came to value their careers above their home life, to the detriment of the family.

An old understanding of household

Let us go back to Aristotle. Setting aside some notable shortcomings in his understanding of the household, the man that St Thomas Aquinas calls “the Philosopher” nonetheless expresses its fundamental principles with remarkable clarity.

At the heart of all practical wisdom is the primacy of the “end”. The term “end” refers to the final cause, or “that for the sake of which”. Aristotle holds that all human actions as well as all human communities – such as the state or the household – aim at a perfection which gives them their meaning and purpose. In life itself, as in the more particular areas of human action, the good man must put first what is truly first, that is, the end. In other words, his intention of the true end should be the driving and guiding energy behind what he does.

Oikonomia is the Greek word for the art of ruling or ordering the household (the oikos), and, at least traditionally, a father’s duty as head of the household was to excel in this art. The central question about one who exercises the art of oikonomia is, what should he intend? What is the end the willing of which gives meaning and concrete direction to what the husband and father does in the household? In commenting on Aristotle’s Politics, Aquinas writes: “Aristotle infers that the chief intention of the householder concerns these two relations of persons in the household”: namely, the relation of husband and wife, and the relation of parents to children.

It sounds so simple; but the power of this truth can shatter all false conceptions of family and household. What is the principal concern of the husband and father of a family? His relationship with his spouse and their relationship with their children. Through his providence, his work, his presence, he is the first principle of real human flourishing in its most foundational instance, namely, the flourishing relationships that are the core of a household. Aristotle’s profound assertion is rooted in the simple truth that a wife or child or husband who stands in such healthy relationships is verily an icon of human happiness.

We can be so bold as to ask, if a married man is not succeeding in these relationships, how can he be said to be succeeding as a man?

The first community

Our second point from Aristotle is his conception of the household community as a community constituted by nature for everyday life, that is, activities that have to be performed daily.

What at first seems a rather pedestrian point begins, on further examination, to shine like a diamond. Humans are made to live in relationships, and in community. There is one community that, by its very nature, reaches into almost every corner of life. It knits together our days by being the place, the context for living together every day.

The very notion is thrilling, even though the word quotidian – literally, “daily” – has the connotation of the pedestrian and mundane. We get to live with certain people, every day! When a young man and a young woman fall in love, what better can they imagine than being able (being allowed!) to be together every day – literally, to make a life together?

There are indeed human activities that require a broader community, such as the village or the state, but by and large those activities are not daily ones. Eating and working, and the resting and playing that punctuate the working, these are done every day. And they are done together with those with whom we share a home. This is where life really happens.

In these two points from an ancient tradition of thinking about the good life, we have a solid foundation for better understanding and evaluating our current situation. We can proceed now to consider a fundamental transformation of the structures of the household – tragically, a transformation that can make the above points seem like ancient history.

An historic transformation

If we are to grasp and resolve the situation of the family today, it is crucial that we note certain big changes in family and home life that have been anything but random. There are readily discernible patterns in this transformation. And our consideration of the points from Aristotle and Aquinas can give us an excellent vantage from which to consider them.

Christopher Lasch was a noted historian and social critic who gave much attention to the plight of the traditional family. To many, his findings may be somewhat surprising. He writes: “The history of modern society, from one point of view, is the assertion of social control over activities once left to individuals or their families” (Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged, Basic Books, 1979).

Lasch sees what he calls the “socialisation of production” as a fundamental, even if oft-missed, cause of the demise of the traditional structure and practices of the household. In essence, this “socialisation” refers to how, on the whole, the day-to-day work that produces the material things needed for human existence left its native soil – the household. One can recall here how Aristotle and Aquinas conceived of the household as a place where precisely such work was done.

A hallmark of this “socialisation” was the migration from farm and workshop, themselves often attached to households, to employment in the factories of the Industrial Revolution. While in recent generations factory work has been largely replaced by other industries, the fundamental reality remains, as men – and now most women – are engaged in work that is neither in the context of the household nor has any real connection, other than through the money it produces, to life therein.

It is the stock-in-trade of defenders of the traditional household to decry the general movement of women out of the household and into the “workforce”. Most, however, are mute on the issue of the parallel and prior male exodus. And yet the very notion of the “workforce” as something fundamentally outside the household exemplifies a fundamental shift from both the theory and practice of household life once standard in our civilisation since its founding.

This change – the demise of the household as a centre of production – is one that many defenders of the traditional family either dismiss with a shrug, or even approve with a nod in the direction of “economic progress”. Yet I think it is clear that, regardless of an admixture of genuine advantages, this shift was a blow to the very essence of the household community.

Why? Work, especially in the sense of the production of things necessary for human life, is the very stuff of daily life. Though not the most noble or impor­tant activity done in the household, it is naturally the skeleton around which other activities spring – be they meals, prayer, study, leisure, or play.

Here history can be helpful. From time immemorial the basic structure of the household included a man and woman working together on a daily, even hourly, basis. The kinds of work done by the man and woman often differed.

Xenophon, an Athenian contemporary of Plato, wrote in his On Household Management of the natural division of labour in the household: “Since both of these domains – indoor and outdoor – require work and attention, God, as I see it, directly made a woman’s nature suitable for the indoor jobs and tasks, and man’s nature suitable for the outdoor ones.”

Yet the fact that the kinds of labour differed did not imply that the husband and wife were separated in their work. Rather, distinction in work was seen as for the sake of the greater commonweal and unity of the whole: “In so far as the two sexes have different natural talents, their need for each other is greater and their pairing is mutually more beneficial, because the one has the abilities the other lacks. Just as God has made men and women partners in procreation, so the law makes them partners in their household.”

What is especially worth noticing in this vision of Xenophon, which is typical of the theory and practice of pre-modern Western civilisation, is that working together daily was the flesh and bones of what a married man and woman shared, first with each other and then with their children. The context in which they procreated was precisely the context of the life they shared through common work, through making a household together.

A large amount of this work would have been done in close proximity to, and often with participation by, children. Such work in the household likewise afforded both parents the time and context for personal mentoring of children – formation in perhaps its most foundational sense: by presence and example.

John A. Cuddeback, who holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America, is chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College. A lay Dominican, Professor Cuddeback lives with his wife and six children in the Shenandoah Valley.

This article is reprinted by permission from PRINCIPLES, a publication of Christendom College. Part II will be published in the next issue of News Weekly.

Listen to
News Weekly Podcasts

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

Join email list

Join e-newsletter list

Your cart has 0 items

Subscribe to NewsWeekly

Research Papers

Trending articles

CARDINAL GEORGE PELL FREE: The commentary file

RURAL AFFAIRS A national disgrace: Our great land sale

COVER STORY Justice at last: Cardinal Pell set free

ROYAL COMMISSION Hatchet job on Cardinal Pell breached basic principle of fairness

EDITORIAL Australia needs an economic reset after covid19 crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED The very young can still be 'taken care of' during the covid19 outbreak

COVER STORY Gearing up to ditch free-trade policy

© Copyright 2017
Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm