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“Reason my son
Should choose himself a wife, but as good reason
The father, all whose joy is nothing else
But fair posterity, should hold some counsel
In such a business.”
Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale
[Polixenes, King of Bohemia, to his son.]

How does one choose a spouse? Such is a topic worthy of careful consideration. Here Shakespeare offers what might be a couple helpful principles for all involved in such discernment—beginning with the point that perhaps more people should be involved than often are.

In A Winter’s Tale Polixenes’ son Florizel has fallen in love and, convinced that his father will not approve, intends to marry without even consulting him. This elicits, when his father finds out, the quoted correction. What is Polixenes’ saying? It seems he offers at least two principles.

First, reason should choose a spouse. This in itself is significant. Marriage, given the amazing, complex, and demanding reality it is, is at root a matter of rational discernment. Yet as the plays of Shakespeare surely highlight, this in no way shortchanges the role of love; rather, right reason gives form and direction to love, as the banks to a river.

The second principle is that the reason of parents should, by the design of nature, have a unique counselling input. This raises many issues regarding how this should be done, and it goes without saying that this can go amiss.

I wish to make but one observation here, namely, what a challenge this is for a father. Shakespeare says of the father that “all [his] joy is nothing else but fair posterity.” Rightly considered, I think this means that central to my life is the intention of the good of my children, and their children. This is not about me, or simply my having posterity. It’s all about them.

If I have reason in me then there is scarce any greater use to which I can put my deliberative power than to helping my children discern their path in life, and this especially as regards their love and marriage. What must I do to be the kind of man that is capable of being there for my children in this most serious of matters? How must I live and act toward them, such they would gladly seek, and can reasonably trust, the counsel I might give? Is this not a central aspect of my fatherhood, something for which I am preparing both them and myself from the first moment of becoming a father?

Polixenes’ words move me to reconsider how to be a father in view of my unique role in forming and serving my children in their using reason well, in love and in all areas of life.

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