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Natura Feminae

My last post declaring that women were not suited to military combat because it is contrary to their nature provoked a surprising number of responses questioning the distinctions between men and women made manifest in the natural law. Many of the responses were based on anecdotes, a method of argumentation that has its merits but also has its limits.  That being acknowledged, permit me to indulge in the telling of an anecdote of my own, and one that is not related to combat.

Our fourth son, Nathanael, who is nine, sings in his parochial school choir. Last Saturday his choir was invited to serve as the lab-rat choir for a workshop for choir directors in the diocese run by an energetic fellow from Indiana named Jeff. Lab-rat, by the way, is my phrase. I’m sure there is an actual term. I just don’t know it.

I think Nathanael’s choir sings pretty well, but I believe the kids were chosen for their docility. The workshop was called something like “Beautiful Sounds from Average Children.” Other parents my have looked sideways at that title, but it made me smile. Jeff had traveled from Indiana to share a few techniques with other elementary- and middle-school choir directors. I was told once by a musician that it is only a very small percentage of the population that cannot be taught to sing. Jeff had me convinced. I caught the last thirty minutes, and I was impressed.

But I was not impressed with Nathanael’s participation.

He was distracted. He did not pay attention. He was not looking at the lyrics. He was not following the choir director. He was slouching in his chair. My dear wife, Jackie, noticed his vacant behavior, too.

I said to her, “What he’s doing in choir if he’s not going to participate?”

She answered, “He’s not well.”

Now look, I’ve been a dad for two decades. (Two decades exactly this month.) And I’m a thoroughly modern dad. Well, that’s not true, but I have logged many hours in the domestic sick bay. The fact is, I learned long ago that when it comes to diagnosing our boys, Jackie has it all over me. It probably took me more years to accept this truth than it should have, but after a few occasions when I dismissed a red throat and a low fever, and Jackie said, “It’s strep,” and the cultures came back positive, I learned to step aside.

So, on Saturday, when Jackie told me that Nathanael’s restless behavior at his choir workshop was because he was sick, I said, “He’s just being flaky; he really wishes he were sledding with his buds.” But then I caught myself. “Of course, when the boys are sick, you can tell.”

Well, it’s true. Jackie can diagnose a sick boy from across an auditorium, and when we got home and stuck the thermometer under Nathanael’s tongue, it registered 102.5.

All this is by way of saying that where Dad saw a boy looking to avoid some extra effort, Mom saw a kid under the weather. Why? It’s not complicated. Sensing when her sons are ill is in Jackie’s nature. It’s not in mine, not much, anyway. My nature, considerably reinforced by my time as a Marine Corps artillery officer, is to push my boys when they appear to slack off. I thank God for a wife who knows when to step in and say her boy is genuinely not well, and I think I can say with some confidence (but to be sure, you’ll have to ask her) that Jackie thanks God for a husband who is ever looking to demand more of his sons.

The jury is still out on our boys, and Jackie and I may well have gone to our reward before that verdict is returned, but both of us understand that we have unique roles to play in bringing our sons back to the God who gave them to us, and we have found that trusting the other’s natural gifts has served us well thus far.

Oh. One thing more: After we got home, gave Nathanael some ginger ale, and tucked him in front of an episode of Sponge Bob, our 16-year-old, John Paul, and I busted out the power tools and installed in our kitchen the new range hood that Jackie picked out.

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