News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 24, 2006

Pete Chalos: Traditional family unit has served America well

Much has been said concerning the institution of marriage this past few years. Elements of our society have been trying their best to redefine marriage. Every American tradition associated with raising a family has been questioned by some group or another. Some feel the rules concerning marriage and family have changed because our society has taken progressive leaps beyond any society the world has ever known. Others feel we are losing touch with the time-tested wisdom of our fathers and the tradition this great nation was founded upon.

Every great empire in history has made progress, peaked, and then began to decline before eventually being replaced by another. Some of these great societies stayed on top for thousands of years. Others lasted only a few hundred years before crashing back down to third-world status. The USSR was a major world power just a few years ago. Now, the Great Bear has been replaced by a dozen small nations with little power. It is hard to hold onto power. One false move and it shifts into the hands of another.

A society that progresses too far in one direction or another may tip the scales and end up falling flat on its face. A balance between liberal notions and conservative ideals must be kept. Moving too fast in one direction can be a mistake.

Is our great nation experiencing progress in the realm of family or is our nation’s foundation being challenged? Are we going too far in one direction? Have we moved past progress to the edge of reason?

The divorce rates started to skyrocket in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, the popular media would have us believe that 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. The truth is that the overall divorce rates abruptly stopped going up around 1980. Last year, Dr. Andrew J. Cherlin, professor of public policy in the sociology department at Johns Hopkins University, explained that the crude divorce rate has actually been going down. “Whether the rates will ultimately reach 45 percent or 50 percent over the next few decades are just projections. None of them are ironclad.”

What is certain is that divorce is now an accepted part of everyday life in America. Everyone knows a divorced couple. Some of our friends and family members may have divorced a number of times. When Mormons speak of polygamy, they are speaking of having five or six wives at once. The rest of America laughs at this notion. Meanwhile, many Americans have five or six wives — only, one at a time.

The impact high divorce rates have had on our nation has been felt most by our children. These days, it seems as though everything the child needs comes in a distant second to what the parent wants. The child is carted back and forth from parent to parent. The child is used as a bargaining chip. The child is sometimes cast aside along with the spouse as one parent seeks out a more “fulfilling” life. The child’s needs are not put first and in many cases the child’s needs aren’t even considered.

Another factor affecting the quality of life for our children is the rapidly rising percentage of unwed mothers. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics recently released a report revealing that 35.7 percent of all births were to unmarried women. That translates to about 1.5 million children each year. Nearly three in 10 births to women ages 25 to 29 were to unmarried mothers.

Children in single-parent homes often grow up with half the resources that would have been available to them in a traditional family unit. They often have half the parenting they would have had in a traditional family unit. Grandparents, aunts and uncles might carry some of the load. The government might carry some of the financial burden. The bottom line is that these children have one parent when they should have had two.

Now, homosexuals have come along and asked for the right to marry. Though such a marriage would include two incomes and two parents, there is still something missing. No two mothers can be a father and no two fathers can be a mother.

Marriage is about family and family is about children. The next generation is going to deal with a number of problems that this one is creating for it. The lack of ability this generation seems to have in making sacrifices for its children is going to leave the next generation with a mess none other has ever faced. It’s time we started taking some responsibility for the future of this nation. It’s time we started showing a little respect for the traditions and the wisdom of our fathers as well as the welfare of our children.

The WWII generation didn’t leave America with the crisis this generation is handing its children. They provided stability, they acted as courageous examples, and they made sacrifices so the next generation could prosper. For our current leaders to take the prosperity the previous generations worked for and the freedom those generations fought for and use them as devices to destroy the means those generations used to deliver them to us — the traditional family unit — will ensure our failure to deliver them to the next generation.

Keep America strong by respecting the foundations our great nation was built upon. Respect the traditional family unit. Treasure the lives of your children above your own. Sacrifice for them. Provide for them the best possible future.

Pete Chalos, a longtime teacher, coach and public servant in Vigo County, was mayor of Terre Haute for 16 years. Send e-mail to