There’s an Associated Press story last week that caught my eye. Here’s the headline: US Births Break Record; 40% are out-of-wedlock. The article reported that “More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any other year in the nation’s history, topping the peak during the baby boom 50 years earlier.”
Nothing wrong with an up tick in births, that is, until you consider the fact that 40% of the 4.3 million babies were born to unwed mothers. You might want to read that again.
Believe it or not, Americans used to frown on such behavior. Let me take you back several decades to illustrate the point. In the 1940s, actress Ingrid Bergman enchanted Americans and quickly became one of Hollywood’s hottest stars. During that decade, Bergman was nominated for four Oscars and won Best Actress for Gaslight (1944). She delivered unforgettable performances with Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Humphrey Bogart in the classic film, Casablanca. While she dazzled audiences around the world, the magnetic Bergman had captivated the heart of America.
That is, until 1949, when Bergman shocked the nation by engaging in an extramarital affair with director Roberto Rossellini. During that more conservative era marital infidelity was considered scandalous. What really stoked the flames of moral outrage was the news in 1950 that her affair resulted in an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
The once adoring American public turned en masse on Bergman. Newspapers and magazines condemned her for such immoral behavior. Her movies were picketed. Studios in Hollywood were suddenly reluctant to work with her. It would be years before she could land a role in Hollywood again. Fast forward to 1991 for a contrasting perspective.
American viewers were glued to the popular show, Murphy Brown, a CBS television situation comedy in which the unwed fictional character Brown became pregnant and elected to raise the baby as a single parent. Feminists applauded her independence while conservatives affirmed the necessary role fathers play in raising children.
Vice President Dan Quayle pointed to Murphy Brown as an example of America’s “poverty of values.” Quayle said, “it doesn’t help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown–a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman–mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice.’”
His observation would have reflected the moral climate of America in the 1950s. Rather than receive overwhelming applause for taking this stand, Quayle’s conservative view of the family structure sparked a firestorm of criticism from feminists and left-leaning groups. Literally overnight Dan Quayle, not Murphy Brown, became the focus of late-night talk-show jokes. Ironically, in 2002 actress Candice Bergen, who played Murphy Brown, admitted that she was in agreement with Quayle’s primary concern, saying, “. . . his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did.”
Now, fast forward to 2008.
Last summer a group of under-aged girls at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Massachusetts participated in a “pregnancy pack.” Greg Verga, Gloucester School Committee Chairman, said, “A certain number of them agreed we’ll all get pregnant together and we’ll raise our children together” according to a report filed by KSPR-ABC News. KSPR also indicated that one of the fathers was a 24-year-old homeless man.
Like I said, Americans used to frown on such behavior.
Did Candice Bergen’s character contribute to the widespread belief that unwed mothering is a good thing? That’s hard to say with certainty. Whatever the reason or reasons, the trend toward creating homes without fathers is troubling. I speak as one who’s father was absent most of my childhood. I know what it was like to long for my father to provide me with shelter, friendship, and a blueprint of what it meant to be a man. I’ve tasted the emotional agony that came when my father wasn’t there for me during my adolescent years. The vacuum caused by his absence wasn’t easily filled.
There’s a reason for that.
I believe God has hard-wired into every human a desire to know, love, and be mentored by both a mother and a father. And while His grace can allow a child raised in a single-parent environment to thrive, that arrangement wasn’t God’s design from the beginning of time. However, to intentionally create homes where there’s no father (or no mother for that matter) seems to work against what is best for society and God’s design for the family.
Make no mistake. I would never suggest that an unwed mother abort her child just because there is no father in the picture. There are options, such as offering the baby for adoption, that would allow the baby to benefit from a father and a mother.
The question for us, then, is how can we chart a new course for future generations that minimizes the practice of creating single-parent households such as what happened with the pregnancy pack? In other words, how can we instill in our sons and daughters the importance of bearing children within the context of marriage so that their offspring can enjoy the benefit and support of two parents?
I’d love to hear your suggestions.