My parents were immigrants. At the end of the Great War, they left Ireland for Canada, and at the beginning of the Great Depression, they had me. I guess every marriage experiences its ups and downs.
I’m an immigrant, too. Oh, I didn’t leave Canada for another country. Canada left me for another culture. The culture I grew up in is not the culture I’m living in now.
When we were growing up, neither my friends nor I had the luxury of just a single parent to discipline us, or even one parent at a time. We had to put up with two at a time. It seemed unfair. We also lacked the variety that successive parents or parent-like partners give family life.
Social and religious leaders were responsible for our situation. They considered families the basic cells of society and aimed to keep them intact. You could say that, in this respect, our leaders were against cell division. Why, adultery provided virtually the only grounds for divorce and it took an act of Parliament to get one. So my friends and I were each destined to spend our formative years with one set of parents and we missed all sorts of exciting encounters with social workers, foster families, bureaucrats, and police.
I guess that’s what you can expect in a mainly Christian culture. Even our founding Constitution, the British North America Act, provided for both Catholic and Protestant schools. Although they differed on doctrine, they held us to a similar sexual morality, as did the society at large.
Hence, sodomy, contraception and abortion were illegal and fornication and adultery were under a stigma. If we didn’t want to remain celibate, we were expected to resort to romance, courtship and life-long marriage, not to mention commit to sacrificial love for our spouses and children.
It wasn’t easy growing up in that culture, but most of us did, despite the moral and legal strictures. Or maybe it was because of them, although we didn’t dare admit that possibility in front of our elders. Which is paradoxical, because when we had children of our own, we tried to inculcate the same morality. We had some nagging notion that it might be good for families and that families might be good for us. More specifically, we feared that if we didn’t inculcate it, our children might grow old without growing up.
When I was a boy, governments didn’t assist families much financially. I never heard anyone say, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” Families were expected to be self-reliant and succeed by trial and error. We didn’t seem to mind, though. I guess we preferred making our own mistakes to implementing the government’s.
Although not intentional, this policy probably limited immigration. Newcomers expected the opportunity to support themselves. Unlike today, they had no reason to expect that governments would support them.
Of course, we didn’t need the huge numbers of immigrants we admit today. Under sexual restraint, our largely intact families procreated enough children to keep the economy going. Under sexual license, our increasingly diverse families can’t seem to do it. Because a flagging economy limits income redistribution, and fragmented families are often poor, maybe sexual morality has something to do with social justice.
As many families didn’t own a car, they had to settle in neighbourhoods that were largely self-sufficient. In ours, churches, schools, a grocer, baker, butcher, druggist, clothier, and shoemaker were within walking distance. So were a hardware store and a garage that repaired cars and sold gas and oil. Doctors made house calls as did milk men, bread men, fruit men, ice men and farmers selling eggs and other produce, and our dentist worked out of his home.
It was like living in a town, even though the family I grew up in lived in a city, and we didn’t have to go downtown for most things. Oh, we did if we wanted to see a movie or dine at a fancy restaurant. But canned entertainment wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. As for eating out, well, with first-rate, in-house chefs, usually our mothers, home cooking was hard to beat.
So with few exceptions, we provided our own entertainment and made our own fun. As we enjoyed playing outdoors and eating in-house, our parents didn’t worry about childhood obesity.
Standard-bearers of the new culture call it post-Christian and progressive. I can’t help noticing, though, that with respect to sexual practices and family outcomes, it resembles the culture of the late Roman Republic and Empire. This would make it pre-Christian and regressive.