And what could be more divine than this, or more desired by a man of sound mind, than to beget by a noble and honored wife children who shall be the most loyal supporters and discreet guardians of their parents in old age, and the preservers of the whole house?
The more time one spends in nature, the more clearly one sees the role of mankind. Reflection requires a reference point to be meaningful. It is impossible to compare and contrast something without having anything to compare it to. Modern thought often presents man as outside of nature. As a consequence, it stifles understanding about mankind’s place in the environment and the world at large.
One of the most striking differences between man and beast is how their young are treated. Some of the strategies animals use appear altruistic. Fish like the Chinook salmon go to great lengths to spawn, only to die long before their children are ever born. Many species of insects will lay hundreds of eggs and wait. The mother will offer her body for sustenance as soon as the larva hatch.
Other strategies appear cruel and selfish. When a new alpha male takes over a pride of lions, one of the first things he does is to kill any of the still nursing cubs fathered by the old patriarch. Sand tiger sharks gestate many of their offspring in the same embryo. As each of the young sharks develop, they kill and eat each other to ensure only the strongest makes it out into the open sea.
On the surface, all of these behaviors seem wildly different. In truth, they are far more similar than most recognize. They all exist to ensure the survival of the species. Each strategy for producing fit offspring is dictated by the habitat and niche the species has adapted to. If the offspring are born into hostile environments, they must be strong when they emerge into it.
Human offspring are born into a world with its own unique set of perils. By the time the child grows up, he must develop a wide range of abilities to cope with the complex world he is born into. If he does not, he will not be successful. Raising a human child is an intense and difficult process for this reason.
Humans mature slowly at almost every stage of their life. From the moment of conception. a single child brings with him a great deal of effort. Gestation takes the greater part of a year and takes a heavy toll on the mother. Her body undergoes a great deal of physiological changes in order to support the offspring. For most of the pregnancy, she is incapacitated from doing many activities she would normally be able to do as part of her daily life.
Once the child is born, it still requires a great deal of attention and support during the first few years of his life. Many mammals, when separated from their mothers at a young age, are able to survive on their own. Most humans, even in the most primitive settings, would be unable to do so until they are well into their adolescence. People are simply not equipped with the instinctive knowledge other animals have. Humans can only counteract this with many years of development.
Our ancestors came up with many strategies to deal with these biological shortcomings. The most prevalent and successful is the creation of the nuclear family. The concept of a family reaches beyond culture and time. Since the dawn of man, they have been a constant source of support, cooperation, and survival. The family is there for a person over the span of his entire life. They are a basic building block in human survival and happiness.
In ancient and feudal societies, the family was central to the way of life. It provided much of the safety net that modern governments provide today. It provided a stable environment for both men and women to contribute raising offspring. If one became injured and unable to work, his family would care for him until he became well. When old age came, a man could depend on his family to provide for him when he became too feeble to do so himself.
Customs in these societies dictated when and how family members would share resources and cooperate. Cultures adapted to the general circumstances that their environment put upon them. Many families in these societies had a strict structure. Each member was delegated with an important role. Everyone had to perform that role in order for the system as a whole to work.
Concepts such as paying dowry when a daughter was married, all inheritance passing to the eldest son, and marriage without the possibility of divorce seem strange and foreign to modern people. The common criticism is that they unnecessarily limited freedom and encouraged inequality. This was not the case to the people who used them. To the societies that created them, they served an important role in daily life.
Modernity is a stranger to theses customs because it no longer needs them. Technological advancements allow these old customs to be replaced. Family in the western world has grown increasingly weaker since the enlightenment. Many of these archaic cultural practices have disappeared completely. Children no longer need to stay close to home to help with the harvest. They need to move to a big city, where all of the jobs are. Women are no longer needed to raise children. They can put all of their offspring into daycares while they are improving their careers. The elderly no longer need to be taken care of. They can now be monitored at all hours of the day in retirement homes.
With each passing year, the family has become less important to human existence. Modernity has a propensity to sunder ties of kinship. It is not hard to imagine a future where they are no longer necessary. When that day comes, living with a traditional family will be a disadvantage. It will burden anyone who dares to use it with unnecessary restrictions. Taking a year off of their job to care of their sick father would be nothing more than a hassle. He would loose invaluable job experience that would hurt his career.
In many aspects, modernity has declared war on the family. Ultra-modernist political systems call for a utopian society where everyone is treated equally. The very concept of family subverts this sort of society. When a fire breaks out, a mother will always choose to save her own child over anyone else.
There are certain things that a family provides that modernity will never be able to replace. No matter how productive someone is without a family, he has lost an immeasurable source of human identity. The closer two people are related, the more likely that they will come to each others aid. Humanity, since its inception, has always gained a great sense of happiness and purpose from family. Without families, we can never be a son, daughter, father, mother, sister, or brother to someone else.
These relationships mean something more than pure, raw survival. The roots of these relationships grow deep within our genetic make up. We have inherited them from our ancestors. To have a family is part of what it means to be a person. Until we stop being human, family will always be central to our lives.