President Obama spoke in personal terms late Friday afternoon as he addressed a group of students in Chicago, pointing to his own experience as the son of a single mother as he stressed the importance of family and community.
“We’ve got single moms out here,” Obama told students at the Hyde Park Academy. “They are heroic for what they’re doing. … At the same time, I wish I’d had a father who was around and involved.”
“Loving supporting parents – and by the way, that’s all kinds of parents, that includes foster parents and extended families, it includes gay or straight parents – those parents supporting kids, that’s the single most important thing,” he continued. “Unconditional love for your child — that makes a difference.”
The speech marked the second time in a day that Obama grew visibly emotional at an event. Earlier Friday, the president teared up at a White House ceremony where he awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal to 18 Americans, including six women who were killed in December’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Obama has spoken before about the importance of fatherhood, but he has invoked his own experience infrequently.
Obama grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Jakarta, Indonesia. In Honolulu, he was raised by his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham. In Jakarta, he was raised by his mother and stepfather, Lolo Soetoro. Obama’s father, Barack Obama Sr., left Hawaii for Harvard University a little over a year after his son was born; he later returned to Kenya, and the two met only once more, in 1971, before Obama Sr.’s passing in 1982.
Obama’s mention on Friday of his own family circumstances came as he sought to draw a link in his remarks between the issues of community and gun violence.
“When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill,” he told the crowd of students at Hyde Park Academy, less than a mile away from his family’s Chicago home. “Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.”
He noted that “there are entire neighborhoods where young people, they don’t see an example of somebody succeeding.”
“For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and to be held up and respected,” he continued. “And so, that means that this is not just a gun issue. It’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building. And for that, we all share a responsibility as citizens to fix it.”