Bill Cosby: A Role Model Turned Upside Down

by Nancy French


I fondly remember playing with my Rubik’s cube in front of my television set and laughing as Cliff and Claire Huxtable dealt lovingly with their kids. I’d grown up on reruns of The Jeffersons and Good Times, but Cliff Huxtable was no sullen James Evans or strutting George Jefferson. He was kind, classy, stern, and loving. Is it too much to call him the pater familias of our generation? While other sitcoms of the era – Silver Spoons and Webster – featured ignorant adults manipulated by irritatingly clever kids, but the Huxtables were firmly in charge of their crew. In a culture broken by divorce, the Huxtables were a warm place to curl up on a Thursday night.

Their kind, unflappable parenting dealt with topics like teenage sex, drinking, scary movies, and dyslexia in a way that didn’t involve the heavy handed appearance of the First Lady in a “very special episode.” (Yes, I’m talking to you, Diff’rent Strokes.) Cosby became “America’s father,” beloved and trusted. One public-relations relations expert famously declared, “The three most believable personalities are God, Walter Cronkite, and Bill Cosby.”

So, how do we process the news that several women have come forward and accused Bill Cosby of drugging them, sexually assaulting them, raping them? Even during the time that he was putting on the cardigan sweater, dancing to Dizzy Gillespie, and dispensing advice to Denise about dressing modestly?

Rape. Bill Cosby. Let that sink in.

I found myself wanting to hide this news from my kids, who are 15, 13, and seven. After we adopted a little girl from Africa a few years ago, I introduced them all to reruns of The Cosby Show“Look!” Naomi would say as she pointed to Rudy. “She looks like me!” 

Now that those reruns have been yanked off the air because of rape allegations, how do you live in a world where Bill Cosby might possibly be a rapist?

I, for one, don’t want to. I want there to be people in the world who are really, actually good. I want men to be like the fictional Cliff: faithful, generous, pure, courageous, funny, kind. I want women to be like his fictional wife Claire: sexy, wise, loving, smart, and attentive.

Do these qualities exist in real life, a life not scripted by studio execs trying to create an ideal image? Anyone who’s ever tried to find a good Biblical name for their kids realizes that it’s really not easy to find good people – even in the Scriptures. Courtney Ressig, writing for the Gospel Coalition, reminds us of a long line of Biblical sinners:

Abraham put his wife in danger by lying about her being his sister (Gen. 12:10-20Gen. 20:1-18). Aaron followed the people he was charged to lead and gave them a golden calf, rather than pointing them to God as the one deserving of their praise (Ex. 32). Moses responded in anger, thus failing to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:10-13). Saul cared more about himself than obeying God (1 Sam. 15). David’s sin with Bathsheba tainted his ability to lead for the remainder of his reign (2 Sam. 24:1-17). Zechariah failed to trust God completely in providing a child for him (Luke 1:18-20). Peter could be rash and proud (John 13:36-38). 

And these are the people in the Bible! Are there political leaders you’d like to emulate? High-profile preachers? Really, off the top of your head, think of a person in your life whom you trusted who recently disappointed you with a suddenly revealed private life, or even with glance that made you realize they didn’t have your best interests at heart. Are there too many to count?

I desperately want people to be good, but the issue cuts into my own soul. Do the above virtues even exist when I look in the mirror, when I’m not wearing my best clothes and makeup and when I’m not trying to project my best façade? Am I honest, selfless, humble?

Perhaps the Cosby allegations are so devastating because we want other people to be better than we are. We want someone to rise above, to reach beyond, to achieve a holiness we know must be possible. Isn’t it?

I have to acknowledge what my family might readily admit: I’m both disappointed and disappointing. But as a Christian, my sin doesn’t define me. I’m a child of God, called to live the life of a recovering, redeemed sinner in a world full of other morally corrupt people.

And so, in every circumstance of high-profile people screwing up, God is doing something profound, something deep, something deeply unnerving: He’s showing us that He alone is God.

Like the Biblical Israelites, we tend to bow down to the charismatic people in front of us — people we can see, if only on screen . . . people we think can somehow represent the virtue that comes only from God Himself.

When Bill Cosby (or Bill Clinton, General Petraeus, Ray Rice, Kobe Bryant, or whoever your personal idol may be) falls down in a publically humiliating way, our reaction shows just how misguided we were to put our trust in them to begin with.

These scandals remind us that none of these people have the ability to save us; they — like us — are simply in need of a Savior.

But there is good news for those of you who sat on your sofa every Thursday night, delighted by the antics of the Huxtables.

There is a Father who won’t disappoint, and we have access to Him because of the one perfect person who did manage to walk this earth without being revealed as a tax evader, a hiker of the figurative Appalachian Trail, a hirer of prostitutes, or a liar.

Thankfully, in this world of constant disappointment, one is all it took.

The NYT’s Identity Myopia and the So-Called “Mommy Problem”

by Nancy French

Steve Carell is a “fommy.”

The actor, who stars in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, says he’s a father — like his character — who also functions as a mother. What does that mean? Well, in the movie, the temporarily unemployed dad watches the kids while his wife works at a publishing house.  At a “Mommy and Me” yoga class, one of the ladies noted he was a “father/mommy,” or “fommy.”

He didn’t recoil. 

In fact, he embraced the title, rejoiced his child said it as his first word, and the actor personally claimed the title for himself.

Heather Havrilesky, a writer for the New York Times, doesn’t embrace “mommy” quite as heartily. In this weekend’s Sunday Review, she takes umbrage at the fact that people sometimes refer to her as “mom.” When, for example, she was sitting at her kid’s soccer practice “contemplating the drift of gray clouds in the distance,” the coach interrupted her reverie by saying, “Moms, listen up.” Presumably, he was just giving the “moms” directions for the next game’s snacks, but it was enough to “send shivers” down her spine.   

She’s more than just a mom, she says, and doesn’t like the all-encompassing societal demands of motherhood. When she and her friends were at a bar, someone asked if they were having a “mom’s night out.” She smiled smugly at the regressive comment, because she’s not defined by the fact that she’s given birth.

But more than just rebelling against the terminology, Havrilesky also generally doesn’t like what motherhood has become. Apparently, her community’s version of “mom” involves endless crafts, yoga classes with small children, foreign language acquisition, and an unreasonable attention to wardrobe. (I’ve lived in Gramercy Park in Manhattan, in Center City, Philadelphia, and now in rural Tennessee. I can attest maternal expectations vary greatly with region.) 

Havrilesky’s essay is being lambasted across conservative circles. Isn’t her refusal to accept the title “mom” an indication that she doesn’t value her children? In pushing back so hard against the “mom” word, she pushes back against a lasting and valuable part of her identity,   the part that will remain long after she is gone. (How do you think she would’ve responded had someone walked up to her table as she sat with her colleagues and said, “Writers’ night out?” Would she have rolled her eyes at the stranger’s inability to grasp the totality of her identity? Would she have said, “I’m more than just a writer! I’ve got children, too!” Doubtful.)

When smart women recoil against domesticity, it denigrates the maternal role: People usually don’t mind being defined by accomplishments. Take, for example, my husband. He’s a father (no, not a “fommy”), a Harvard Law grad, a Constitutional attorney, a New York Times best-selling author, and a Bronze Star recipient.

If he were in a group of soldiers and someone came up and said, “Drinks for the soldiers all around,” he’d never say, “Wait, didn’t you see the New York Times best-seller list? I’m an author. I’m different than these guys.”

Neither would he say, “But I went to Harvard Law School. I’m more than a veteran.”

He’d never try to distinguish himself above the others in the group. Rather, he’d take the glass and thankfully partake.

Why? Two reasons: because he’s proud of his service and because he knows his identity does not reside within the details of his life. Even in the description of my husband that I mentioned above, I didn’t tell you that he’s an avid viewer of Homeland, that he auditioned out for Survivor, that he hates Taylor Swift’s new pop album, and that he has — several — level-90 Warcraft characters.

David’s essence — believe me — is hard to quantify, and even his closest friends don’t “get him” in the way that I do. After eighteen years of marriage, I don’t “get him” in his entirety.

Like all of us, he is more than his descriptors. 

That’s why I have a hard time taking aim at Havrilesky, even though I wish she didn’t treat the word “mom” like an insult. A quick Google search tells me that — in addition to being a mother — she’s also a New York Magazine contributor, Bookforum columnist, author of a memoir, and a former television critic. But none of these descriptors — taken alone or collectively — can get to her essence. Attempting to understand oneself through the the details of life without looking at the larger picture is “identity myopia,” according to Hannah Anderson’s book Made for More:

In an uncertain world, we crave the security of knowing exactly who we are and where we belong. But too often as women, we try to find this safety in our roles and relationships, our professional accomplishments, or our picture-perfect homes. And as we do, our souls shrink smaller and smaller.

Whether or not Havrilesky’s aware of it, she’s made in the divine image of a loving God . . . and consequently, none of the descriptors have enough capacity to hold her. Anderson also touches on Havrilesky’s protestations against what “moms” are supposed to be:

One of the biggest misconceptions women have is that the goal of the gospel is to conform them to some culturally-accepted form of ‘womanhood.’ We equate spiritual maturity with certain family structures, nutritional and educational choices, and feminine ideals. A mature Christian woman looks like XYZ (insert your favorite stereotype). But the goal of the gospel is the same for both men and women. The goal of the gospel is to restore our personhood. This includes our gender, to be certain, but it is not limited to it. Christ is making you like Himself and as you are transformed internally, His nature will express itself in everything about you–from your womanhood to your gifting to the work you do.

In other words, Havrilesky’s right. She’s more than a mom and she doesn’t have to mother in the way her friends parent to be “enough.” I’m sure Havrilesky doesn’t need or want a conservative writer to come to her defense.  I’m sure she would disagree with almost everything I write. I also suspect she doesn’t believe that a relationship with God could help her overcome her deep seated angst at being called a “mom” by an overworked soccer coach who just needs to assign orange slice duty.

She’s more than a mom. I’m more than a conservative. She’s more than a writer. I’m more than an undisciplined jogger. Presumably, we’re both wise and silly and aging and funny and crass and kind and rude and loving. God, in his good humor, allows for wonderful diversity — in the animal kingdom and in the “alien race unnaturally invested in high-end strollers, one-pot-chicken meals and carcinogen-free sunscreens.”

I also agree with Havrilesky’s assertion that mothers need not succumb to certain societal standards. Only through God, can women rise above societal roles and live in divine fullness. In fact, only through God can men rise above the societal roles and live in divine fullness. 

In other words, the so-called “Mommy Problem” is not a “mommy problem” at all. 

It’s a “God problem” as men and women — mommies, mothers, daddies, fommies, and fathers — attempt to define themselves by their relationships within the family and society instead of by their relationship to God. We’re more than our temporary roles. According to Anderson, we’re “large, deep, eternal beings, and only something larger and deeper and more eternal will satisfy the questions in our souls.”

Lands’ End Apologizes to Customers for Sending Pornographic Magazine as a Customer Bonus

by Nancy French

Lands’ End infuriated parents who went to the mailbox and found GQ magazines with a topless model and such helpful articles as “The Most Important Moments in Naked TV History” and “The Gentleman’s Guide to Anal Sex.”  

Here’s one mother’s tale, from Building Cathedrals blog:

Upon getting our mail on Saturday we found a pornographic magazine addressed to my name, followed by “A Land’s End Bonus”. Thanks be to God that our boys had not gotten the mail that day, as they usually do to help their pregnant mama. We were horrified that this could end up in our mailbox via ordering school uniforms from our sweet part time Christian school.

If you want to see the cover that upset this momma, click here.  

A call to Land’s End Customer service revealed that any customer placing an on line order of over $100 could be sent this as a “free bonus”. Land’s End was not overly apologetic and claimed that it wasn’t their fault, but said that they could unsubscribe us from this “free bonus”. When I asked about other families, I was told by Land’s End customer service that they would each have to call to be removed from the list (the phone number is: 800.963.4816).

I immediately emailed all of our class lists and notified all moms not to let their kids get the mail since most moms would have had to place an order of $100 from Land’s End for the school year. Several had already received the magazine.

An outcry from other mothers who received the same magazine caused Land’s End to apologize. As of Monday evening, they reportedly have stopped shipping all GQ issues.  Here’s a letter from Michele Casper, Sr. Director Public Relations:

I would like to start by extending my most sincere apologies regarding the latest issue of GQ magazine that you received in the mail this past weekend.  We made a serious error and we are truly sorry for this unfortunate situation. It was never our intention to offend our customers who received this offer.

Before I go any further I want to assure you that your feedback to our call center and blog post has not gone unnoticed. We have been working today within our teams to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.  We are also sending a letter to customers tomorrow morning letting them know that if they have not already received the magazine they could receive one this week and to be on alert.  What’s more, we have removed all of our customers’ names from the GQ subscription list and have instead switched the subscription to Condé Nast Traveler magazine.   

As a company, we are extremely apologetic that our customers have received this particular magazine on our behalf. In no way do the images or articles featured in the magazine reflect our company values.

Kudos to Lands’ End for being responsive to this unfortunate situation and to the momma who brought it to everyone’s attention.

But, if you have ordered school uniforms for your little ones, maybe you get check your own mail for the next few days.

Mississippi Horror: Doctor Aborts Babies in the Name of Jesus

by Nancy French

Russell Moore’s article in The Gospel Coalition, “Aborting in the Name of Jesus,” led me to a recent article in Esquire about the “ministry” of Dr. Willie Parker. Parker flies into the state of Mississippi to perform abortions, because no doctor in the entire state is willing to. 

Moore writes:

Dr. Parker says he aborts unborn children because Jesus wants him to. Parker, the article says, preached in Baptist churches as a young man, before going into medicine. He had, he says, a “come to Jesus” moment where he became convinced that he ought to do abortions. “The protesters say they’re opposed to abortion because they’re Christian,” he says. “It’s hard for them to accept that I do abortions because I’m a Christian.”

The whole Esquire article is worth a read. Its author, John H. Richardson, glowingly describes his subjects. Parker is “perfectly bald, with a salt-and-pepper goatee, a small gold hoop gleaming in his left ear, and a warm smile on his dark brown face.” He has an “almost priestly cadence” when he delivers these lines:

“I see women who are crying because they are Christians,” he continues, “and they are torn up by the fact that they don’t believe in abortion but they’re about to have one. What I tell them is that doesn’t make you a hypocrite.”

Yes, he’s almost like a priest, except there’s one minor detail . . . he’s delivering a message of pure evil. Forget for a moment that Parker is about to vacuum babies from their mothers’ wombs. His words unrelated to infanticide call into question his supposedly Christian worldview. Take, for example, his words of wisdom for people who are agonizing over feelings of discomfort over a decision: “If you’re feeling conflicted, if you are not comfortable with what you’re doing, you may be processing this far longer than you need to.”

Or, his occupational advice to a stripper worried the abortion might keep her off the pole too long. He explains to her that “dancing” is perfectly acceptable occupation, by saying, “That’s how you make your living.”

One of the women is worried that the abortion might prohibit her from a swimsuit on her upcoming beach vacation.  That’s not a selfish concern, he tells her.

Moore sums up Parker’s sinister – and intellectually dishonest — advice best:

He tells them to ignore everything but their own consciences, and then, of course, he informs their consciences that abortion is morally acceptable. “If you are comfortable with your decision, ignore everything from everybody else.” 

Here’s what he says about faith:

“My belief in God tells me that the most important thing you can do for another human being is help them in their time of need.”

Yes, Parker describes killing our society’s most helpless and innocent as “helping another human being in their time of need.”

However, the women (whom he advises not to think too long about this permanent, fatal decision) don’t buy his “abortion is morally acceptable” shtick.

“I don’t believe in it,” one woman said.  “If I caught it later and it was just like a whole little person . . . but I know I can’t be the parent I want to be for my child.”

In fact, the Baptist “exit counselor” says not one mother who just had an abortion ever said abortion was morally acceptable.

When one woman discovered she was having triplets, she wept. Parker dismissed her anguish by saying, “ Some women think multiples are more special, so they get more upset.”

Oh, but Dr. Parker can’t stand people who ask about the emotional well-being of the mother after going through with something she knows is wrong (even if the baby is “really little” as he told one of his patients). Instead, he contemptuously describes how people opposed to abortion are unconcerned about women’s health and minorities.

“These poor women [who are having abortions] have to come through all those verbal assaults from the ‘antis,’ as he calls them, the taunting and the judgment and the cloying malice of their prayers.”

Want to see photos of these malicious folks?  Hilariously, Esquire actually snapped a couple of photos of these terrible “antis.”  Here’s one person walking with a sign quoting such “hateful” passages as Jeremiah 29:11.  (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”)  

Here’s another photo of the rare, menacing species: four adults and what looks to be a 14 year old boy singing out of hymnals.

The abortions take less than five minutes each, presumably because the victims can’t quite put up a fight.  (William Rashbaum, the NYC abortionist who aborted over 20,000 babies, used to have a recurring dream of a baby attempting to cling to the walls of a uterus by its fingernails.)  Parker does not seem to have any internal conflict over his profession. In fact, he invited the reporter into the post-abortive room where he dumps the parts of the dead children into a kitchen strainer, washes them off with water, and identifies the body parts.  He does this to de-stigmatize the process. Here, the reporter chillingly details his experience as Parker shows off the dead baby parts.

Come closer, he says. Have a look . . . 

This one is six weeks. It’s just lumps of red tissue floating in water.

When the triplets arrive, he points out one sac, two sacs, three sacs.

But then he brings in one that’s nine weeks and there’s a fetus. He points out the scattered parts. “There’s the skull, what is going to be the fetal skull. And there are the eye sockets.”

Floating near the top of the dish are two tiny arms with two tiny hands.

Parker continues to examine the tissue. He points to a black spot the size of a pencil tip. “That’s an eye.”

“That black spot?”

“That black spot is an eye. And here’s the umbilical cord.”

The reporter seemed taken aback by Parker’s display.  “It’s hard not to look at those tiny fingers, no bigger than the tip of a toothpick,” Richardson writes.

Parker has no such qualms.

“At some point, we have to trust that people can deal with the reality of what this is,” he says.

Indeed.

Come closer. Have a look.

Married to Your Soul Mate? You Might Be in Trouble

by Nancy French


An interesting new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reveals there are two common ways of talking about relationships . . . and the way you talk about your spouse might reveal whether your marriage is headed for trouble.

The first way people talk about their spouse is by referring to them as their “other half” or “soul mate.” According to social psychologists Spike W. S. Lee of the University of Toronto and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Southern California, the “soul mate” crowd tends to overreact to conflict.  (As a mental exercise, just imagine how Cinderella would respond to Prince Charming’s desire to hang out with the guys all weekend, or how he’d respond to her repeatedly leaving the cap off the toothpaste.)

The second way people talk about their marriage is the “our relationship is a journey and we’ve come a long way” approach. According to Professors Lee and Schwartz, people with this “journey view” are able to deal more handily with problems.   

“Our findings corroborate prior research showing that people who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soul mates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out,” Professor Lee said. Their press release at least partially explains how they came to this conclusion:

In one experiment, Profs. Lee and Schwarz had people in long-term relationships complete a knowledge quiz that included expressions related to either unity or journey, then recall either conflicts or celebrations with their romantic partner, and finally evaluate their relationship. As predicted, recalling conflicts leads people to feel less satisfied with their relationship—but only with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind. Recalling celebrations makes people satisfied with their relationship regardless of how they think about it.

In a two follow-up experiments, the study authors invoked the unity vs. journey frame in even subtler, more incidental ways. For example, people were asked to identify pairs of geometric shapes to form a full circle (activating unity) or draw a line that gets from point A to point B through a maze (activating journey). Such non-linguistic, merely pictorial cues were sufficient to change the way people evaluated relationships. Again, conflicts hurt relationship satisfaction with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.

With this in mind, Professors Schwarz and Lee offer advice for married people.

“Think what you said at the altar, ‘I, ____, take you, ____, to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward ‘till death do us part.’ It’s a journey. You’ll feel better now, and you’ll do better down the road.”

In other words, perspective matters. This study is a great reminder not to set your marriage up for failure by overly romanticizing your spouse and asking them to meet unrealistic standards.

So, do “soul mates” even exist?

My pastor has a succinct way of framing the whole issue.

“How can you tell if your wife is your soul mate?” he asks. 

“If you’re married to her.”

 

How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Lessons of Diplomacy

by Nancy French

The necessity of war is not a topic most kids’ movies tackle.  However, How to Train Your Dragon 2 dives into it headfirst.

There’s a lot of diving, actually.

Set five years after the first film, the main character Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is offered the chance to lead his village after his father’s upcoming retirement.

Instead of leading a village full of Vikings and dragons, he’d rather go on explorations and adventures with his half-dog/half-dragon Toothless. (His pet’s teeth are actually retractable.) The flying and diving scenes alone are worth the price of admission, even without 3D.

When their community is threatened by an unrelentingly evil villain named Drago Bludvist, Hiccup wants to go and reason with him. (Slight spoilers ahead.) The young Hiccup brags about his rhetorical skills, about his ability to persuade people to come over to his point of view. He is known for getting people to change, to reconsider their evil ways.

His dad (played by Gerard Butler) tries to set him straight. First, he tells him that some people just want war and can’t be reasoned with. When his warning is ignored, he tells his son the true story of how he knows the true nature of Drago — because he was the lone survivor of a bloodbath Drago inflicted on all of his friends.

You’re right to sense this is a darker children’s movie than you’ve come to expect.  However, the film is notable because of its interestingly mature approach to what it means to love peace.

As Hiccup defies his father and seeks to find — and reason with – Drago, he puts himself and those he loves at risk . . . to devastating consequences. The New York Times puts it this way:

 . . . this doctrinaire peacenik finds himself obliged to acknowledge that pure evil exists and that some monsters are so bent on power and destruction that no argument for peace and love can make them see the light; fighting back is the regrettable but necessary response to their aggression.

When I told my husband the plot, he quoted Théoden from Lord of the Rings when it looked as if the Hornburg might fall:  “What can men do against such reckless hate?”

The movie is not perfect — and perhaps too dark for some children. 

However, in a nation ruled by naïve, incompetent leaders who believe diplomacy (even of the hashtag variety) can solve the most complicated problems, it was a welcomed and refreshing way to spend a summer afternoon.

(How to Train Your Dragon 2 is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.)

‘Husband’ and ‘Wife’ and the Power of Words

by Nancy French

I was standing in front of my house.  It was a hot Saturday afternoon and visiting neighbors provided the perfect excuse for not trimming my shrubs. One neighbor was telling a story about a recent boating adventure.

“So, I was with my friend from college and his wife/girlfriend,” he said, “and the boat hadn’t been turned on for years.”

“Wait,” my other neighbor laughed. “Was he with his wife or his girlfriend? There’s a difference.”

He went on to explain that his friend had been dating — seriously dating — this woman for years. She was the mother of his child, so the word “wife,” seemed more appropriate than “girlfriend.” 

That’s the thing about words: They have meanings.

However, my neighbor was right that “girlfriend” doesn’t quite encapsulate the gravity of some relationships. “Wife” indicates a vow. “Husband” indicates they’ve made it permanent. Our language lacks an accurate word to describe those close, non-marital bonds.

When we lived in Ithaca, New York, my husband taught at Cornell Law School. It was the first time I had been around people who refused to use the word “husband” or “wife.”

“Are you David’s partner?” a law-school professor asked me.

“In crime?” I asked, jokingly but it was not a laughing matter.

“Husband” and “wife,” of course, are “heteronormative.”  That means that when you say them, you are reinforcing heterosexual standards on the world. It means you believe in certain relational roles. It means you need to stop. 

Why? Well, what do people in homosexual relationships who have been “married” in their home states call their “significant other?”  Husband and husband?  Wife and wife?

The reason these terms are no longer viable is because they indicate a gender and gender roles. What if one or both partners are transgendered? When I went to my women’s studies classes at New York University, they taught that there was no difference at all between men and women — so why, they asked, do we have a need to specify genders with our language?  Gender, they assured me, was a “social construct.”

But what to call each other, if not “husband” and “wife?”

NPR recently quoted Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com on the topic.  ”‘Partner’ sounds very official or contractual. ‘Companion’ sounds unromantic or even euphemistic,” he explained. “’Lover’ might just be too explicit. ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ are inappropriate for a lot of people, unless they’re [sic] a teenager.”

And so, to describe people who have vowed to stay together for the rest of their lives, we’re left with the most unexciting word ever: spouse.

In California last week, Governor Jerry Brown made the boring word official. “Husband” and “wife” will no longer appear in his state’s marriage laws, replaced by the dual function “spouse.”  That way, the forms will reflect the reality that gay people now can marry there.

What bland, non-descriptiveness to describe such a rich relationship.

I remember when my . . . is it okay to say fiancé, or does the one “e” plunge us too deeply into the politics of gender and hate?  Anyway, a guy named David and I flew to Paris and married in the upstairs of a restaurant, buying flowers off the street for my bouquet. It was a romantic, crazy, rather spontaneous act with a man I barely knew. 

In fact, my mother — in a desperate moment of protest — forgot his name and called him “a rank stranger.”  In retrospect, I can see why they were so worried about me marrying someone I barely had dated.

But there in the City of Lights, the preacher pronounced us “husband” and “wife.”

I swallowed hard. Even though some of them were in French, the words carried gravity.

Of course, not because they possessed some sort of magical quality, but because they reflected the serious nature of what we’d done. The words carry implications. I would be a wife, and all that entails. He would be a husband, and all that entails. The label didn’t stop me from having a career while also trying to be a good mom. It didn’t stop David from having a great career while also being a great, nurturing dad. The terms indicated that we’d made vows before God that we’d stay together, even if we barely knew each other and had no idea how the other took coffee.

Eighteen years later, I know he takes his coffee with one Sweet-n-Lo, plus cream.  I also know he developed a taste for cream when he went to Iraq and the coffee they had in Diyala province was so terrible he needed cream to camouflage the taste.

That’s the way marriage is, you know. Permanent. It remains, even as people change over decades of kids and deployments and disappointments and financial setbacks and small victories. We’ve stayed together through changes in taste and coffee and personality. In fact, he was a different man when he returned from war. We had two babies and traveled to Africa to pick up our third.

I don’t know. “Spouse” just doesn’t seem to encapsulate this relationship we made official in Paris way back in 1996. It seems like we spend an inordinate amount of time catering to the small fraction of men who don’t want to be masculine and to the small fraction of women who don’t want to be feminine. But David is more than a companion, more than a partner, more than a spouse.

He’s my husband.

Though I do sometimes call him “rank stranger” just for fun.

 

 

‘Social Justice’ Begins at Home

by Nancy French

My husband David French has an excellent article, which begins with a proposition:

Dear Christian parents,

I’ve got a deal for you. It’s simple: If you sign up for my program, there’s a roughly 80 percent chance that the man’s happiness will increase substantially. And women, there’s about a 50 percent chance you’ll be happier as well. Sounds good, right? After all, happiness can be tough to come by. How about a few less sleepless nights? A few more smiles? And what about some joy? I bet you could really go for some joy.

The cost? Oh yes, the cost. Nothing’s free, after all. Here’s the thing. If you join my program, your kids will likely become more depressed and anxious. They’ll have a much greater chance of being abused, living in poverty, and becoming addicts. That’s the cost. In short, I’m asking you to purchase your own happiness at the cost of your children’s happiness, not to mention their safety and mental health.

Deal?

Almost any self-respecting Christian parent would throw me out of their house. Could there be anything more obviously selfish? Can you imagine something that more perfectly contradicts Christ’s call to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him?

Yet that’s the deal millions of Christian parents willingly choose every year and then defend zealously. That deal is called divorce.

He goes on to explain how divorce affects children and society. Could it be that this oft-discussed “social justice” idea could actually be solved by the kind of values for which Murphy Brown mocked Dan Quayle?

 

 

David continues:

Throughout my Christian life, I’ve heard much talk of “social justice,” often defined as the desire to create a society that is more compassionate, helps the hurting, and lifts up the impoverished…. I find it interesting that in most discussions of poverty and cultural decay, one rarely hears of the simplest and most obvious solution: marriage.

Read David’s take on how marriage can actually solve many of our cultural problems.