2016-06-30
Of the many prejudices prevalent in society, there are two that are rarely addressed. The first is a prejudice against families with many children. I should know: We have seven, thank G-d, and I find myself apologizing wherever I go. The frequent stares loaded with disapproval and scorn seem to imply that the housing crisis in New York and the famine in Ethiopia were caused single-handedly by my own large brood. I suspect that now with seven, I present a most extreme example of selfish overpopulation. But any family with more than three kids meets with subtle, or not so subtle, condemnation from strangers. When I have broached this very issue with others who dare to overpopulate, they relate to the experience of suspicious stares and raised eyebrows. We have grown accustomed to the looks on the faces of strangers-first puzzlement, then pity, then scorn-as they try to fathom why we would voluntarily subject ourselves to such a horrific fate. But while we now know to expect it, I fail to understand it.

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I fail to understand hotel owners who will not accommodate families with more than four children, even if you propose paying for three separate rooms. I am still puzzled when restaurant managers put up reserved signs on empty tables when I appear with my crew, even though the restaurant is nearly empty and our business alone would double their evening's intake.

It got so bad that this year that we decided to take our family vacation in an R.V. so that we could be assured a place to rest our heads at night. We drove across the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, where each night we met families, large and small, sharing space and earth and sustenance around a great fire. Most of these families were not rich, but they were clearly happy. So why can they accept large families, while the privileged vacationers of Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons cannot? What are they scared of?

I suspect that a family with many children implies a backwardness that worries the bourgeois of America. Looking at the birth rates for 2001, the large families cluster outside our Western sphere, while those of us living in the "developed" world stick to our 2.2 children. The United States averaged 14.2 births for every thousand Americans. Our restrained European forefathers in the United Kingdom count only 11.54 per 1,000. And Japan has managed to get down to 10.04 per 1,000. These are the nations we recognize as orderly and civilized. These are the nations that we can relate to.

But look at African nations like Uganda, at 47.52 births per 1,000, or Niger with 50.68 births per 1,000. That is five times the rate of Japan. Fertility like this frightens us. Thus, we conclude, only the "uncivilized third world" would ever venture to have more than three kids.

As a sex and marriage writer, I cannot help wondering, is it the idea of abundant fertility that scares us about large families? When we see a couple with several children we know that they have had an active intimate life. When we see families with many children, and especially young children, we know that somewhere along the line they must be making love. Is this too much intimacy for our Western sensibilities where passion is increasingly missing from marriage? Maybe they miss what these other couples clearly have: a passion and desire for each other that remains years after the honeymoon has ended. Or perhaps it is simply that children are seen as burdensome without the blessing, difficult without the deliverance.

The second prejudice that seems largely overlooked is a cruel disdain against people deemed unattractive by society's standards-or at least those who aren't well-groomed and beautiful. Often the two prejudices come together, as if only those who are ugly or unconventional-looking would be dumb enough to have lots of kids.

A few months ago I traveled to Italy to promote the publication of "Kosher Sex" in Italian (I know what you're thinking: Do the Italians really need advice about sex?). When the promotion ended, my wife met me in the land of espresso and antiquity, after which it was time to return to exciting New Jersey. There was one catch. I, having been flown there by the publisher, was to travel business class, while my wife and our new baby, having been flown there by me, were to travel economy.

I laid down the ultimate sacrifice. "Go ahead," I told her. "You take the business seat." But she wouldn't have it. The economy seat was at the bulkhead, the only place a baby bassinette could be installed. So we made a deal: I would hold the baby for takeoff and landing (when the bassinette could not be used), and my wife would look after him for the remainder of the flight.

Have you ever tried to infiltrate business class holding a baby? Had I arrived with something actually ticking that said "BOMB" in big, bold letters, I would have been accorded a more pleasant reception. Everyone looked at me as if I had boarded with an obvious contagious disease. The baby, coupled with the fact that the guy bringing "it" on board had a yarmulke and an unruly beard (i.e., obviously one of those religious fanatics who is far too fertile by half), had most of the passengers ready to trade in their expensive business-class tickets to fly cargo.

Next, the official persecution began. After great efforts on my part to get settled with my baby into my seat, while maintaining access to the thirty books that I needed to research my next book, the flight attendant walked over. "Is that your seat?" she asked, skepticism oozing out of every well-powdered pore. I confirmed that it was. "Are you sure?" she asked. I confirmed that I was. "I'm going to have to see your boarding pass."

I was indignant. "Let me get this straight," I said to her. "There are thirty passengers in business, and you single me out and demand my boarding pass?"

"If you don't immediately present your boarding pass, I will have you removed from the airplane."

I picked up the baby, removed the library from my lap, reached into the overhead compartment, rummaged through my bag, found the boarding pass, presented it to the stewardess, and took a deep breath. She looked it over. There it was, in black and white, Seat 2F. "Wait here," she said. She went to the front of the aircraft, returning a few minutes later. "Were you upgraded on this flight?" "No," I said, "I was booked in business from the outset." Foiled in her mission to rid business class of beards and babies, she retreated to the other well-coiffed stewardess, and spent the next ten hours whispering and pointing, even after the baby was transferred to to my wife who was sitting with the common folks.

Fast forward, two weeks. I am now traveling first class on a flight from Newark to Dallas, courtesy of a TV station. I have no baby, just a laptop. They announce that First Class passengers may board. I start ambling forward when, pushing through the crowd, I am scuttled aside by a very tall, leggy blonde. Her arrogant demeanor says one thing: model.

Within a few minutes she is ensconced in her bulkhead seat, a pristine white poodle by her side, which she hugs and kisses and shares her drink with. First I have to witness the nauseating spectacle of all of the female flight attendants queuing up to pet the dog. "Oh, is this yours? She's just gorgeous. Oh, Stacy, come and look at this beautiful little furry thing." How my baby and I had earlier been treated immediately comes to mind. Later I notice that the flight attendants pretend not to see when Missy Long Legs holds the pooch during landing when "it" should have been put in its container.

The hypothetical scoreboard high in the clouds reads, Beauty: One, Beard: Zero. Dog: One. Baby: Zero.

I was frankly flummoxed by the degree of attention that was heaped upon this passenger, and how the other women treated her as their natural superior. In 1996, nearly 700,000 Americans underwent plastic surgery for aesthetic purposes. In the U.S. people spend more money on beauty than they do on education or social services-a good illustration of our priorities.

There is something seriously wrong in the world when children are treated as a nuisance while dogs are treated as love objects. And there is something seriously amiss when appearance, rather than actions, can dictate likeability. There is something dangerously off track when men and women who love children, and aren't afraid to have large families, must feel apologetic and guilty for doing so. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, we await the day when our children will be judged by the content of their character rather than the comeliness of their skin. And we await the day when the fact of our children's existence is not judged at all, but seen as the embodiment of infinite blessing.

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