“Thank you for your service.”
Whenever these words are uttered, it is always—always—a soldier to whom they are directed. And while police officers aren’t typically singled out for random expressions of gratitude, they too are held in particularly high esteem, for like soldiers, police officers are seen as constituting the line between civilization and savagery.
That this popular view is true as far it is goes is undeniable. Equally undeniable, however, is that it only goes so far. And it doesn’t go very far at that.
The reality is that, first and foremost, it is upon the shoulders of the parent that civilization depends.
More so than anyone else, conservatives know that this is the case. Soldiers and police officers are government actors. Yet government is and can only be as good as the citizenry over which it presides. In other words, in spite of what Big Government ideologues would have us think, governments do not create civilizations. Governments cannot create civilizations.
Fundamentally, a civilization is a composition, authored, as it were, over the span of many thousands of years and by countless numbers of people, of a complex of refined manners or habits.
To put it more simply, a civilization is not natural. It is even unnatural. Rather, civilizations are like works of arts: they are hard won achievements.
What this means is that no one is born a civilized person. The civilized are not born at all. Savages are born—each and every time a human being comes into the world. The civilized, though, are made.
And they are made by their mothers and fathers.
Nature brings individual homo sapiens into the world. But parents cultivate persons. Through a mostly informal education in the habits of its civilization, parents domesticate the wild animal that is the child. Through sacrifices small and large, the parent labors tirelessly for years to slay the savage to which they gave birth.
Of course, both father and mother are equally essential to the creation and sustenance of civilization. But fathers are especially important, for not only is the father the protector of his family, in many respects it is the father who teaches both son and daughter what it means to be a man. As the renowned cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Motherhood is a biological fact, while fatherhood is a social invention.” She also remarked that “Fathers are biological necessities but social accidents.”
The family transforms males into men and men into fathers. A preponderance of fatherless homes does not bode well for a civilization.
Sometimes homes are rendered fatherless through choice. Other times, as in the case of the family of Andrew “Andy” Tobias, there is no choice.
I haven’t seen or spoken to Andy Tobias in well over 20 years. We met when we were in the first grade together, and then several years later in high school. But the woman with whom he would eventually fall in love and form a family, Laura—also an old classmate of mine—would occasionally touch base with me on Facebook.
This past Christmas, just hours before their children would be up ripping open the presents that Santa would bring them, Andy died of a massive heart attack. He was just 41 years old.
Andy was a plumber and Laura had been a stay-at-home mother. Given that, by all accounts, Andy had been in good health, his death obviously came as a great shock. For Laura and her three children, an old friend of the family has set up a fund—“The Andy Tobias Family Fund”—at giveforward.com.
To the readers of this column, Andy’s and Laura’s are but two arbitrarily selected names from an infinite sea of the tragedy-stricken. Still, I make this plea on their behalf because I know their circumstances. I know that Andy and Laura are two people who valued family above all. It is this that accounts for why Andy became a father to, not just the two year-old girl he shared with Laura, but the two children the latter had from a previous marriage. It is their abiding love for family that explains why the two did their best to insure that Laura could be a stay-at-home mom.
Now, Laura and her children need help.
Andy was neither a member of the armed forces nor a police officer. Yet he was family man, one of the many who, along with Laura, labor daily to hold the line against the barbarism that’s never far from engulfing the civilized world.
As I write this, the terrorist attacks that have just been visited upon Russia at this time leading up to the Winter Olympics remind us of just how precarious is civilization. Parents, mothers and fathers, are the glue holding it together.Andy and Laura tried to do right by their family and their civilization. Please pray for them now and, if able, do your best to help Laura and her children by contributing to The Andy Tobias Family Fund at giveforward.com.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.