Over the last few weeks, there has been much reported about Nadya Suleman, the mother who gave birth to octuplets.
Initially, much of the reporting was positive, even glowing. Our culture tends to respond to these kinds of “scientific miracle” stories like proud 3-year-olds showing our adoring parents a new skill, boasting, “Look what we can do!”
Soon, however, the tone of the news stories turned negative, even vicious, as reports surfaced that Ms. Suleman is a jobless single mother with six more young children. The situation got even worse after a widely seen interview of Ms. Suleman by NBC’s Ann Curry. Ms. Suleman reportedly has received death threats.
Why are so many so incensed by this situation? Is it because children are involved? Maybe, but there certainly have been worse stories that involved children. Maybe it is because Ms. Suleman does not have the money to support her family. Possibly, but could one really make that case in this season of billion-dollar bailouts?
No, I believe the real issue is that Ms. Suleman is smugly putting in our collective faces something about ourselves that we do not want to see and refuse to acknowledge. Ms. Suleman’s story exposes the fact that for the last few decades our culture has been carefully constructing a modern-day “Tower of Babel” in celebration of “personal choice,” especially in matters related to sex.
We have constructed this tower brick by brick — one brick to unlink marriage from childbearing, another to unlink fatherhood from family life. We have been on a march to climb our tower without taking the time to consider the consequences.
Worse yet, any courageous soul who dares to try and stop us on our “upward” march is shoved from the tower, sans parachute, as an example for others.
Ms. Suleman, a learned product of our culture, knows our dilemma well, or at least got her money’s worth from the PR consultant who coached her. For example, when Ms. Curry asked, “Why is it responsible for a single woman without a job … to have eight more children?” Ms. Suleman responded, “Yes, I have chosen to be single. … If there is a couple … just together, why are they exempt from being called irresponsible?”
When Ms. Curry queried why her fertility specialist, who knew that she already had six children, transferred so many embryos, Ms. Suleman responded, “It’s a subject of choice … so he did not judge me. Very professional.”
Even when Ms. Curry tried to challenge Ms. Suleman by suggesting that children need a father, Ms. Suleman had all the right answers. She said, “I absolutely believe that. And they do have a father.”
The problem is that Ms. Suleman has chosen to view fatherhood as merely a biological transaction. In a culture where choice trumps all, she gets a pass from many who, like her, undervalue the need for children to have a physically and emotionally present father in their lives. This is despite reams of social science research that support the fact that children need involved dads.
In short, the more Ms. Curry tried to turn the mirror on Ms. Suleman, the more the mirror was turned back on the culture that produced her.
Indeed, the truth is that choices are never personal; they always are communal. Her children are our children. Ms. Suleman’s story illustrates that in our politically correct, choice-saturated culture, there are many things that you dare not say. However, the problem is that there are fewer and fewer things that you dare not do.
• Roland C. Warren is president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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