Young Lovers, In It for the Long Haul Commentator Frank Schaeffer got his 17-year-old girlfriend pregnant -- and 36 years later, they are still married. Schaeffer is the author of the novel Baby Jack.

Young Lovers, In It for the Long Haul

Young Lovers, In It for the Long Haul

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Commentator Frank Schaeffer got his 17-year-old girlfriend pregnant — and 36 years later, they are still married. Schaeffer is the author of the novel Baby Jack.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

The rate of teen pregnancy has been going down in the U.S. for the last 15 years. It's now lower than it was in the 1970s. But that is when commentator Frank Schaeffer's story about teen pregnancy begins.

FRANK SCHAEFFER: When I was 17, I got my girlfriend pregnant. I was lucky. I loved Jeanie and she loved me. We married and our families were supportive. They needed to be. It was a financial struggle and a dauntingly steep learning curve. Thankfully, our immaturity was balanced by passion and my wife's ability to forgive.

That was 36 years ago. Okay. I admit, pat yourself on the back hindsight is obnoxious, but please indulge my gloating directed at those who said we'd made a terrible mistake. We're still married, still in love. Still forgiving and being forgiven.

I know there are huge drawbacks to marrying very young let alone impregnating teenage girlfriends. I have two sons and a daughter and they grew up on our stories of how they should not do what we did. My daughter waited until the ripe age of 20 to marry and had her first child at 22. Some of her friends thought that she started having children too young. What did they mean?

Biologically speaking women in their young 20's are at an ideal age to conceive and have a healthy child. There are plenty of people ready to frown on young child bearing and young love. Take the well-intentioned, condom clutching educators eager to explain for the millionth time the dangers of everything, especially unprotected sex. There are also the pious spreading the word on abstinence as if sex should be treated like a suspicious package at an airport, and there is corporate America that wants undistracted workers lured by career and money. Not young parents who might find they love their children more than any job.

The worriers and fretters frowning on taking young love too seriously can be wrong. Sometimes the result of their dogma is middle-aged adults pushing a stroller while looking so very tired. Many of my friends are belatently discovering parenthood at 40, even 50. They won't live to see their grandchildren. They planned themselves right out of the most fulfilling human experience, the continuity of life.

When I'm out shopping with my 13-year-old granddaughter and someone asks me if she's my daughter and I tell them she's my granddaughter, I enjoy their incredulous reaction. But I'm the age most grandfathers were before education, career, love, sex and child bearing were separated into unnatural watertight compartments.

For a society that pays lip service to all things organic, have we ignored nature's message about the right time to have children, maybe even the right time to fall in love. My granddaughter is nature, too. So am I and I'm having a lot of fun watching her try on shoes. It makes the tears of youthful parenting all those years ago worth it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not hoping my grandchildren start having babies anytime soon but I am hoping they realize that concentrating on education, career and money has little value unless those things help build a life full of love and joy. And I hope they listen to their hearts when life happens.

SIEGEL: Frank Schaffer is the author of the novel Baby Jack. He lives in Salisbury, Massachusetts.

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