Where Did Family Go?

Sense of family diminishes in present-day society

By Harold Miller

The television series of this iconic family comedy starring Robert Young — “Father Knows Best” — debuted in 1954 just a year before Janet and I were married.

The show depicted the conservative and paternalistic American family life during the post-World War II era. Father ruled the household with teachings of honesty, virtue and discipline, while mother ruled with love, solid reasoning, social graces, common sense and patience.

The 1950s were a continuation of America’s history — although with the emancipation of our women (women worked while their husbands went off to war) that usually meant both parents worked for a living. Even so, families almost always had dinner together, sharing the problems and triumphs of the day (salted with some arguing among the siblings, of course). The family was always the core of life and living. We laughed and played together, went to church together, and we vacationed together.

Holidays were always special family times. Our family started a Thanksgiving clan gathering in 1950 that included aunts, uncles and cousins of both the Millers and the Hirsh’s (Janet’s family). This special event continues today when up to 100 of us travel from New York City, Florida, New England, California, and Colorado to gather at the Sheraton University Conference Center in Syracuse on Thanksgiving Day.

Leonard Pitts Jr. — noted columnist for the Miami Herald — has written an editorial on the need for fathers in our increasingly single-parent families entitled “Kids need fathers — period!”

“I believe that our slide toward a fatherless society, a society where the male parent is considered optional, irrelevant, or interchangeable is toxic for our children. That concern is buttressed by a growing body of research which tells us that a child raised without his or her biological father is significantly more likely to live in poverty, do poorly in school, drop out of school altogether, become a teen parent, exhibit behavior problems, drink, smoke, or wind up in jail.”

Mold the child

Children need molding into responsible adults. Sometimes discipline is necessary, with the understanding that discipline is never being abusive. The old adage, “This hurts me more than you” is often true but the misguided feeling that a child will not like you if you punish them sometimes keeps parents from the necessary discipline.

If a child can put up a tantrum and get away with it, the chances are that you have lost control and almost certainly that child will be spoiled. I happen to think that pediatrician Benjamin Spock, who published the best seller, “Baby and Child Care,” in 1946 was largely responsible for repealing the old adage “spare the rod and spoil the child,” and did more to damage our country’s social fabric than anyone.

The family is the core of all civilizations and the successful family must work as a team. Mother needs help with house cleaning and help in the kitchen; Father needs to help with the yard work, somebody needs to drive Junior to soccer practice, etc.

There is much discussion among our politicians today about income and social inequality. Indeed this is true, but the solution is beyond government entitlements (tax the rich and give to the poor). The problem basically starts with the fact that half of all children born today are born into single-parent families, and usually the single parent has to work for a living. This leaves the grandparents, babysitters or (God forbid) the government to raise the child.

A lonely child left to his or her devices needs a sense of belonging. Thus the street gangs that flourish in the ghettos of our towns and cities, which in turn almost always breed criminal activity. Alienated young men and women join radical political organizations to have a sense of being a part of society. Young people can pursue their goals only when they know who they are and when they establish firm identities.

The fabric of American society is being torn into two pieces: the haves and the have nots. All the welfare programs in place today will not put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Most of you reading this are family- oriented responsible people (that’s what the demographics tell us) so might I suggest that you send along a copy of this article to your children or grandchildren. We might even promote an “America is Families” movement.

• This column is an excerpt of Hal Miller’s upcoming book, “Memoirs of a Patriarch.”

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