The Failure of Fatherhood? Are Men Failing Their Children?
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When their first child, Virginia, was born in , Billy was away on a preaching trip. I ran up the stairs, and when I thought I was out of range, I stomped my feet. Then I ran into my room and locked my door. He came up the stairs, two at a time it sounded like, and he was angry. When I finally opened the door, he pulled me across the room, sat me on the bed, and gave me a real tongue lashing. You go away and leave us all the time! It just broke my heart. That whole scene was always a part of my memory bank after that.
It is difficult for many people to imagine that this would be the family life of a well respected, world-famous Christian father. She was in a relationship with a man her parents and family warned her about. She ignored the warnings and married him anyway. She soon become fearful for her safety and realized she needed to leave this man. Church Jobs Shop Subscribe. Sign in. Forgot your password? Get help. Password recovery. Top Christian Leaders to Follow on Twitter. Latest News. She admitted it, as if it were an interesting psychic phenomenon, and she helpless to right it just when the child really begins to need her tenderness, her time, all of her wisdom and gravest consideration!
Every one of these successive phases of motherhood could just as well have been taught her years before, taught her to watch for, guard against, and meet intelligently when the issues presented themselves, one by one, in her own life. Some new factor must be evolved in our national life to fill successfully this gap between four and ten in our children's lives. Only when enforced by poverty do a large number of American mothers themselves care for their young children, beyond mere physical needs.
They would not trust the little impercipient life at first to a nurse, however staid and competent; now, more often than is good to see, an ignorant nursemaid of sixteen years becomes the predominant element in the child's life. Manners, morals, mental needs are left largely in her hands and she is a mere child herself. The physical needs, at least so far as cleanliness is concerned, generally remain in the mother's hands, but the question of the child's diet runs riot in more American households than is at all realized.
If the child is well dressed, its hair and teeth in perfect condition, it is turned over to the nurse from eight in the morning till eight at night. Can it be that we had much better adopt from England the nursery-governess and the nursery-table? The former with all her drawbacks is infinitely more competent than our mere " nurse-girls "; while the latter institution ensures the simple diet of which our children are in such dire need.
At least we should be spared the sight of an elaborately dressed American baby of six, entirely unattended, walking into a huge hotel dining-room where her parents had lived for years, and ordering " deviled crabs and pink ice cream " for her dinner, which the poor little creature actually ate amid the smiling glances of the guests and waiters! It was no less than a painful sight, and by no means an isolated instance. What was inevitably ahead of that child?
Her digestion ruined, her vanity, her independence forced before their time, her whole sensibility blunted. Even hotel-life need not spoil a child, if less money were spent on her clothes and her mother's and part of the saving paid in fair wages to a first-class governess, who would remove. If those American mothers who labor so many hours in torturing some flimsy material with drawn-work or embroidery would but give the same time, or even part of it, to the little child's spirit instead of its body!
Very often we see a princelike body, carrying a starving little soul, starving for companionship, for healthy amusement, for that sense of comfort that strict but intelligent discipline alone brings alike to children and to servants. Children's amusements in this country are undoubtedly becoming more and more artificial. Because it makes the mother's and nurse's task easier. Examine the situation from whatever standpoint you choose, every facet shows this deplorable fact. To feed and clothe a child of five is a very simple and expeditious matter compared with amusing that restless little bundle of activities.
And yet in a long life the writer has known only one mother who took upon her own shoulders the entire amusement of her family of five children, leaving the sewing to the nurses! There were no theatres, no vaudeville, no circuses, no hippodromes, to bewilder and exhaust those children's minds; no mechanical toys, no elaborate paper dolls " made in Germany. On the out-ofdoor days, they were tumbled into a little wagonette, which was their nursery. The old pony was driven by the mother herself; the best child of the day sat beside her in the seat of honor, and off they jogged to the woods or the beach, both of which were happily accessible.
Their simple lunch was devoured afield.
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The mother invented, directed, and entered into all their games, the merriest of them all. But the charm of an ocean beach is supreme and needs no human aids; so, once she gave a push to the little eager minds, off they slid, enthusiastic and contented for hours. The mother whipped out a book from under the carriage-seat, and so got to herself a couple of hours of coveted reading.
For she was a brilliant, cultivated woman, knowing several languages and yet was content to spend it all lavishly for thirteen years of her short life, upon her children. This inspired mother claimed that it was far less of a strain to play with her children than to punish them; because a large percentage of the sins of childhood are based on lack of intelligent diversion. From this mother came no whine about her wasted talents, because she made use of them!
During the severe winters, she made her incessant task of reading to her children tell significantly. Before the eldest was ten years old, they all knew almost every nook and cranny of Walter Scott, and other standard works followed in turn. She read certain idyllic tales written in French, which she translated aloud into simple English, thereby diverting herself as well as the children.
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It was years before they even knew what she had done. One of that family told me that he had never read a current book of fiction until he was sixteen! His taste had been formed without any long-winded lectures on literature. Froissart, Jesop, Josephus, and Bunyan were household words. Later, the mother wrote little plays full of fire and sword, into which was smuggled many a spoonful of history, or mythology, or poetical legend.
The children were the eager little stock company. She rehearsed them, suggested costumes and scenery; and yet, with all this prodigal expenditure of time and real talent, she always laughingly claimed to other mothers: "Try it! They are happier, and so am I. Idleness and absence of motive lead to crime in the nursery as well as the street. And as for me, I know exactly what they are doing, and how. Hers was a rarely rich, successful life. That she was a much-loved woman to the end scarce need be recorded of her. Within a year the dernier cri in child amusement at a charitable fete brought vividly back, through contrast, that picture of fine motherhood.
Kinetoscopes depicted, for tents reeking full of feverish-eyed children, fictitious scenes of Russian cruelty ending in a most revolting form of murder! Little breathless voices asked in the dark: " What does it mean, mother? Then later came another "amusement" for the children. A real hose-and-ladder company, a real fire engine rented for the purpose; a fire alarm, the burning of a small wooden house erected for the purpose, the realistic rescue of a straw mother and child, all for the amusement save the mark! The whole thing was absolutely insane in its blindness to the real needs of child-life.
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No wonder we see them blase at eight, nervous wrecks at twelve, neurasthenia, insomnia, dipsomania, decadence ahead of them. And the committee who made out this programme including many another "sensational feature" was composed of the leading women of the city in which the festival was held. Where were the mothers to wipe out with justifiable wrath such a breach of sane thinking? Our American communities are quick to regulate child-labor in some wretched household where the pennies count so much; but one seldom hears of any laws to regulate children's amusements among the many comfortable homes where the mothers are either too weak, too silly, or too selfish, to make and enforce their own laws.
And so the weeds come thick and fast and choke the young growing plants, the weed of vaudeville, killing the sense for true dramatic art; the pest of rag-time, killing music; slang, choking language; indiscriminate current-novel-reading, fatal to any good reading in the future; the devastating weed of unhealthy excitement, to blight, for all time, any simple wholesomeness of either thought or feeling. A law prohibiting children under the age of fifteen from entering any and all theatres might well be passed with profit, taking out of the incompetent hands of mothers any volition in this grave matter.
It fills the air this craze of the merest children for cheap shows in this country; it packs their minds with vulgar trivialities, debases their ideals, perverts their taste.
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It is becoming daily more frequent. As well feed a child on mushrooms and champagne, and expect it ever afterwards to relish bread and milk. It is but a repetition of that poor neglected baby and her "deviled crabs and pink ice cream "! One sees hundreds of examples of it, in one form or another, every year of living in this country. At the root of it, in every single instance, is an unwise mother.
Her children remain ignorant where they should be familiar; become enlightened where they should be blind; and suffer always from enlargement of the emotions. Within a year the writer saw at a hotel an eager group of beautifully clad little ones gathered every evening between seven and eight about a middle-aged cripple who told them stories. They were breathless, entranced.
That it was a perfectly new element in their lives was apparent. To be deprived of it was the severest punishment in that colony of several hundred souls. A young woman was overheard idly to observe to her companion, " Is n't it a charming sight? The older woman with her replied angrily: "It is distinctly not a charming sight!
It is shocking! What are they, with all their extravagant clothes, but the starving children of selfish, vain mothers? That unfortunate man simply fills up an awful gap in their lives every mother as she sees it should blush and hang her head. Out of that score of children, there is not one who has ever had an adult give it any real companionship before in its life. I have taken the trouble to verify this and so I say again, that picture over there is far from being charming!
A wise mother will make long-stored wisdom bear fresh fruit. All of her reading can be utilized. Long ago she read that "a word unspoken is like a sword in thy scabbard thine; if vented, thy sword is in another's hand. She also read that "respect for others is the first condition of savoir vivre "; and she is helped in her task of teaching her girl tactfulness and good manners; and that they are not to be looked for in a labyrinth of negatives, but found walking along the highway in the good sunshine.
In the much-mooted question of manners the imitativeness of children should make the mothers' task easier than it is, the solution is example, not precept. Imitation is the whole story. A little boy is scolded for not remembering to raise his cap "to the ladies. No more so, no less, but exactly as it was to their father. Most American mothers suddenly turn into stepmothers at this critical period. Every sentence begins with " Thou shalt not," and she plumes herself upon her righteousness.
And her boy? He becomes a stranger to her. The French mother but adds a new comradeship to her old tenderness, full of far-sighted wisdom and fathomless sympathy for existing conditions; not for ideal conditions that do not exist. He and his mother become closer friends than ever, and he does not withdraw himself from her. She cares much more for her boy than for her righteousness this mother! It is but a change in the intellectual outlook, and yet surprisingly few American women recognize the necessity for it.
When an American mother has the intelligence to understand, she finds that her son will bring to her not only his triumphs but his failures; not only the story of his virtues but that of his sins, man to man, and then only the wisest motherhood can guide him safely out of the wilderness. But the deepest stain on American motherhood is exactly at this period in the life of her grown son and grown daughter. For some reason, partly temperamental, a large number of mothers fall short of any comprehension of what is demanded of them. Even when they have been faithful in all their earlier trusts, they fail very often at this point.
Her boy, now a man, of course loves her as of old, but she has not been his intellectual comrade, his strongest inspiration, as she might have been had she put her brain into her motherhood, applied what knowledge she had, or studied along the best lines running parallel to the lines of his development.
There are scores of helpful hygienic and philosophical books that would aid mothers to approach their problem wellequipped. All this is of course also the task of the father, but we are speaking of American conditions, and we may as well exclude him first as last, as he has elected to shed family responsibilities, save that of lavish monetary support.
In that particular he is a prince. One illustration cut from the matrix of life is worth a chapter of generalities. One summer night a few years ago four people sat on a high roof near New York City. One could see far down the bay and over to the Jersey shore. There was a middle-aged woman and her son of twenty-three years, an elderly man and his wife all Americans.
The mother had been boasting of her three boys, their success, their virtues. Under it all was a very natural and pretty pride, as of a gardener telling of his roses, and their freedom from the worm i' the bud. A chance word brought politics to the front. The older woman said aside to the young man: "So you've twice cast your yote!
It marks an epoch in a man's life, only second to marriage, does n't it? To take one's part, though small, in the making of history that is fine! In the older woman's heart moaned a sad voice: " She is a failure, this mother! She is blind, and so he, the son, does not see the truth! The silence which followed was filled by the languor of the heat and the pressure of low-bending skies. Then the older man chuckled and muttered: " There 's trouble ahead low bridge!
It took her forty-five minutes to do the work, and years have passed, but that man has voted ever since! Jerking her head in the direction of Bedloe's Island, she began: "Oh don't laugh, don't laugh, you have admitted a crime!