One Guy’s Challenges by John Brennan

April 18, 2022 Article by  

My wife Cassandra and I were married May, 1, 1993. From the beginning of our marriage we wanted to understand and practice natural family planning as the means by which we could live out our vows to each other as well as the Catholic Church’s teachings on the beauty and power of human sexuality. This led us to take classes in NFP in Sacramento at Mercy General hospital. There we were taught the biological observations that we needed to make and track regarding Cassandra’s cycles. More importantly, though, we learned a more holistic approach to human sexual relations in marriage. For the initiated, you know what I’m talking about: SPICE – the Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Communicative, and Emotional dimensions of our relationships as husbands and wives that need to be balanced to have a healthy, strong marriage. As everyone trying to live out NFP soon finds out, however, there are challenges to this method that inevitably arise, some from nature and some from nurture.

As a guy, I struggled with the necessary periodic abstinences that make NFP effective. I know Cassandra appreciates the patience and self-control I exercised during extended fertile times when by medical advice we had to abstain. In hindsight, however, I do remember not really and effectively working on alternative physical displays of love, as well as nourishing our emotional relationship. It has taken me years to learn how to express my affection in non-sexual ways while also being more emotionally aware of Cassandra’s needs. Ironically my oldest daughter Grace was one of my biggest helps when she turned me onto Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, shortly before her own wedding. I would recommend this book to any married couple trying to improve their communication as well as learning to understand their spouse’s needs.

Even though I myself came from a large family of sevem kids, I struggled with openness to life. Back 20 years ago or more, I told my personal physician that we were practicing NFP. He told me, quite seriously, “Then you’ll have a large family.” I didn’t take him seriously then, because I felt we were smart enough, had the self-control and had the tools to limit our family’s size to some reasonable number (three or so). Cassandra and I successfully used NFP the first ten years of our marriage to conceive our first four children, as well as to avoid conception, while addressing health issues, after we suffered two miscarriages before and after our 4th child. The system is extremely helpful and accurate when done in consultation with an NFP consultant and we had many excellent consultants over the years here in the Sacramento area.

11 years into our marriage we suffered NFP charting fatigue. In short, we got “old and tired” of being so clinical about our love life, so my physician ended up being right about the large family. Our next four children came along when I was 40, 41, 43 and 47, respectively. They have been the joy of our older years, as well as the reason so many people tell us we seem so much younger than our biological age. We have come to understand “openness to life” is the heart of natural family planning. As a young couple we worried so much about being responsible parents, carefully and thoughtfully planning our family. I understand the perspective of many couples, worrying about not burdening themselves and our world with too many children that they can’t provide for, or dealing with health conditions that make pregnancies difficult or even life threatening, or simply overwhelmed at the thought of adding another child to their family. These fears and conditions are real and legitimate.

What Cassandra and I learned most importantly is to trust in God and His providence, something I have struggled with for years, less so lately than in the beginning of my marriage.

I was raised in a good middle class American Catholic family in which I was taught independence, hard work and self-sufficiency. Asking for help has not been easy for me. If any of you husbands or fathers, new or seasoned, is feeling overwhelmed and hopeless by the difficulties you face in living out the reality of NFP (abstinence, troubles communicating with your spouse, openness to children, the smugness of the contraceptive mindset all around you), PLEASE, reach out to other men to help you stay the course. My life has been deeply enriched by the help of other good men trying to live up to the great challenge of our times: being pure of heart and body and living out our sexuality in obedience to our Creator’s designs.

John Brennan, longtime resident of Rocklin, CA, has worked in emergency medicine, secondary education and auto and home finance and currently owns and operates his own landscaping and handyman business. He and his spouse Cassandra are proud parents of eight children – four boys and four girls ranging in age from 27 down to nine years of age, as well as proud grandparents of two grandchildren.