In the wake of the latest massacre in our country by a severely troubled male wielding a semi-automatic rifle, it is clear that we need further regulation of that sacrosanct 2nd amendment right of the people to keep and bear arms.
But that’s not all we need. Americans need to step up their level of commitment on two fronts. One of them is commitment to another person in a relationship, namely marriage; and more importantly, their commitment to the children that any union – marriage or otherwise - produces.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes brought up the subject of commitment and marriage during his homily at the Nuestra Senora de las Aguas Catholic Church Fiesta mass in Mongmong. Normally during a Catholic mass, you hear prayer intentions for an increase in the vocations for priests and nuns. But Byrnes said he prays for an increase in the vocation of marriage. As a life-long Catholic, I didn’t realize that marriage was a vocation, but as presented by Byrnes, it made sense – whether or not you are Catholic. He revealed some bleak statistics about the state of Catholic marriage here on Guam: In the 1970s there were an average of 710 marriages per year on our tiny island. In 2010, that number had dropped to an average of about 180 marriages per year – an approximately 75 percent decrease. And it’s not just on Guam.
A March 2015 article in the National Catholic Reporter states that Catholic marriages in the U.S. were at their lowest point since 1965 - a 63 percent decline. And it’s not just religious marriages.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 1960, 72 percent of all adults ages 18 and older were married; by 2011, just 51percent were. A 2015 article in the Washington Post analyzing 144 years of marriage and divorce rates in the U.S. confirms that since the 1980s, overall marriage rates in the United States have taken a nosedive, and are actually at their lowest point since 1870.
Back to the Archbishop: If you are single, Byrnes said it is easy to just check out and do your own thing. But when you are married, you are face to face with someone every day who demands your love. If you and your spouse or partner have children, they are especially demanding of your time and your love. You have to lay down your own preferences daily for those of another. Every committed parent knows this. Whether you are Catholic, another religion, agnostic, or even atheist, what Byrnes said makes sense. Our default (original sin if you are Catholic) as human beings is selfishness. And it makes sense that if there is a lack of willingness of people to commit to one another, or to commit to a family - guess who suffers.
My sister teaches at a middle school in rural Ohio. She has seen more than her share of troubled, gut-angry students, with one or both parents either drug-addicted, work-addicted, or who have simply left, abdicating their parental responsibility to that of a relative, the state, or the streets. “Neglect is the most under-recognized form of child abuse in this country,” she says.
When I was a reporter, John Weisenberger, the former public guardian with the Attorney General’s office, used to tell me that when he saw troubled children and teens in court, nine times out of 10, if they were able to get the parents reinvested in the child’s life, the child did a 180-degree turnabout.
This parenting commitment issue is important because the 19-year old who shot up the Parkland, Florida high school was a troubled child. Adopted at a young age, his father died several years ago and his mother died in November. He suffered from depression and was prone to angry outbursts, according to former classmates. We’re not sure why, and none of this excuses his horrific actions. But we all know kids like this – or our children do. The devastation of abandonment or neglect manifests itself in volatile ways. Add unfettered access to a semi-automatic gun and, well, we know what happens.
What is the answer? Many things. Realistic, rational gun control is only a part of the solution. Family intervention. Drug rehabilitation programs. Jobs that allow people to support their families, but that also allow them to spend time with family. Birth control (not abortion, the before you get pregnant kind). Commitment – whether through religious or civil marriage, whether they are of the opposite or same sex - to each other and to raising the child or children they have created or adopted. If we don’t fix these things, more neglected kids will fall into this growing fault our society has created, emerging as angry, depressed young adults. They’ll pick up a gun, a knife, drive a car into a crowd, or do something else to lash out at society.
Commitment isn’t easy. But it is necessary to help fix what seriously ails our nation.
Jayne Flores is a long-time journalist. She currently works at Guam Community College.