God’s Design for the Family

In His great wisdom, God has created the human family as the first school to form the minds, hearts, souls, and consciences of children. In God’s plan, a child needs both a mother and a father, not two mothers or two fathers. Orphans and children who are fatherless or motherless suffer and struggle more than children who enjoy normal family life. The influence of a good father and mother balances a child and teaches the young to be both strong and gentle, to appreciate both justice and mercy, to know both unconditional and conditional love, to have both a kind, sensitive heart and and fearless moral courage. From a mother a child learns the meaning of thoughtfulness and kindness, compassion for the sufferings and needs of others. From a father, a child learns the meaning of strength, the virtue of determination and perseverance to accomplish difficult tasks.

From a mother, a child learns unconditional love. Her constant love does not depend on the child’s talent, virtue, or success, but flows from a mother’s natural instinct to care and love for her children as gifts from God. From a father, a child learns the meaning of conditional love, the praise of an honest man who approves and compliments his children for living up to his ideals and expectations. From a mother, a child learns the nature of mercy. There is no limit to a mother’s forgiveness and willingness to pardon her children. From a father, a child learns the importance of justice, the need to fulfill obligations and to perform one’s duties or suffer the consequences. While a mother’s love is always welcoming and giving, a father’s love is more demanding and expects good performances before he offers compliments.

Odysseus and Penelope

Odysseus and Penelope

From a mother, a son understands the qualities of a good woman and a virtuous wife that influence his choice in marriage as he judges other women by the standard of excellence set by his mother. When he thinks of the true wife described in Proverbs 31, he will see in this woman many qualities of his mother: “A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her . . . . She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” From a father, a daughter recognizes the virtues of a noble man who sacrifices for his family and honors his wife. She sees the beauty of a man’s devotion to those he loves and admires the generosity of a man who makes a gift of self to his wife and children. When a daughter learns of the greatness of St. Joseph, “a just man,” hopefully she will also think of her father.

God’s plan for the family educates boys and girls to learn from both their fathers and mothers—to be gentle but not soft or sentimental, to be strong but not hardhearted or cruel, to be sensitive but not sentimental, to think with the head and also listen to the heart. The education a child receives from the example and virtues of a father and mother make him a whole, balanced human being in touch with reality, knowledgeable about the duties of manhood and womanhood, and in wonder at the beauty of God’s design of uniting two people to become one and to share their love for one another by being generous with life as they give to others what they have received from God.

Homer’s Odyssey offers special insight into these self-evident truths about the family. The epic depicts two conflicting ways of life, identified as barbarism and civilization. Barbarians like the Suitors destroy the home and family by their practice of avarice, gluttony, and lust as they plunder Odysseus’ estate, harass his wife Penelope to marry one of them, and attempt to ambush his son Telemachus. The family as the center of civilization forms its strength from both the virtues of Odysseus, who defends his family from barbarians, and the virtues of Penelope, who provides the home a sense of permanence and stability during her husband’s absence. A family governed by a devoted father and husband who exemplifies moral courage and a loyal mother who embodies fidelity to her marriage and to the preservation of her home, form children like their son Telemachus, who is a civilized human being because of the culture of the family. Telemachus is both strong and kind, brave in battle and sensitive to the beautiful, a speaker of words and a doer of deeds—a balanced human being who illustrates the Greek ideal of balance—a sound mind in a sound body, neither the brutal soldier nor the tender artist.

As Saint John Paul II wrote, “Civilization passes by way of the family.” Without men and women who center their lives upon the preservation of the home and defend it from the ravages of barbarians who attack or deconstruct it by divorce, abortion, contraception, population control, or same-sex “marriage”, civilization is not passed down from one generation to the next. As Homer shows, civilization demands the transmission of manners, morals, culture, and a way of life that unites the generations and completes the circle of life—sons and daughters repaying their elderly parents with loving care in the natural rhythm of giving and receiving, sowing and reaping, working and playing that defines the meaning of family and civilization.

In the final scenes of the book, Odysseus returns from the Trojan War after an absence of twenty years to be reunited with wife, son, and aged father. The bed Odysseus built with his own hands from a sturdy olive tree symbolizes the strength of his marriage, a bed firmly rooted and immovable and made from “a long-leaved olive tree, which had grown to full height with a stem as thick as a pillar.” The memory Odysseus recalls from his childhood that convinces his father Laertes that he has truly returned and is alive summarizes the story of civilization– parents blessing children and children returning love to their parents. Odysseus remembers the sowing in the orchard with his father: “I was only a little boy at the time . . . and as we wound our way through these very trees you told me all their names. You gave me thirteen pear-, ten apple-, and forty fig trees . . . .” This image of the strength of marriage and the harvest of the field capture the continuity of tradition and a civilized way of life in which human beings live well because of the fruitfulness of their lives and because the wisdom they inherit from the family, they transmit to the next generation.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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  • cminca
    • lover of literature

      If a reader wants to dismiss the perennial wisdom of one of the world’s greatest seers and call Homer’s view of the family “a load of stereotyped twaddle,” one is entitled to that opinion, but Homer has passed the test of time and writes only about the truths that endure. Do read the ODYSSEY. You will find that it is profound, heart-searching,and moving. Homer understands the meaning of family and civilization with a vision and clarity that are unmatched in literature.

      Please explain where in the article it says or implies that “fathers are supposed to be thoughtless brutes and mothers are imprudent weaklings”? Aren’t you deliberately twisting and misreading because, maybe, you are not open to the traditional view of the complementarity of fathers and mothers?

      • cminca

        You might want to respond to the correct post.

        In addition, when you are waxing lyrical about Homer’s view of the family you may want to consider the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad. LOL.
        And I can’t speak for Karen but I’ve read both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

        • Shannon Marie Federoff

          and did you notice that self-absorbed Achilles isn’t a role model that Homer was asking his listeners to emulate?

      • KarenJo12

        I have read the Odyssey about five times, and I love the poem. Homer shows Penelope as capable, brave, and just as cunning as her husband. She is no “heart” to her husband’s “head;” she uses ruses and sit just as much as he does. Odysseus pines for his home and demonstrates a sensitive and affectionate nature, and the scene where he tells Nasicaa of his travels and his desire for home is one of the most touching in the Western canon. The author of this piece, however, never praises Penelope for her wit in evading the suitors but for a doormat-like “stability and permanence” that is in reality absent from the actual epic. In fact, Penelope sends Telemachus away from home for much of the story; she doesn’t insist on “permanence” but uses her guile to ensure his safety. Penelope has to be twisted into the ideal Catholic wife — cowardly, week, and dimwitted — to fit Kalpagian’s prejudice.

        • donttouchme

          “Head” in that context doesn’t refer to cunning but to authority. It comes from the verse in Ephesians that the husband is the head of the wife. Also, you’re wrong: the two sexes aren’t equal or identical, as you indirectly imply in a weak and cowardly manner. Which is a painfully obvious fact your prejudiced mind can’t recognize.

          • KarenJo12

            In your world the sexes are not equal; women, in Catholicism, are inferior. I reject a worldview that dooms me to second-class support-staff status.

          • donttouchme

            In our world. We live in the same world. You are of course free to reject reality, but it has nothing to do with Catholicism.

          • KarenJo12

            So you agree that Catholicism teaches that women are inferior to men? I hope so, because that is exactly what most church fathers said and the only thing your church taught about women for centuries, until the evidence that you are wrong became overwhelming.

          • donttouchme

            Of course, yes. The Church recognizes reality. A woman’s freedom anywhere in the world today is as contingent on men allowing it as it was in 100 AD. There is no evidence to the contrary. You are of course free to reject reality, but that has nothing to do with Catholicism.

          • KarenJo12

            I appreciate your honesty. I don’t think reality supports your opinion on women’s worth, but at least you agree that the Catholic church believes women are inferior and you demonstrate that, whatever Catholics today may say, most of them actually get the message your church sends.

          • donttouchme

            Thanks. I despise your dishonesty, cowardice, and prejudice. “Inferior” denotes rank, status, or quality, not worth. A woman’s freedom anywhere in the world today is as contingent on men allowing it as it was in 100 AD. There is no evidence to the contrary. Your ideology has you detached from reality, which necessitates the aforementioned dishonesty, cowardice, prejudice.

          • Mark Latkovic

            I would have you read Pope John Paul’s “On the Dignity of Women,” http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem_en.html (Note, it’s not titled “On the second class dignity of women”). With all due respect, as a husband of a wife and father of two girls (and two boys), I’d have nothing to do with a Church that I thought had a view of women as “inferior.” But it doesn’t.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            She didn’t imply that. When you attempt to criticize someone, I’d suggest that reading what they wrote might be an excellent place to start. Otherwise, you might look foolish.

          • donttouchme

            Yes she did. When you criticize someone’s critique you should read what he’s criticizing.

        • Elizabeth Jarzombek

          I did cringe a bit when I read this article. He made entirely too many generalizations and its tone certainly lacked finesse. But his intentions were clear to me. His message is that differences between men and women don’t stop at the genitals, that each gender has unique characteristics which are beneficial in the raising up of the next generation. So…I’m curious as to what brought you to this site. There’s so much media out there that I find it improbable that you don’t actively seek these blogs out. Are you trying to save all of us “ignorant” Catholic women from the patriarchal clutches of the “evil” Roman Catholic Church?

  • KarenJo12

    What a load of stereotyped twaddle. “From a mother a child learns the meaning of thoughtfulness and kindness, compassion for the sufferings and needs of others. From a father, a child learns the meaning of strength, the virtue of determination and perseverance to accomplish difficult tasks.” So, apparently fathers are supposed to be thoughtless brutes and mothers are imprudent weaklings. And it only gets worse from there. In the real world, humans are all supposed to be kind and thoughtful as well as strong and prudent. Virtues don’t vary by gender and please stop saying they should.

    • Mike Koopman

      It appears the association of Mary, The Mother of God, and her witness to all of mankind as the first among the first fruits may be alluding your conscience?