- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2015

What has marriage and fatherhood meant to a young Michigan man? Simply put, an end to the days of self-amusement and the start of a life of purpose and fulfillment.

Being married has “kept me the same” and yet changed R.J. McVeigh, a Michigan pro-life leader who works with students.

“Marriage kept the good parts of me the same and challenged the not-so-good parts to improve,” he said.

Researchers find that Mr. McVeigh’s experiences are common: The milestones of marriage and parenthood can inspire “manning up” in men.

Still, as America prepares to celebrate its 105th Father’s Day on Sunday, there is a constant discussion about when and how Americans now form their families. For instance, Mr. McVeigh has bucked national trends by marrying in his early 20s and becoming a father of two by age 23. On average, American men now wait until they are about 29 years old to marry.

Fatherhood, however, is not so delayed: The average age for a man to become a father is 25, according to data from the National Survey of Family Growth.

These days, couples often opt for cohabitation instead of marriage, said Donald Paul Sullins, associate professor of sociology at Catholic University of America, noting that men and women often cohabit for different reasons. For many men, cohabiting is a way to avoid marriage, even though women think cohabiting is the pathway to marriage, he said.

Pregnancy typically changes that dynamic, Mr. Sullins said.

“When they conceive a child, the cohabitation takes one of two forms: It either breaks up and you get another single mother who chooses to raise that child — if they don’t abort that child — or they decide to get married,” said Mr. Sullins.

If the choice is to marry, it’s not uncommon for the young father to step up and take responsibility for his family — becoming fully employed if he hadn’t been before, or working toward career advancement if he hadn’t been doing that before.

Marriage and fatherhood “upgrades the whole quality of their life — you could call it ‘manning up,’” said Mr. Sullins, who is also a married Catholic priest and father who joined the church later in life.

Research has documented tangible benefits of marriage for men — most of whom are also fathers.

For instance, married men aged 28-30 are likely to earn $15,929 more a year than their single peers. This “marriage premium” grows with time, so that married men aged 44-46 earn $18,824 more than their single peers, academics Robert I. Lerman and W. Bradford Wilcox said in a report in October.

Married men also are more likely to have better health — no doubt due to efforts by their wives — as well as enjoy a level of respect in society.

Sociologists such as the late Steven Nock have maintained that being married fosters responsible behavior — particularly in husbands — like practicing self-control and staying attached to the workforce, Mr. Wilcox and Mr. Lerman said in “For Richer, For Poorer: Family Structures, Economic Success in America.”

As economist and Nobel laureate George Akerlof once put it, “Men settle down when they get married: if they fail to get married, they fail to settle down,” their report said.

However, the intangible benefits of fatherhood do not always come easily, Mr. Sullins said. “Becoming a father calls both parents to sacrifice.”

The sociologist said that parents lose certain freedoms — there’s less time for romantic behavior, weekend trips, sleep, financial savings — “the list is huge.”

Also, the necessities of child-rearing can predominate the romance, sex and mutual fulfillment of the parents, he said. The child will “make demands on the parents,” and that, in turn, will call the adults into growth and maturity.

“The reason parents improve in lots of ways when a child comes is because we human beings are made to sacrifice — to live for the sake of someone else and not to live for the sake of ourselves, and a child calls us far [beyond] ourselves to serve the interest and needs of someone else,” said Mr. Sullins.

In other words, “the man who chooses to raise and father a child will find out that the child is also raising him, making him grow up and be more of a man than he would have been otherwise,” he said.

Mr. McVeigh, who has a degree in biomedical sciences and is currently Great Lakes Regional Director for Students for Life of America, discovered many of these things firsthand.

Before he married, the high points of his life would revolve around activities such as staying entertained and avoiding boredom, he said.

“But I don’t feel that way anymore,” said Mr. McVeigh, who has a toddler and a newborn. “I feel like I have a more consistent and stable, joyful life where I don’t have to be looking for something to entertain me.”

Moreover, getting married helped him learn how to manage time and stress more efficiently, as well as not stop trying until he found his way into a satisfying career path.

Life got rough when he and his wife’s “newlywed” plans “pretty much fell apart completely” due to unforeseen events in their school, jobs and finances.

But still, having a wife and newborn daughter had a positive effect on him, Mr. McVeigh said.

“Even though my daughter was just a baby,” he said, “I realized that we are all in this together.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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