Hello all. Valerie has commissioned me to write a little review of what’s coming up in the next few months, because interesting times are on us, apparently all at once. Usually, I’m not allowed to write up the family news because I get stuck in the theory of it. It’s not my habit to say anything important without explaining it from the foundation up. I don’t intend to start that kind of thing now, so you’ll have to forgive me for long-windedness. However, even though it’s messy, in order to be kind, I’ll give you the scoop before the cone:
The bad news is that I am not announcing any new babies coming into our home. The good news is that we are laying a foundation for a life that is more condusive to baby-bringing. Two things are about to happen: We’re buying a house, and I’m joining the Army (reserves).
Believe me, they’re connected. The house part, I think, is easy to see as a universal good. How can owning a home be bad? Unfortunately, a universal good is not always uniformly good. For us, buying a house means that our total debt levels rise to the neighborhood of $255,000 – more than a quarter million – which is to say: a lot. And it’s not that we’re buying a mansion somewhere. About 2/3 of that will be school debt, which has been hanging like an anvil from my neck since we quit schooling. As best I can tell, there has been almost no direct financial benefit from all that educatin’. Valerie might have gotten her job as a result of her education, but the return has not been in proportion to the investment.
And this (partially) is where the Army thing comes in. I get a $20K bonus for joining. There is another potential $20K school debt waiver. That money could immediately reduce our payments in the neighborhood of $350 a month. Plus there is the pay during training, which will be greater than what I’m making at my job, and again in the event of active duty. And this is reserves, which means that, while I may be an absent father for a little while, my family stays rooted, which is important to us, particularly in the light of the house we’re about to buy.
For those who worry, my official enlistment in the Army looks to be this Friday, but basic training is likely not to begin before November, so there will be plenty of time to transition into a home before I have to leave for a time.
Now that was the bare bones report. Next comes my dreary reasoning. If all you needed was the facts, read no further; what follows is philosophy.
When Valerie and I first began to pursue a life together, from all appearances, she was the dedicated career woman, and I the hopeless drifter. Her unceasing ambition from childhood had been to become a doctor. She was enrolled in biology, pre-med. I was getting a degree in English, with the nascent idea of becoming a poet, or maybe a fantasy author. I had a memory of a desire to become a minister of some kind, if ever I got the theology figured out. Sappy romanticism was in my blood.
In fact, so romantic was I that the idea of a wife who was permanently chained to her career was ugly to me. So as we started talking about getting married, I started insisting that, if Valerie ever took it into her head to become a stay-at-home mom instead, I’d find a way to make it happen. Though I didn’t know what it meant, I meant it just the same.
Rush forward a few years. We have incurred a mountain of debt and Valerie has made a discovery: At least during the early years, raising children is the most demanding, rewarding, and absolutely vital role a woman could ever fill. (I say “during the early years” because, as children grow older, that responsibility shifts from the mother to the father. As they come into this world, the mother raises them, and the father helps. As they approach adulthood, it shifts to the father doing the raising and the mother who helps.) I ask a question: granted that it’s sometimes financially necessary and can’t be helped, is child-rearing the sort of thing that can be outsourced? Outsourcing is the process of taking relatively low-skilled work and assigning it to a secondary party that can perform it at a reduced cost, thereby freeing up time and resources that can be applied to more vital work. Is it appropriate to give over child-rearing for the greater part of the day to a secondary party so that a mother has the time and resources to pursue a career? Valerie’s answer is that child-rearing is more important for a mother to do than to pursue a career. The only time it’s right for a mom to put her kids in day care is if she has to in order to put food on the table.
That’s the sound of the gauntlet being thrown to the ground. The food on the table bit is my job. In my book, a wife should have the liberty to work because she wants to, not because she has to. Unfortunately, we have a quarter million dollars worth of ‘want to’ that have become ‘have to’ on the sly. And for the last year at least, the elimination of that impediment has been my highest, most consuming goal (save one – the reformation of my soul according to the image of Jesus Christ, the recovery of a deep devotional life. But in my mind, the two are linked considerably.)
I have got to find a way to make more money. But my options for doing so are limited. Now I need a career, and nothings coming to me. Poetry and theology aren’t exactly the big money makers. An MBA or accounting degree involve moving first in exactly the wrong direction. And lo, here is the military siting out with a solution: immediate debt reduction, supplemental pay, and the ability to acquire the sort of experience that can transition into a well-paying civilian career.
Still, joining the Army strikes a lot of people as a sort of drastic decision, especially if you drop it on them all at once. It demands long hours, takes you away from your family for extended periods of time, and then there’s the risk of physical harm. People in the Army can get shot!
It does, and they do, but Valerie and I have discussed these things for some time, and decided that the cause is worth the risk. It’s that important for her not to have to work until the kids are grown. The benefits of joining the military are high, but the diminish with time. The costs of joining are also high and they increase with time. Ten years ago, without a family, I could have joined as active duty with no constraints. Today, I may be to old to become an officer. Another ten years, and I would be too old to join at all.
Joining the army also isn’t only about income. There’s also the issue of patriotism, which I mention quietly, because it’s out of favor lately. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have joined any branch for any amount of money. I loved my country, but not like that. I thought I could love the people and have no respect for their government. I’ve reversed that position now. I had a similar problem theologically: I thought you could love the church without loving churches.
But as I’ve been growing in my theology, I’ve come to the conclusion that God believes in government, because he desires order. He intended man to be the superintendent over all creation, to create networks and systems and economies. God established authority from the beginning, and expects us to submit to it and participate in it’s administration, rather than sliding out from under it through some anabaptist clause. Therefore I have a duty, not just to government in the idea, but to my government. This government to which I have a duty is the same government that is willing to give out generous gifts I really need, in order to fill its ranks with quality men. So it seems that the cause is doubly worth the risk.
I told Valerie that, in light of this line of thinking, I needed to either join the military or serve some time in local politics. Even though I understand politicking is more lucrative, she said she’d rather I joined army.