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The Church’s observance of National Marriage Week Feb. 7-13, culminating in World Marriage Day Feb. 14, reminds us that the most important leadership role most persons will ever have is in their home with their spouse and any children they have.

That’s true even if you’re the CEO of a vast international conglomerate. No matter what your job, your home life is more important.

It’s also true that the very best leadership performance occurs in homes, not on the job. And that’s because good parents love their children more than bosses love their employees -- and love is what fuels transformation in people. That’s no rap on the workplace; it’s just true.

World Marriage Day is always observed on the second Sunday in February. This year that also happens to be Valentine’s Day. What a wonderful coincidence.

A lot has changed since I was a kid in the 50s and 60s. And it changed very, very fast.

I was well into my teens before I knew more than one couple who was divorced. Even when I got married, I could count the number of divorced couples I knew on one hand -- with plenty of fingers to spare.

About 20 years later my brother, who is just 11 years younger, was talking about getting married at a more advanced age. He said one of the things that concerned both him and his fianceé was that every couple they knew who had gotten married had also gotten divorced.

That’s a tsunami of change in only two decades.

Fortunately, we both have beaten the new odds. Later this year he and his wife will celebrate their 32nd anniversary and Jane and I will celebrate our 50th. Thank you, Jesus!

But there’s no denying that times have changed, at least in the U.S. As I write this, I know of several younger couples who are in the process of parting company. No surprise: the typical couple exchanging vows today face a 40 percent risk of divorce. How adults choose to forge, conduct and end their relationships might not matter anymore than who is going steady in junior high, except for one thing: children.

Of course, one huge problem today -- both for society and for individual children growing up in it -- is that more couples are having children without bothering to become married couples.

The lifestyles of the rich and famous don’t always provide good models. Take the cases of two former NBA stars. Calvin Murphy has 14 illegitimate kids by 9 women. Shawn Kemp has at least 13 illegitimate children by 10 women. Yes, they’re extreme cases. But not by much. The number of pro athletes who have had children by four and five women is daunting. And like it or not, they’re role models for kids growing up. 

No matter whether children are the product of unmarried or divorced couples, they face some daunting risks. Children from fatherless homes account for:

  • 63 percent of youth suicides;
  • 71 percent of the pregnant teenagers;
  • 90 percent of the homeless and runaway children;
  • 70 percent of the institutionalized juveniles;
  • 85 percent of the children with behavioral disorder;
  • 71 percent of high school dropouts;
  • 75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers; and,
  • 85 percent of all youths in prison.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis speaks often of how important the experience of a stable, loving home is for the formation of healthy children who can eventually lead society and contribute to the common good as faithful, loving, merciful disciples of Jesus.

That’s why I’m convinced there is no more important leadership role than the one we take on in marriage – because that’s the role best designed to provide children with what they need to grow up to be all that God intended them to be. When you raise a child, you shape a life – which, in turn, shapes lives in the next generation. And so on for as far as we can see.

When men come to me with questions about how to be good fathers to their children, my first advice always is: “Love their mother.” I’ve seen divorced men who have turned out to be wonderful fathers and, in fact, have raised some remarkable children who as adults are contributing mightily to the common good today. But none of their fathers -- or their mothers – have told me it was easy.

Not all marriages can be saved. And sadly, not all of them are worth saving. But when you become a parent, you’re a parent for life.

If you are divorced or have children from a passing liaison, make an extra effort to do all you can do to be a loving, consistent presence in their lives. Because it matters. It really does.

If you are married, make a promise to yourself today to celebrate Valentine’s Day and World Marriage Day with your spouse in whatever special way you can manage. Maybe with the press of children and economic uncertainties, you will have to settle for a simple hug and kiss. So what? Do it! Savor it! Celebrate it! And linger for as long as your circumstances permit.

Just as important, promise yourself that at least once a day, better twice, you will tell your spouse that you love him or her – no matter what’s going on in your lives at the moment. If it’s hard to say, resolve to work harder at making loving him or her easier. Everything worth having requires a certain amount of sacrifice and hard work.

Meanwhile, I’ll pray that if you need help, you’re both willing and able to get it.

Remember, even the best athletes have coaches. And even Jesus got help carrying his cross.

 

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