Archive for the ‘black marriages’ Category

Why Should Black Women Marry?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I don’t ask this question lightly. I’ve been asking myself the question for the past two days here at this historic conference on marriage and families. How does marriage benefit black women? I see why and how marriage benefits children (of course I mean here a “healthy marriage”). I even get what men get out of marriage. But what’s in it for women? Especially educated, upwardly women who don’t have to worry about being hurled into abject poverty if their husbands leave them.

Let me back up:

I’m here at the National Summit on Marriage, Parenting, and Families, a historic gathering that’s being held on the beautiful campus of Hampton University. More than 100 of the most diverse, influential leaders working in the area of marriage and family issues are here to witness the unveiling of the National Summit on Marriage, Parenting and Families which will be headquartered here at Hampton under the black familydirectorship of Dr. Linda Malone Colon (chair of the Summit). The summit is being touted as a groundbreaking public conversation about marriage and families aimed at increasing the national conversation on the declining status of today’s marriages, especially marriages in the black community and the importance of healthy, effective parenting.  I’ve met some really great people while I’ve been here, people working in the trenches to help families in crisis and children who don’t have a strong family safety net.

You can catch Wednesday’s sessions live on the web at www.hamptonu.edu.

It’s a great meeting with lots of provocative dialogue. I’m here because i was invited to participate on the religion panel where the discussion centered on questions like “What does God say about marriage and family” and “What can communities of faith do to transform marriages, empower parents and strengthen families in our country.” Except for knucklehead here and there who their own agenda and didn’t want anything to do with dialogue, it was a good panel.

Yeah, yeah: I’ve noticed that not a peep has been said at these proceedings about same-sex marriage. One look at the major sponsors for the conference tells me why. I get it.

There’s no denying the research that says that children raised in homes headed by their biological parents who are wedded are more likely to succeed than those who grow up in households where the parents never married or divorced early on.

Here are a few things I’m taking away from this conference:

  1. Marriage is a vanishing institution in the black community.
  2. Divorce and unmarried childbearing increase the chances of poverty for both children and mothers.
  3. Children raised in single parent households are more to have problems in school, to get involved in drugs, to enter the juvenile system, and to live without medical insurance. Not only are our children at risk, but adult single men are more likely to engage in risk behavior than men who are married (e..g, take drugs, drink too much alcohol, unprotected sex with multiple partners, reckless driving).
  4. When it comes to attitudes about marriage, one of the biggest difference sbetween those under 35 and those over 35 is that younger people think you should postpone marriage until your career or finances are stable enough to bring a spouse into the equation. Their parents grew up thinking that it’s easier to build and accumulate wealth in marriage than it is as a single and that marriage gives one the stability and inner fortitude needed to endure the vicissitudes that come with building a career.
  5. Children want their parents to stay together –even if for their sake.
  6. Men who are religious tend to make better father and husbands than those whowant nothing to do with religion.
  7. Young black people use finances, career, and emotional readiness a lot as excuses for postponing marriage. but they don’t seem equally vigilant about postponing having babies out of wedlock, cohabitating, and entering into joint economic ventures with lovers (things normally associated with marriage).
  8. It is important for the church to affirm the ideal of married couples rearing their children, while at the same time affirming the possibilities for self-actualization and purposeful, emotional healthy live for those not married.

I get all of this, but again I ask: what do black women get out of all this? How do black women benefit from marriage when you consider the high ratio of women to men (and men’s likelihood of cheating on their wives) and when you consider that many times women are better educated and better employed than their men?

Yes, Women Cheat Too, but…Oh, The Bridges of Madison County

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

“…and they brought to him a woman caught in adultery and made her stand before everyone…” (John 8:3)

Did I mention that I believe adultery is wrong whether the one committing adultery is the husband or the wife? Did I  mention that adultery destroys lives? That it leaves families  in ruins. That I think that — except in instances of extreme physical abuse — staying for the sake of the children is not such a bad idea. That adultery makes a mockery of love, vows, witnesses, and notions of commitment ?  Can I remind you that adultery is a sin?

Then how can I possibly sit here and confess that “The Bridges of Madison County” is my all time favorite movie? Hands downHi Five. Pass the Kleenex and popcorn. Why do I catch  myself cheering and screaming at Francesca the lonely farmers wife who finally finds that once in a lifetime love to go ahead and turn the handle and hop out the truck her husband is driving and dash in the pouring rain for Robert’s truck there at the red light before he pulls off and out of her life forever?

Pass the Kleenex and popcorn.

Every time I see that scene of Meryl Streep (Francesca, I mean) in wrenching mental turmoil and emotional anguish over whether to stay or leave, toying with the door handle in her husband’s pick up truck, my heart breaks all over again. I’m a minister, but a side of me – the side that believes that you only get one chance at a certain kind of absolute right love—is screaming for Francesca a lonely farmer’s wife to run away from her bore of a husband and grab the life waiting for her with the man of her dreams Robert Kincaid the wandering photographer (played superbly by Clint Eastwood).

The movie opens with scenes of Francesca , immigrant bride, faithful farmer’s wife, dutiful mother of two self-absorbed teens, on a farm in Iowa aching for something she can not name. On an occasion when her husband and children are off for four days at a county fair, in walks a charming photographer on assignment with National Geographic to photograph bridges in her county. His love brings her back to life. They have four days to cram in a life. And they do. Tenderly. Passionately. Achingly.

“Turn the handle. Jump out the truck. Leave that farmer of a husband you’re married to. Run off with the man you love.” I’m beating the arm of the chair and screaming at the top of my lungs each time I watch the scene of Francesca in that truck. (My heart is racing even now as I type the words and recall the scene.)

And then I come to myself. Dear God, forgive me. I’m a minister.

Neither Francesca nor Robert is young, but they show you that love can turn you into a 16 year old again–love just costs so much more when you’re older.
Francesca must choose between her love for Robert and duty to her family. Duty and Responsibility or Love and Fulfillment?

‘In a universe of ambiguity, this kind of certainty comes only once’ says Robert says to Francesca the last night they are together. He’s come to convince her to leave for love.

Fast Forward: Francesa’s husband and children have come back home. Francesca is in town on errands sitting in her husband’s pick up truck waiting for him. It’s raining. She sees Robert standing off in the distance drenched and staring in her direction. She knows instinctively that he’s leaving. He’s off to God knows where ever it is that men who can’t stay in one place go. The expressions on the faces of the two lovers as they stare at each other says it all. It’s now or never.

Pass the Kleenex and popcorn.

Is Francesca’s decision a tragedy or moral victory? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m wrong for encouraging a married woman in her adultery. But, God help me, I can’t help myself. There’s never a time when I watch “The Bridges of Madison County” that I don’t yell at Francesca and don’t feel the casket lid closing in on her as Robert’s truck turns left and drives off.

Lord have mercy on me.

I know better. After all, I am one of the children Francesca left behind to run off for her lover. Decades later, my sister, brothers and I continue to live with the wounds of being the children a bored, aching, unloved mother left behind for the promise of fulfillment.

It was wrong (says the minister). It hurt (says the wounded daughter). But I understand now (says the woman).

Why Do Men Cheat?

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Because they can.

How’s that?

It seems that some of you have been wondering why I haven’t commented on the one story that in my neck of the woods managed to supplant the death of Michael Jackson  this past weekend. And that’s the murder of retired NFL star Steve McNair, married, father of four, by his 20 year old mistress

It’s not because I haven’t kept up with the story that I’ve haven’t brought it up on the blog. Hey, I’m a married woman. Stories of cheating husbands make you sit up and pay attention whether you want to or not. But if you’re one of the two readers who’ve wondered, the answer is simple. I’m not an ambulance chaser. If I chased down every story with tawdry details about yet another married man caught having an affair I wouldn’t be able to blog about anything else. Besides, this isn’t a gossip blog. A blogger who tries to stick with religious and moral dilemmas (mostly) has only so much moral capital to throw around. And I try to expend my limited share where it’s needed the most. Adultery speaks for itself.

But since the other blogpiece I’ve been working on isn’t coming together, and since our appetite for the salicious is still whet after a week of feasting on Michael Jackson’s remains, why not offer a comment or two on what there is to learn from McNair’s tragic end?

Permit me a disclaimer. Like the prophet Paul I write not as a prophet nor as a minister in this blogpost. Not even as a woman of faith necessarily. I write here as a thinking woman who happens to be married.

For those like me who don’t follow football, McNair retired famed NFL player was found murdered in his Nashville condo this past weekend, two shots to the head and two in the chest. His 20 year old girlfriend was sprawled out dead at his feet, one shot to the head, the gun underneath her body on the floor. Officials have all but ruled the deaths a murder-suicide.

McNair retired a year ago from professional football after 13 seasons in the NFL. He was a three times Bowl pick (whatever that means). He played nine seasons as quarterback for the Tennessean Titans before being traded in 2006 to the the Ravens in Baltimore where he retired in 2008. McNair was found dead this past weekend in his Nashville condo,  Black sports fans were especially proud of the fact that McNair, a graduate of Alcorn State, was one of only three quarterbacks in NFL history who was drafted in the first round out of historically black colleges and universities. Friends remember him as a kind and generous sort of fellow. (But as we see with MJ’s death these things get redacted a lot in death.) It’s just a shame that the man died because he couldn’t keep it in his pants. It’s a shame that in addition to his accomplishments on the field he will be remembered off the field as a man who was killed by his mistress who was a high school drop-out.

Did I mention that McNair’s wife of 12 years, Mechelle, mother of the four sons he leaves behind, had no idea about her husband’s affair?
But then the wife is always the last to know. Or, so they say. Another one of those posthumous redactions, I suppose.

definitionof adultery

To the question. Why do men cheat?

Because it’s easy to do. Because it’s one of the privileges that come with patriarchy. Because men claim to need more sex than their wives are willing to put out. (As one man put it, “Men are always thinking about sex: they’re either thinking about the last time they had sex, or thinking about the next they’re gonna have sex.”) Translated: Men cheat because they can’t help themselves. Men cheat because there are women out there who don’t think twice about sleeping with married men. Men cheat because they crave the affirmation and the boost to their ego. Men cheat because of the adrenaline rush they get from sneaking around and getting away with something they’re not supposed to do. Take your pick.

Lots of men do not cheat on their wives (or significant others). Many, many, many do, or so it seems. Especially men who are public figures.

That is, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. And lots of politicians too. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Sen. David Vitter, R-La., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., one-time Democratic presidential hopefuls John Edwards and Gary Hart, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, ex-DC Mayor Marion Barry, current New York Gov. David Paterson, former President Bill Clinton.

And, oh yeah, there are the preachers.

You’re probably asking, “Do married women cheat?” Of course they do. But that’s not the question on the table.

If I were writing as a minister (which I’m not, mind you) I would probably quote Scripture to bring men to their senses. But the Bible, at least the part written by men, doesn’t say  that adultery is a sin. Not when it’s men doing it. Let me be more specific. Not when it’s a married man having an affair with an unmarried woman. It’s only an affair when he’s having an affair with another man’s wife. As for what the Bible has to say about when a married woman has an affair. Stone her . Whether her lover is married or not. Stone her to death.

Lots of men cheat and never end up having to pay publicly. In times past there were politicians, presidents even, who tipped out and didn’t pay publicly, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt are two that come to mind.

It’s a different world now. Ours is a public that goes into a feeding frenzy at the opportunity to download stories of marital affairs, review videos of extramarital trysts,  listen in to tape conversations, read text messages and email between clandestine loves, click to examine a mistress’s dress with his DNA still on it. Technology has developed in the public an insatiable appetite for scandal, an appetite that media is only too eager to feed.

Which makes it all the more unfathomable why men, especially men who are famous, tempt fate by cheating on their wives. But they do. Despite living in a fish bowl men like Governor Sanford of South Carolina, you would think, would resist flying the coup and running off to Argentina to see his mistress. But he didn’t.

You would certainly think that adulterers would know that there is no such thing as free extra meal. Eventually the bill comes due. Somebody will pay for those text messages and  hotel bills. And I promise you, it won’t be just you – and your mistress. It will be your family. Especially your wife whose every tear or stoic expression and dress size will end up being parsed by a public that’s dying to know how much she knew, when she knew, what’s wrong with her that she couldn’t keep her man at home, and why does she stay(a topic I’ve addressed before). And then there’s the children, the poor children. The greatest victims of it all. How will the way their father died impact the lives of Steve McNair’s sons as they grow up? Heaven help them.

Moreover, you would think that the fear of disease, public humiliation, losing your job ruining your family life, hurting your wife, damaging your children, and undermining your life’s work would be a deterrent to men who cheat. Not.

So, why do men cheat? Because it’s worth the risk. Or so says the part of the brain that’s responsible for the blood rushing to the penis.

What’s a wife to do? Get a life. Have a plan. And stay on speaking terms with God.

But remember, I’m blogging not as prophet here today, but as a thinking woman who happens to be married.

Ummph. Ummph. Ummph.

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Been in debate back and forth with grown, thinking, opinionated women all week about Elizabeth Edward’s new book Resilience and her tell-all interview appearance on Oprah last Thursday.  (Believe me when I tell you that that was painful for a grown woman to watch). We’ve been going at it about whether she should have done it. You know. Write a book about it. Tell her side of the story about it. Go on Oprah to talk about it. Stay married to John Edwards after it. Spend whatever time she has left reliving it.

In case this isn’t one of those stories you’ve been following (and it’s perfectly alright if you haven’t), let me bring you up to date.

Boyishly attractive Senator John Edwards from North Carolina ran for president in 2008.  Edwards is a millionaire plaintiff’s trial lawyer who is married to another lawyer, Elizabeth Edwards.   During the campaign, Senator Edwards told his four-years-older wife, who has admitted publicly to having stage 4 cancer, that he had been having an affair with a woman he met at a hotel in New York whom he later hired to work on his campaign website. The woman, now has a one-year old daughter, whose father’s name she will not divulge. Edwards, the cheating husband, has appeared on national television talking about the affair being between him and “my Lord”.

Folks are weighing on both sides on Eliabeth Edward’s story about John Edward’s affair: those who think she should shut up, and those who think she should have her say.

While this is not Elizabeth Edward’s first memoir ( that would be her 2006 memoir, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength From Friends and Strangers) , “Resilience” is something of  a coda to “Saving Graces” — a meditation on her life after learning about her husband’s affair and the resurgence of her cancer.  If you’re intolerant of public figures airing their dirty marital drama in public, the book will probably strike you as self-indulgent. If you’re curious about how people survive public humiliation and are short on scripts on how it’s done, it’s a painful but brave book.

I know. I know. Blog readers prefer bloggers with outrageous opinions and outrageous talk. Skewer cheating husbands. Slam wives who stay with cheating husbands. Crucify public officials who lie and their family members who stand by their side. Hits on this blog would skyrocket if I yelled more and thought less. I do yell, but this is one of those topics where I listen more than I yell.

When it comes to tales about love and marriage, and why folks choose the way they do and do the things they do, I prefer to take my Aunt Dora’s posture and shake your head, keep kneading dough, all the while saying to yourself “Ummmph. Ummmph. Ummmph.”

I don’t know anything about being abused and I’ve not had to deal with a cheating husband. But what I do know is that marriage is messy and complicated and beautiful and wondrous and nerve-wracking and infuriating and joyous and precious and sacred and insane. And everyone deals with the pain of betrayal,  humiliation, disappointment, and broken trust differently. Which explains why, regardless of color or class, I cut women like Hilda Spitzer, Hillary Clinton, Juanita Bynum a lot of slack here on the blog, even though I have never and can’t imagine living through what they’ve lived through.

broken vows

Why did she write a book about his affair? As millionaires the Edwards obviously don’t t need the money. Why is she talking? Why doesn’t she (and John) resolve this matter privately and quietly, away from the cold, cruel light of public opinion like decent folks do? It’s obvious from the pained expression on Elizabeth’s face when Oprah asked pointedly”Do you still love him?”and from the fact that she refuses to speak the other woman’s name while  is most animated when talking about the other woman and from the anguished looks on her face when John was part of the interview — Elizabeth Edwards is still in the throes of anguish and rage over her husband’s affair. (”And John Edwards didn’t appear remorseful during the interview, not remorseful enough for me,” says one of my friend.)

Isn’t she as guilty as he? another friend chimes in. Wasn’t she complicit with him in lying to the public about his character, not to mention her complicity in projecting an image of a fairy tale marriage and fairy tale couple. Isn’t she the one who stood before the camera a year ago asking us to elect as President a man who is capable of callously getting into an affair with a woman he meets in a hotel while his wife is at home battling stage 4 cancer?

Why not leave him? For Elizabeth Edwards, the answer is clear. More than a romance, the marriage is a shared sense of purpose, of how to engage the world — a partnership that transcended fidelity. “[A]lthough I no longer knew what I could trust between the two of us,” she writes, “I knew I could trust in our work together.”

Why is Elizabeth Edward’s talking? Who knows? Perhaps it’s because she’s a woman who is running out of time. Her husband’s affair was, she writes, yet another a gut-wrenching blow to a life marked by tragedies sudden and inevitable, from the 1996 car-crash death of Wade, her oldest child, to the slow physical demise of both her parents; and — finally — the cancer that she’s been battling since 2004 and that she expects will kill her.

You bounce back. You decide what’s important to you.  You forgive. You live. You survive. You move on.  You start over.  No matter how clumsy or difficult it is to do. Because tomorrow is not a given.

Ummph. Ummph. Ummph.