Monday, February 14, 2011

Family Values

I don’t even remember where I heard it, but it was on the radio a few weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about it. Running errands on the west side, I was punching around the radio dial, and stopped when I heard a young man talking about “family values”. I picked up that he was a student at the University of Iowa, and that his parents…a lesbian couple…had raised him to be an honest and hard-working young man. He mentioned that he’s on the Dean’s list.

He said the topic of gay marriage comes up frequently in one of his sociology classes, because there’s so much gay-hating going on in Iowa right now. Iowa Republican Senator Dwayne Alons is co-sponsoring an anti-gay-marriage bill, and he calls gays a public health risk. There’s another bill to deny services to gay couples in Iowa. Much of this hate is spawned by the conservative group called “The Family Leader”, run by a failed politician.

And there’s our own Lieutenant Governor, the clay fish, whose feelings about gays were summed up on the campaign trail when she opined that if we allow gay marriage, next thing you know we’ll allow people to marry furniture and clocks and dogs and such.

Sort of like when the vote was extended to women by the 19th Amendment in 1920. I’m sure there were those who felt that if we allowed women to vote, the next thing you know there’d be movements to extend the vote to gerbils and mules and such.

The young Iowan said his family values don’t come from a sheet of paper signed by some church or municipal official; his family values don’t come by fiat of the state legislature; and they don’t include hate or prejudice against an entire class of people because of their sexual orientation. They come from the two loving women who raised him.

Every time that self-appointed morality watchdog Julaine Appling bends the ear of some talk show host or politician about “family values”, I get nauseous. Call me a Madison lefty, but I don’t think Ms. Appling and her posse know much about family values. They pretend to know a lot about morality, but to me, their version of morality is pretty judgmental.

In my family,our values don’t spring from the marriage contract my wife and I entered into nearly 14 years ago, in front of Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. The love and support we demonstrate for each other as a family has nothing to do with biology; I didn’t father those two beautiful children I helped raise, but I’m sure as hell their dad. I promised my wife’s late father, an old-school Italian, that I’d care for those kids just as if they were my own; but I arrived at that value long before he and I sat down when I asked for permission to marry his daughter in 1996.

A wise man, Stanwood Cobb, once said character is our destiny. Our deeds flow from our character, and our deeds determine our destiny. Don’t preach to me about family values. Talk to me about your character.


  1. It was either Goering or Goebbels who said "Whenever I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun." I have been at a similar point for years with the word "values."

    If your values are worth living by, it'll be clear from your actions. If you have to keep talking about your values, methinks though dost protest too much.

  2. For the record, the sentiment about culture was written by Nazi Poet Laureate Hanns Johst. It appears in a play he wrote -- "Schlageter" -- lionizing Albert Leo Schlageter, who is regarded as a proto-Nazi martyr. The play was written for Hitler and celebrated Nazi ideology, so it's easy to imagine the top Nazis subscribed to the notion.

    The original line is "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning!" ("Whenever I hear of culture... I release the safety catch of my Browning!")

    A few years back, we in this eastern outpost of the known world were treated to the spectacle of a congressman chest-thumping about his unqualified support of the so-called Defense of the Family Act. And act it was. The family man neglected to mention that his daughter by his mistress was, at the time, a year old.

    I approach this sort of holier-than-thou bloviation from the corner of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once quipped: "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."

  3. Great post, Tim. I think you've found a great counter point to the term "family values," by juxtaposing it with "character". I think I know what good character is....I have no idea what "family values" means in anything but a political sense.