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Jewish World Review May 24, 1999 /9 Sivan 5759

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His, mine, ours -- and priorities

(JWR) ---- (
I HAD ONE OF THE MOST remarkable experiences on my radio program recently. A 32-year-old woman called extolling the virtues of her same-aged man. Although neither had ever been married, he had fathered a child at 19. The child's mother had died in a car accident, and her parents adopted the baby to raise. In spite of these logistical realities, he had spent the last 13 years of his daughter's life providing financial support and a loving presence.

I commented on what a "good guy" he must be. She echoed my sentiments. I then wondered aloud, "What could be the problem?" The answer took me a bit by surprise. She wanted to know how she could get that behavior to stop when they got married and had kids of their own.

"Wait a minute," I countered, "I thought you just said that you respected and admired his sense of responsibility and commitment. Now you're telling me that the very thing that attracts you to him is what you want him to stop doing once the wedding cake is eaten?"

"Well, yes. I guess it sounds selfish, but I don't really think so. After all, isn't it my responsibility to make sure that the needs of the children I make are not compromised? Don't my children come first?"

I said that I was somewhat surprised by her question. That may seem strange considering the numerous such calls I get, especially from women, who want to kick out of the picture any of "his" kids from prior relationships or marriages.

What surprised me in this situation was the obvious respect she showed at first for his parental efforts. I didn't expect that respect to turn into rivalrous disdain.

This attitude of "there shall be no children before mine," is, of course, a selfish one. It is reminiscent of much of what you may see on the Discovery Channel or in National Geographic specials, wherein a new male bear or lion, for example, may kill the female's cubs, then mate with her in order to project his genetics into the future without competition. With animals, perhaps, this makes sense, because survival is the virtual point of existence.

Schoolchildren are taught about "survival of the fittest" as the code of the wild. Human beings are not limited by the instinctual, biological constraints of the rest of the animal kingdom. Human beings are capable of morality, ideals, codes of ethics, and holiness. Biblical scripture is replete with references to and appeals for compassion for the weak, dependent and helpless; in the animal kingdom, they become food.

It is important that we recognize that morality and holiness are optional; they are not instinctive drives and are often ignored because they do not necessarily lead to concrete benefits.

America's Declaration of Independence states that through our Creator, all people have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately, that doesn't clarify that while each of us is entitled to these rights as determined by G-d, each of us is obligated to be vigilant about the same rights for others, and even sacrifice at times for the well-being of others.

Another caller on the same day was aware of this latter obligation. Some 16 years ago his father-in-law and wife died two days apart. He'd asked his mother-in-law to come and live with him and his three young daughters to help raise them. The girls are all grown up. The mother-in-law, in her mid-70s, is still living with him. He's been dating a woman for about a year and was considering marriage until it became clear that having the two women under the same roof just wasn't going to work.

"After my mother-in-law sacrificed everything to help me, I don't see how I can now put her out just to get married," he said compassionately. He had to put his "selfish" desires aside to repay someone an important debt. Since his mom-in-law was no longer "useful," many might say that it is his right to happiness --- and she'd do well in a "home." He simply felt it was wrong --- and he was right. This is a noble kind of guy.

To the woman with the problem with her boyfriend's 13-year-old daughter, I said, "There isn't a his and mine when you marry someone with children. It's an ours. And how could you possibly begrudge his daughter some hours even at a time inconvenient to you when your kids will share a roof with him daily?"

Happily, she got it --- even if she didn't like it. Every day, we each have the choice to rise above our animal selves --- or not.


05/17/99: Polluted waters of society are killing our fish fry
05/10/99:Good teachers offer more than 3 R's
05/03/99: Cybersex survey a travesty of science
04/19/99: Legal abortion not the salvation that feminists claim
04/12/99: Moral parents struggle against upside-down value system
03/31/99: Children need attention before they cry out for it
03/29/99: Family values fall victim to advertising whims
03/19/99: Snooping can be healthy if it saves a child in trouble
03/05/99: Traditional religions offer optimism to adherents
03/05/99: Tearing down foundations, brick by brick
02/26/99: With power comes obligation to lead by example
02/19/99: National Prayer Breakfast inspires public servants
02/12/99: Overcoming selfishness leads us closer to human potential
02/09/99: Youth's difficult lessons make us better adults
02/02/99: Rituals, icons remind us of our obligation to G-d
01/22/99: 'Consenting adults' don't always examine consequences
01/18/99: Day care no substitute for love of mom and dad
01/08/99: Don't use others' misfortunes to build your self-image
12/31/98: Tracking HIV-infected people makes good sense
12/24/98: How can we teach ethics without defining morals?
12/18/98: Parents afraid of firm values leave their children adrift
12/11/98: Spread righteousness by refusing to accept the 'code'

©1999, Universal Press Syndicate