Take My Advice?

Let me go out on a limb and suggest that you not run your life based on the experiences of, or advice given by, Bill Callahan, Paul Dolan or Ann Landers. Like some of you, the only one of the three whose name was familiar to me before today was advice columnist Ann Landers (actual name Eppie Lederer). She, along with her twin sister of Dear Abby  fame, had an outsized influence on Americans in the second half of the twentieth century.

However, recently two reviews crossed my desk. The first was of musician Bill Callahan’s latest album where I was intrigued by the discussion of the evolution of his music. According to reviewer, Mark Richardson, Mr. Callahan’s earlier 15 albums share a theme of alienation. Mr. Richardson shares one of the musician’s quotes from an interview in 2009. “I’m not afraid to die lately. I don’t have any kids to look after. I don’t hold any great worth for humanity.”

While neither Mr. Callahan nor I believe that the only way to have worth to humanity is to have children, his current music is different. His latest work, produced after he bought a home, married and had a child, reveals his feelings on being needed.

The second review I saw was of a book by Professor Paul Dolan. He argues that studies show that women, in particular, are happier and better off without spouses and children. This seems to echo a much circulated Ann Landers’ column from 1975 where she asked readers if they would choose to have children again, if they had the opportunity to change their pasts. At the time, the results caused quite a stir when about 70% of respondents said they would not. While her poll was debunked as unscientific and follow-up surveys produced completely conflicting totals, Professor Dolan (whose book I have not read) suggests that intellectually rigorous studies would support Ann Landers’ conclusions. I register my skepticism.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Professor Dolan’s book becomes standard reading in Women’s Studies courses. It echoes the Left’s prejudice against marriage and family. I, too, am not objective, though my own biases suggest that both women and men are happier when devoted to a spouse and children. Singer Bill Callahan’s experience rings far more true to me.

In today’s fractured, false, and corrupt society, many social and political arguments are stated as “proven”. Yet, as our culture moves away from timeless truths and abandons the compass of morality, we become easy prey for ephemeral fads and passing whims. That portends much regret and disillusionment down the road for those who follow the crowd rather than seeking the truth. ‘Question authority’ may have been a rebellious slogan of liberals in the Sixties, but it should be the mantra of every independent-minded person today.

22 thoughts on “Take My Advice?”

  1. Dolan’s study and its conclusions resemble those of another study done in the mid-1990s that concluded that children were better off being raised in homes without fathers. The study showed that men in the household were 1) physically and emotionally abusive and 2) frittered away family resources. When someone dug into the study, they found that the researchers only focused on women whose IQs hovered between 85 and 90 and who were married to men who were equally endowed. The men, by and large, were high school dropouts, had alcohol and drug dependencies and lengthy prison records. And the study was paid for with a government grant – at a time when serious welfare reform was being enacted in Congress and welfare rolls were shrinking because of it. The upshot, of course, is that you can reach a desired conclusion in a research project if you are the one writing the check and you promise more funding if your assumptions are proven correct.

    1. Jean, I don’t remember the study you are citing but I do know that lying through statistics is a game that many play.

  2. As a woman (age 69) who always wanted marriage and children but was never gifted with either, I must say that I do NOT recommend the single life. Celibacy is painful, physically and emotionally. Having said that, finding a spouse and having children is not guaranteed. Nevertheless, I recommend that when making daily choices, choose that which improves one’s chances at finding a spouse and having children. To choose to postpone a family can lead to restricted choices for family later. You can start a career at any time. Moses started his life mission at the age of 80. Family is a shorter window of time. However, nothing is guaranteed and Hashem knows what he is doing.

    1. Thank you for your valuable input, Gerry. I have no doubt that you did make a valuable contribution to the world despite not doing it in the way you might have hoped.

  3. I appreciated this column in particular, not because of the subject matter, but of 1 single statement you made at the end. And that is to “question authority”. Never before, have I witnessed so many people assuming that everything they are being told, is truthful. Not even for a moment, are people of any age, stepping back and asking themselves “is this true?” Whether it comes from social media, casual conversation or the printed word.
    I’m looking forward to the time, when Ancient Jewish Wisdom, addresses this particular issue.

    1. Diana, I believe the earlier “question authority” was a rebellion. Today “question authority” is a moral statement.

  4. Susan… I was married, divorced, single, and married again. I have no doubt that if I was still single I would be in a terrible place. Saved by marriage, I am sure of that.
    Thank you God.
    Thank you Wife, and thank you Susan for the great insights.

  5. I am almost 80. I grew up an only child and youngest in a large extended family.
    And a family social circle with no babies.
    I had no plans for any children and was vocal about my plans for my life. Then I married a Catholic man and we now have 7 children.
    Great kids! Marvolus adults…every likes and cares about all siblings. And we have grandkids!
    God laughed at my plans. His way is always the best.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. My life too, took a turn that I hadn’t anticipated that resulted in the blessing of 7 children.

  6. Susan, there is a great deal of truth in what you say, but I feel compelled to point out that although marriage and children are the norm for most—and deservedly so!—there is a small minority in any population who are not cut out for it, who become as genuinely miserable and unfulfilled if they force themselves into it as most others would be if they do not marry and have children. This has been true throughout history. There is always a minority who are not meant for family life, who are better off if they follow their own, unconventional path. They can even still contribute to society as a whole, just in a slightly different way. I have a hunch you might agree.

    1. Mark, you are right. And a small percentage of the population will have their lives saved by not wearing a seatbelt so they are ejected from a car. Everyone is an individual with their own unique needs, but when the general message is aimed at the exception too many lives are ruined. Many rare individuals don’t only “even” contribute to society, but they are shining stars. However, they are few and far between.

  7. How refreshing to meet another like mind, Susan. I often ponder the collateral damage well intentioned but misguided people perpetrate on others and children with their progressive world views that after awhile result in unexpected painful sequelae.

    1. I can hardly think of a worse place to get advice for living than most of today’s college campuses, Kristin.

  8. Your column Susan reminded me of the lyrics in an Aretha Franklin’s song about, “you’re nobody until somebody loves you”. I’ve told my wife she turbo-charges everything that is good in my life. . .

    1. Ty, with so much attention paid to failing and bad marriage and with so many young people growing up outside a traditional marriage structure, too many people think that you and your wife are a weird anomaly.

  9. I am a Christian woman, saved at age 35 after two failed marriages. By the grace of God, I married my current husband at 33. He’s 5-Year’s younger. We had some very rough
    early years but, again, by the grace
    of God, He saved our marriage. I have NO doubt. If time and space
    permitted, I would be pleased to share His unfathomable love and,
    dare I say, miraculous intervention
    in our marriage. We are soon
    celebrating our 43rd year of marriage!
    Never lose faith and when difficult
    times come, remind God of His promises. He is always faithful.

    Except that it might embarrass my husband, I would love to share how God saved our marriage. I will never
    forget and always give Him the glory.
    I believe He used miraculous methods. Blinding my eyes to scripture that would have been
    detrimental until I had seen what He
    really wanted me to see, my own sin. No one will ever convince me that He does not care or actively work in
    our lives even today.
    Nancy in Stockton, CA

  10. Susan, I think there is ample evidence that life without family commitments is often the life that is regretted. Many, many people in mid-life or later who have had successful careers often find themselves unhappy and feeling unfulfilled, even when they are well known and greatly respected in their fields. Without a spiritual foundation, which often involves marriage and children, these people flounder, and even begin questioning the value of the lives they have lived so far. Clergypeople know this well, as to psychologists. Children are not a guarantee of happiness, but a life of purpose and responsibility will bring some measure of joy and meaning.

    1. Judy, the problem today is that there seems to be “ample evidence” to prove whatever one wants to prove. When young people are hit over the head with one recurring idea, that career is more fulfilling than family, it is hard for them to see any other option.

  11. Regina Freedman

    I think happiness is experienced by those who have the capacity to be happy no matter if they are single, married, married with children.

    1. There is a great deal of truth to that, Regina. At the same time, there are life choices that lead more easily to feeling fulfilled.

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