I was 15 when I went on my first date. It was to a quincea√±era, the traditional 15th birthday celebration that serves as the coming-out ball of Hispanic girls.
My mother and I, in a flutter, began preparations immediately. With the seamstress we planned the gown, white tulle, sweetheart neckline and wide crinoline skirt.
We bought my first heels — high — and started to practice gracefulness. Sharp pointy heel down, smooth and lissome follow-through with the ball of the foot, no jerky knees or awkward wobbles.
“Una se√±orita fina camina como una reina!” my mom told me. “A classy se√±orita walks like a queen!”
The morning of the “quince,” we went to the salon where for the first time my nails were painted red, the fine, dark hair on my upper lip was bleached white and my unibrow eliminated: Mine was the kind of face the salon women were used to.
With my hair swept up and earrings borrowed from Mami’s piteously scant jewelry box, my little brothers awed at their suddenly womanly sister. Meanwhile, my best friend and I waited for our double dates, wafting perfume.
When the two 16-year-olds arrived in one of their families’ cars, they had on their suits and ties.
Mami and Papi, and my friend’s Mami and Papi, headed to the party also. They climbed into my father’s car, men in the front, women in the back, and followed directly behind us.
They parked near the quincea√±era house and waited for us, talking and napping, until the party ended in the wee hours. We drove home, our parents just behind us. Our mothers slept in the back seat, our fathers peered into our back window, shepherds looking tenderly after their vulnerable sheep. The memory melts my heart.
Does this scene seem impossibly distant in time and place? It happened right here in the United States in the late 1980s. After that first date, I went on many others, always with a “chaperona” for my safety and reputation, and of course to ensure the good behavior of my date.
The idea was that even at the age of 15, we were quite right to delight in our beauty and our desirability to the male of the species — no burkas or prairie dresses for us. Our dating was honorable and safe because it assumed and insisted on the avoidance of sex until marriage, and that would be a union permanent, exclusive, fruitful and faithful.
We would be safeguarded and shielded by our fathers until we were given over to our next devoted protectors: our husbands. If all went well, we would be as pure and heart-whole as the day we were born.
As I write these words, I am imagining the indignant reaction of a modern feminist reader, and that in my story about tender protection she’ll only perceive condescension and oppression. My imaginary reader is confident that the sexual revolution of the 1960s released women from dependency on fathers and husbands by erasing ancient connections between courting and sex, marriage and children.
“Deus ex machina,” the birth control pill arrived to finally set things right, freeing both men and women from the remorseless association between healthy sexual attraction and the appearance of a wailing mouth to feed some nine months later.
With premarital pregnancy no longer a danger, a father didn’t have to guard the daughter that to him was a vision of the heavenly, an aristocratic purity.
Instead, he could send her to the wild bacchanalia of college and tell himself and his wife that when sex occurred it would be “safe,” because she had been prudently taken to the gynecologist the summer of her senior year of high school.
When his daughter finally married, she and her husband would plan exactly the number and timing of their children, calculated around their jobs and financial situation.
It’s been more than 50 years since the ground shifted and all the rules changed, and my modern feminist reader believes that we live now in a better world. But the dismal evidence of her error is all around us.
Soul-destroying hookups, pornography addictions for men, soft-porn Instagram accounts for girls, loneliness for everyone, single motherhood for way too many. The honorable and romantic institution of marriage is disappearing, replaced by practical arrangements that lend themselves to casual reshuffling.
When households are disbanded, everyone pretends that the children will be just fine. Dating and courting are quaint old-wives’ tales, and young women drink to lower their inhibitions so that they can function in a dating marketplace with sex as their only (devalued) currency.
The birth rate has dropped to dangerous levels as children are no longer perceived as blessings but as expensive and demanding complications. And, in a nightmarish next stop in the liberation train ride, our sexuality has become a matter of identity, with fluid options and variations that would make an ancient pagan blush.
Amazingly, a lifelong celibate man, living in a world far from marriage and courting daughters, prophesied with a startling clearness of vision the darkness of the future that awaited us.
In 1968, Pope Paul VI wrote in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”) that turning sex into a casual pleasure would cause men to “forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
When this happens it is not only women who are damaged, but the characters of men who are debased by becoming predators instead of guardians of the vulnerable. And all of society is coarsened in turn.
I was luckily insulated by my old-fashioned, pre-revolution upbringing, and I even think that the best things in my life, my husband and five children, have come to me in a large part because of it. My father and mother accompanying me on my first date does seem a little preposterous.
But that young me, in high heels and with the posture of a queen, was perfectly convinced by their watchfulness of her enormous dignity and importance.
That sense of my own worth would save me from countless heartaches in the coming years, and would attract to me a man eager to take my father’s place as my protector. When we married, my husband and I never thought of preventing our children.
We were eager to welcome our own treasures into the world and begin our own turns at jealously guarding them. Being open to life during medical school was crazy difficult, but it was also glorious. We were fatigued, but so very happy. I have the cheerful videos to prove it.
I don’t think I would have to prove it to Pope Paul. He knew that human flourishing is not so complicated.
Take good care of your girls and teach your boys to reverence them the way they deserve. And everything else will fall into place.
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, coming to the U.S. at the age of 11. She has written for USA TODAY, National Review, The Washington Post and The New York Times, and has appeared on CNN, Telemundo, Fox News and EWTN. She practices radiology in the Miami area, where she lives with her husband and five children.
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