"We're living in an acquisitive capitalist society that is fundamentally anti-family and fundamentally uncomfortable with just enjoying being human. We'd rather shop than live, acquire than love and stare into a screen than hold each other."
Over lunch today, my wife Genie told me that looking back at the time when we were living with my family at L'Abri (my parent's evangelical ministry) in Switzerland in the 1970s, she feels especially grateful to my parents. Genie was eighteen and I was seventeen when we found she was pregnant. A day after Genie told them her parents called back from San Francisco, and suggested that Genie might want to come home and put our baby up for adoption. By contemplating adoption, completion of college and the launch of a career, Genie's kind parents were doing the sensible loving thing. They told her that whatever else was the case Genie wasn't stuck with me or with a baby. Stan and Betty were so very sensible.
My parents were not sensible. They were crazy fundamentalists who thought we should get married. Since, unknown to her parents, Genie was actually in love, or thought she was, my parents were telling Genie what she wanted to hear. So she stayed at the mission in Switzerland.
My parents were wrong and right. Their theology of sex and marriage notwithstanding, I think that the real reason they encouraged us to marry was because they loved me. They knew I was in love, wildly infatuated, besotted, and crazily had been proposing to Genie for the better part of six months, ever since she'd strolled into my life. The reality about my parents' view of the "right thing to do" was less about theology and more related to emotion. The emotion was parental love. So Mom and Dad offered us a place to stay, never judged, and helped in any way they could. That "accident" turned out to be our daughter Jessica. She's forty-three years old as I write this, Genie's best friend, and my counselor and confessor. We talk at least once a week on Skype. My world is unthinkable without my daughter.
I don't know if Genie was in love with me when she was the child I married. I know she loves me now. We're still together, though bruised after the years of adjusting to each other and to life while growing up. Genie and I were too young to be parents. Our educations were interrupted and our careers were developed on the fly. Then Jessica grew up and also became a young mother though she waited until she'd married. Jessica's kids Amanda and Ben are older than Genie and I were when we had Jessica.
Jessica also did things backward by today's upper middleclass standards. She dropped out of New York University for love, marriage and childbearing, moved to Finland with her musician/composer husband and only returned to university (in Finland) after her kids were in school. Jessica is still happily married and is now living in Brussels working with the European Union as a successful alternative energy consultant. Yes, I am proud of my daughter! So much for my plans! I'm glad I lied and didn't pull out! Sin works out so well sometimes! Hooray for serendipitous messy fate and the ill-advised exchange of body fluids!
Once in a while youthful stupidity is a better way to find happiness than making mature choices. Just ask the sensible forty-something men and women who did the post-graduate-degree/career/wait-for-love-until-the-right-time shuffle and who are scanning dating sites or downloading apps to direct them to the latest date. Some of my friends tell me that they wistfully remember a college or high school sweetheart who they loved but abandoned because, as they put it, "it wasn't the right time for commitment, even though we were in love. I didn't know that would not happen again."
Because Genie and I started a family as teens (no, Amanda, Ben, Jack and Lucy I am not advocating this!) our oldest grandchildren are the ages of our friends' kids. My beloved Amanda is at the University of Helsinki studying sociology and my beloved Ben is completing high school in Brussels. Only our youngest grandchildren are the ages they're "supposed to be" by today's white, middleclass North American standards. No matter their age, our four (going on five) grandchildren take the sting out of our looming mortality. For Genie and me they are the glue that holds our world together. However we got here, life makes sense when I'm on the floor romping with the grandchildren.
We're living in an acquisitive capitalist society that is fundamentally anti-family and fundamentally uncomfortable with just enjoying being human. We'd rather shop than live, acquire than love and stare into a screen than hold each other. The pressure parents put on teenage kids to get into the "right schools" is stressful and cruel. So please forgive me while I preach a little about the joy of children and grandchildren, because plenty of sensible people will tell you to do anything but commit to love first and to career, money and possessions second. And this isn't only about heterosexual love. Everything I'm ranting about here is just as true for gay men and lesbian women who are in love and who want children and who like me also want to put their relationships ahead of stuff, prestige and ego. So I have news for us all: it's the entire cycle of life that counts. And that cycle is the only real "biological clock" that matters. Everything else is just a footnote.
You've been reading an excerpt from -WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace Chapter 7 -- To read more go to Amazon and please buy my book in paperback for just $ 10.93 or on Kindle for only $3.99