An acquaintance in his late 20s beamed from ear to ear as he told me that he is about to become a father. I gave him my hearty congratulations and commented on how happy he and his wife must be.
They are not married. I knew that, but I threw in the part about “he and his wife” hoping to plant an idea. I threw it in because the stories of kids growing up without dads are too many and too painful. I threw it in because Brad and Angelina may have assembled a brood of six before becoming engaged, but they are from that thin sliver of the population that enjoys unlimited wealth, own multiple homes and give private jets as birthday gifts. Rich celebrity couples do a great disservice when they make unmarried parenting look easy. Rich celebrity couples don’t shop Wal-Mart.
The fact is that this very kind young man, who surely chose a very kind young woman to deliberately replicate DNA with, will give his child a much better chance at success in this cold, cruel world if he advances from the role of father to that of husband.
The truth of this plays out every day. Literally.
If you are ever in a class or corporate training exploring diversity, you may be asked to play a game in which you will be “penalized” if you grew up in a married two-parent home because it has given you an unfair advantage in life.
What does the unfair advantage look like? Quite simply, two people can move a piano easier than one. When one of you is exhausted, the other one can take the lead. When one of you grows discouraged, the other one can find a new angle around a difficult corner.
Two are usually better equipped than one to avoid poverty, provide a roof overhead, food on the table, greater interaction, more supervision and conversation. Single parents can, and do, successfully raise children alone, but the path is far more difficult, which is why we readily give them generous amounts of support and sympathy.
From a child’s perspective, there is something mysteriously empowering about a wedding picture in a frame sitting on a shelf, the occasional envelope that comes addressed to Mr. and Mrs. and that crazy snoring at the end of the hall. It makes a kid feel stronger, smarter and taller. Marriage creates a safety net, visible and invisible.
People spend a lot of time assembling all the things a new baby will need, carefully choosing a crib, soft sleepers, diapers and baby creams. In a matter of several short years the child will have outgrown all of those things. But a child never outgrows the need for stability, a mom and dad committed to making a life and a home.
I wish I had been more direct with my young acquaintance. I should have said, “Your precious unborn baby deserves every unfair advantage. Why not give it to him? Why not give him the security of a mother and a father who are also husband and wife?”