When it comes to abortion, the freedom of women has largely dominated the discussion. However, some have begun to declare this mentality unjust. What about men? Why do women earn the right to assert their liberties from accidental children while the legal system forces men to take responsibility? So inquires Laurie Shrage last week in The New York Times opinion column: “Is Forced Fatherhood Fair?”
Women’s rights advocates have labored hard to make motherhood a “voluntary condition” rather than one “imposed by nature or culture.” Shouldn’t men have the same privileges to self-rule? “Feminists have long held that women should not be penalized for being sexually active by taking away their options when an accidental pregnancy occurs,” Shrage notes, but “do our policies now aim to punish and shame men for their sexual promiscuity?” When engaging in sex, “neither a man nor a woman gives consent to become a parent.” Therefore, “we need to respect men’s reproductive autonomy” just as much as women “by providing them more options in the case of an accidental pregnancy.” Oppressive societal and biological forces are coercing concupiscent men everywhere into fatherhood.
It’s a curious thing indeed when a society labels babies accidents of natural processes and punishes them for sabotaging the “grown-up party.” And yet it would be naïve to think that resistance to fatherhood is a modern problem. Martin Luther, the 16th century German Protestant reformer, felt impelled to confront the men of his time who were tempted to surrender their fatherly role. A monk turned rogue, Luther married Katherine von Bora, defying centuries of Catholic practice that prohibited ministers from marriage: “God has given to me greater gifts than to any bishop in a thousand years. I have three children.” Unlike before, husbands and fathers had a pastor who identified with them.
In The Estate of Marriage, Luther describes how the rational male mind approaches fatherhood:
“Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow…. Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life.”
My first child arrives in August, and I’m coming more and more to terms with the fact that my “freedoms” are about to be violated. The spontaneous road trips, extensive world travel, late nights out, lazy mornings, football Saturdays, fantasies of becoming a debonair secret agent, are over. Yet Luther continues:
“What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised [fatherly] duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother.’”
Children are gifts from God, not accidents. God has proclaimed fatherhood a privileged office, and to embrace it one must learn to love what God loves rather than idolize culture’s so-called liberties. And to those outsiders who look down on fathers who sacrifice their independence for their children, Luther says this: “Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling.”
To the men who took responsibility to father their children and love their mother, here’s to you. Change those diapers. You make God smile.