The blessings of a traditional family

Published 11:28 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Americans are abandoning the traditional family in big numbers.
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, “less than half (46 percent) of U.S. kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage.”
Compare that to 1960, a few years before I was born, when 73 percent of children lived in traditional families.
“Rapid changes in American family structure have altered the image of who’s gathering for the holidays,” reports Pew. “While the old ‘ideal’ involved couples marrying young, then starting a family, and staying married till ‘death do they part,’ the family has become more complex, and less ‘traditional.’”
Here’s another number that is troubling: 41 percent of children in America are born to unwed mothers — compared to 5 percent in 1960. Pew says that 34 percent of children are raised by an unmarried parent, usually by their mothers. Most have no father in the home.
I feel bad for these kids.
I can’t imagine growing up without my dad in the house. And though my traditional family was far from perfect, I wish every kid could have the wonderful experience I had growing up as the only boy with five sisters.
One day when I was 12, the neighborhood bully was roughing me up. I didn’t have a brother to teach me to fight; my sisters taught me. I looked the bully dead in the eye and said, “You are soooooo immature!”
My father being the sole breadwinner, he was always looking to stretch a buck. He made me wear hand-me-downs. It wasn’t too bad most of the year, but Easter Sunday was humiliating. I had a heck of a time outrunning the neighborhood bully with my pantyhose bunching up on me and my bonnet flopping in the wind.
Until I was 12 in 1974, when my parents added onto our house, all eight of us lived in a modest-sized home with only one full bath. My father never could get in there. As soon as he’d hear the bathroom door open, he’d race down the hall to take a shower — only to hear it slam shut again, another of my sisters locking herself inside for 30 minutes or more.
But just as often as squabbles would break out — because I hogged all of the fresh fruit or failed to change the toilet paper roll — we’d sit around the dinner table, laughing. I was a frequent target of the laughter. My sisters loved to tell stories about their stinky, sweaty, mud-caked brother.
It’s amazing to me that I’m 53 already, but I am still the beneficiary of the traditional family that I was blessed to grow up in. My mother and father are doing grand in their golden years and I am lucky I can visit them Sundays and holidays and have a grand time gathering with my sisters and their husbands and children.
My parents, believers in “until death do they part,” will celebrate 60 years of marriage next year. We are going to have a big blowout to celebrate that incredible milestone. My parents’ marriage is something I am proud of.
Sure, I understand that times change, and I don’t begrudge people choosing to raise their children in a non-traditional manner.
I’m just saying that I was incredibly blessed to grow up in a traditional family in a raucous, nutty house filled with characters and drama and a mother and father, committed to each other for life, who put their children’s comfort and well-being far ahead of their own.
Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.

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