Absentee Daddies Obama delivered a message in his Father’s Day address that’s not a new one – and I found it interesting to note that the NYT acknowledged that it’s a message that most white candidates could not address without raising ire in the black community.

The speech was striking for its setting, and in how Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, directly addressed one of the most sensitive topics in the African-American community: whether absent fathers bore responsibility for some of the intractable problems afflicting black Americans. Mr. Obama noted that “more than half of all black children live in single-parent households,” a number that he said had doubled since his own childhood.
Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who sat in the front pew, Mr. Obama laid out his case in stark terms that would be difficult for a white candidate to make, telling the mostly black audience not to “just sit in the house watching SportsCenter,” and to stop praising themselves for mediocre accomplishments.

I have an issue with this – no, I have a few issues with this. The rising number of children being raised in single parent households is not confined to the African-American community, but I’m not hearing the same message being addressed to men of other races. I know far too many young women – irrespective of race – who are putting their children to bed each night in a home without a father. This is not the result of women deciding that men are dispensable, as I read somewhere recently. It is the result of men not being held accountable – not only by other men, but by women and by society.
And I’m not talking money here, people. As far as that goes, we’re doing a far better job than ever before in making sure that fathers take financial responsibility for the children they sire. But a child support check is not a father, by any stretch of the imagination. A child support check can’t watch the kids while you go grocery shopping, or swing the little one up on its shoulders at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. When we place the emphasis on the financial responsibility, we miss out on the importance of having an emotionally available father. That’s a holdover from the “good old days” when dad was a paycheck who came home at night and was not to be ‘bothered’.
I had the blessing of a dad who was not my father – a man who married my mother years after my birth, and committed himself to taking care of our family. He became my mother’s partner in life – financially, emotionally and literally. He was a man who came home from ten hour workdays, asked about homework, then grabbed a bat and ball to hit flies for me to catch in the middle of the street. He asked about my homework, teased me about my clothes, and played Scrabble with us at the kitchen table. When my mother and I warred and I left home, too stubborn to call or ask for help, he showed up at my door one afternoon without a word and replaced the broken headlight in my car – and never once brought up the conflict with my mother. Not once. He taught me to drive a standard, and refused to let me drive a car until he watched me change a tire, check the oil and tighten up the fan belt in his.
My mother is a strong woman, an independent and intelligent woman who “did it without a man” for the first ten years of my life. My dad is a strong man, an independent and intelligent man who is not threatened by that. Together, they have shaped my ideas of what it means to be a woman. And all of this may seem to be a divergence from the beginning of this post, but in the end, it really isn’t.
I’m torn by Barack Obama’s Fathers Day address. On the one hand, I agree with it wholeheartedly. Yes, our culture is shortchanging both fathers and children. Yes, reversing the trend of absentee fathers is an important goal. Yes, yes and yes, this is an important message and thing to say. On the other hand, yes – the audience was too narrow. And yes, it is so very open to misinterpretation and overextension. I think we are all complicit in the estrangement of fathers – not just black fathers – even as we urge men to be more a presence in the lives of their children. I fear that we may be pushing toward a “Family Values” style backlash. I dislike that this is seen as a ‘black’ issue, because it’s not. I worry that we will start branding ‘fatherless’ children as ‘problems in the making’. In short, I see far too many sides of this issue to be anywhere near objective about it – and I have -nothing- to offer in the way of a solution.


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