Relatively common things — like moms and dads, and married moms and dads and love — are the kind of things we often take for granted. But this season of graduations and family vacations is as good a time as any to remember they’re not to be taken for granted. These, in no small way, are our lifeblood.
That’s both a civilizational and an personal statement. Imagine your life without love. Without anyone. The mother who raised you; the dad who taught you in a way only a dad can; the parents who sacrificed; the husband who provides; the wife who you know is juggling too much; the siblings who pay attention; the friend who worries.
For some, it’s not necessary to imagine. For some, that love — of a flesh-and-blood relative or of a beloved spouse — is taken before its time. Or taken, perhaps, after a life well-lived, but whose loss is no less deeply felt.
I write, specifically, with the memory of Patricia Taylor Buckley, who passed away this spring, in mind. I owe so many of the opportunities I’ve had over the past decade to the house, so to speak, that she and her beloved Bill built. She was married on July 6, 1950, to William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review magazine and father of the conservative movement in the United States. I guess you could call her the mother of the conservative movement.
And while the Buckleys shared a wedding anniversary with my devoted parents, in many ways, in truth, Pat Buckley wasn’t like many of us. She hung out with fashion designer Bill Blass and a whole host of high-fashion and high-culture luminaries. To give you a taste of the way she lived: Her farewell memorial was at the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Henry Kissinger, Anna Wintour (the “devil” in The Devil Wears Prada), and Mrs. De La Renta. She was married to a great intellectual, who regularly brought other great intellectuals home. But in the most important ways, she had everything anyone could every want — no, not the Stamford estate, which she had, too, or the Manhattan duplex, which she also had – Mrs. Buckley had the love of the man she adored. Anyone could easily see that he and their son were her pride and joy. And that is a goal anyone can aspire to, whatever your tax bracket.
And the Buckley model is exactly what we need to celebrate more.
We tend to be more fascinated by celebrity disaster stories than the beautiful love stories. But it’s the real love stories — not who poor (in many ways she is) Paris Hilton hooked up with this week — that we need to hear and admire and let our children look forward to.
Romantic love stories are not exactly what you first think of when it comes to politics. Though some couples certainly do stand out. Whatever you think of his authenticity on other issues, spend any time with high-school sweethearts Mitt Romney and his wife Ann and there’s little question they’re the real thing. And if you watched John and Elizabeth Edwards earlier this spring announcing she had been hit again with breast cancer, you saw a love there, a love you could admire. A woman who wants to deny her husband none of his ambitions, who believes her country needs him more than she does, perhaps. A couple who had lived through, together, great tragedy, the worst tragedy a parent can experience, when their son died in car crash. You saw a couple who, whatever they had faced, were standing together with love after 30 years.
But in America today, in truth, marriage is very much a political issue. And wherever one stands on a federal marriage amendment, we cannot afford to take our eyes off the marital prize. This marriage thing is something to be embraced and treasured and celebrated. Would the conservative movement be what it is today without a few great love stories? (Bill and Pat, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Norman and Midge Podhoretz. The list goes on.) Certainly the dinner parties wouldn’t have been as good; Pat hosted countless dinners for National Review editors and conservative intellectuals.
Marriage is an important social good in more ways than one. Talk about marriage in our society frequently gets lost in wedding-planner bills and political speeches, but what those flowers that are being ordered and that talk about protecting marriage are about is something very real and fundamental. As social science tells us again and again: Marriage is a social good, benefiting man, wife, and, most importantly, children. Married love begets yet more good. Children — in the Buckleys’ case, who would mature to be a great humor novelist — and a magazine and a political movement, too.