04 May, 2009

Kisses aren't Contracts

There are times I believe that a career in sociology would have suited.  I am drawn to cultures, behaviors, societies, morays, conventions, and the impact each has on a person or a group of people.  Honestly though, who isn't?  Changing the way men view their role in the American family is one of my current passions.  I firmly believe that men and society need to come to terms with the role of Dad and protect that part of the family.  It is complex; it requires men and women working together; and it requires changing generations of thinking regarding men and their kids or their role.  It is huge.
Of late, I have moved on.  This is not to say that I will ever stop advocating for men and society to view the role of the dad to be as significant as it is.  Not at all.  If you ever see a speaking tour on this issue or literature out there focused upon helping men and women to see the importance of dad - well, you might see my name associated with it.  I believe very strongly in this issue.  Right now though, right now I am intrigued by the importance that we, as a society, place on written contracts or simple pieces of paper with writing.
I know, I know, you are thinking "What is she on about now?"
I am on about paper and contracts.  I am on about people needing to "see it in writing" before they believe something to be true.
It wasn't too very long ago that people, all over the world, relied heavily on integrity.  No need for paper and pen; no need for lawyers, people trusted one another.  A verbal contract, so to speak, was all that needed to be exchanged. People traded, they bartered, they believed in "rain checks."
Now there is a need to see everything in writing.  Paper and pen are required.  We don't trust anyone without a written agreement between both parties agreeing that this is what is going to happen.
In some cases, I understand this.  I am having work done on my house over the summer.  A contract is required so that the contractor and I are on the same page and understand exactly what he is going to do and what my expectations are in the final product.  I understand this.
Similarly, I understand that people are often employed via contract, secure loans via contract, and invest via contract.  These are large, tangible, agreements that require paper and pen.  Why do they require paper and pen. well, because we want to know the rules.  We want to have realistic expectations, and we want to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  Things are spelled out clearly.  Everything is discussed before signature.  Everyone understands the arrangement and the expectations.
Okay, it is also possible that we just don't trust one another to that extent - perhaps?
But what about matters that are of the intangible variety?    Have we become so obsessed with paper and pen and written contracts that we try to control the non-tangible or the emotional in such a manner as well?
Marriage is one such notion.  There are those that might believe that signing the marriage license means that the love and the relationship will last forever.  "You have to love me.  You can't change.  We signed a contract."  We forget that the marriage contract doesn't lay out what is required from both parties; it doesn't control expectations.  It is, in fact, vague and very singular to the relationship and the individuals involved.
Yet, some attempt to control it as if it is  a contract - like buying a house or obtaining a loan.  There may be a sense of entitlement or ownership; a sense of control where actually none exists.
Parenting can be viewed similarly (and here I get back on my soapbox to some extent.)  As a society we place a great deal of value on signatures, birth certificates, and names on dotted lines.  It appears, at times, that we are more concerned with the blood line in a family than the emotional balance  and completion of that family.  A parent can sign a birth certificate and prove to be far less than a loving parent.  A parent can not be part of the child's blood line at all and yet, provide that child with the love and support required.
My dad's biological father disappeared when my dad was 3 years old.  From that point on, there was no child support, no visitation, no support of any kind.  The one and only time I met my biological grandfather, my grandmother had to tell my dad who it was prior to his arrival at the front door.
That said, my "grandpa" raised my dad as his own.  He wasn't related to my dad in any sense of the word beyond being married to my grandmother and loving my dad with his entire heart.  That man was my dad's Dad; that man was my Grandpa; and that man modeled the great Papa, my dad has become to my daughter.
Yet that man's name is not on my dad's birth certificate.  His DNA doesn't match my dad's DNA.  To some, these two facts matter more than the love my grandpa felt for and gave so freely and unconditionally to my dad.  In my grandpa's heart, my dad was his son.
Love.  Love is not about the paper and the pen.  It isn't about expectations and requirements.  It is not quantifiable or controllable in most instances.  Love breathes and lives and thrives.  It is what makes a parent a parent.  It is what makes a relationship a relationship.
Integrity and love.
At some point along the way have we lost sight of these concepts?  Have we become so distrustful and controlling that we have forgotten  the essence of both?


dadshouse said...

I have a divorce agreement in writing, and it has been helpful to keep the peace with my ex. Though I think California law, and common practice for divorce, sets a pretty good precedent for how we're supposed to get along.

But a divorce agreement has nothing to do with love. On the love front, you're right, it's just love love love. It's there are it's not. It can't be written into or out of existence.

Mark said...

This is a great and important post! Yes, we have fallen into the trap of legal papers. Parents are not made by a signature on a birth. I long for a time when a man's words was his bond, deals were sealed with a handshake and there was no question because a deal was a deal.