The Center of our Concerns
By Bobby Neal Winters
The way we center our lives is different now than it was when I was growing up. I got to thinking of this when I was out mowing.
I like “The Big Bang Theory.” In particular, I like Sheldon’s mom. Whatever the other faults of the show, they got East Texas right. I know this because East Texas is just a warmer and more humid version of eastern Oklahoma; the people are exactly the same. They will hang us all on the same tree, as my daddy used to say.
On “Young Sheldon,” which is a spin-off of “The Big Bang Theory,” they are dealing with one of my dad’s favorite teaching issues. Sheldon’s elder brother gets a young woman pregnant. The series has spent several episodes exploring the familial and cultural ramifications of this. So far they’ve been true to the culture.
By culture here I mean what are the standard ways that have been developed to deal with the issues of living.
In his “Tiffany Aching” series, Terry Pratchett has described how the country folk in England (well, Discworld, but really England) handled such things. A young man and woman would get together at a fair. A few months later a bump appeared. The girl’s mother would talk to the girl’s dad. The girl’s dad would talk to the boy’s dad over a pint at the pub, and it would all just be worked out.
This was similar to the way that dad taught.
Dad was a simple man and he gave simple advice. If you get a girl pregnant, you are going to marry her. He did recognize complications could arise, such as maybe the two people involved didn’t like each other. His response was thought-out ahead of time: If you don’t think that you can live with the girl, then maybe you shouldn’t be having sex with her. He also said it was a lot more fun to get along with your spouse than to fight all the time.
He was a simple man; it was a simple time.
As I look back on it, I see that his philosophy--this cultural way of doing things that goes way back--was based on the idea that once that little human being came into existence its needs were paramount.
This was a lecture I heard from Dad more than once. I think he had it playing on a loop somewhere in his head. It came out whenever we were working in the garden; when we were hunting; when we were fishing. “When you get married, your loafing days are over. Don’t spend time out with your buddies. You need to be home with your family. You need to concentrate on putting beans on the table.”
This is very much a blue-collar, working-class philosophy. It is fitting because Dad was very much a blue-collar, working-class man.
He wasn’t speaking out of abstract concerns either. He had plenty of empirical data. He could name numerous young men, who had faced just this challenge. They’d made the trip to city hall or the preacher or whatever. They’d been given a clothes basket full of household items and taken to their new home.
While this is often referred to as a “Shotgun Wedding,” no shotguns were involved because they didn’t have to be. The young people involved had been raised in this same tradition. I could name--but I won’t--quite a few grown people with children and grandchildren who are in existence today because of this. It ain’t pretty, but it’s life.
It is a cultural practice that is centered on the child. The idea is a child needs the support of a whole family: mother, father, and grandparents. It works better if the parents are living together and happy about it. That means marriage, de facto if not de jure.
There was a line from Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The House You Live in”: “Stay calm in the face / of all common disgraces.”
I think that “disgrace” is a strong word to use there, but from the moment I heard this to me it has meant reacting in a calm, measured way to something that is, as my dad would always say, “just human nature.” If there wasn’t something in us that drove us this way, the human race would’ve died out a long time ago.
Times have changed since my dad was bringing up his sons. Human nature has not. We are creating new problems and new solutions. Maybe, just maybe, one principle we can stick with is making our children the center of our concerns.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. Search for him by name on YouTube. )