One of my great hopes for a Barack Obama administration — and thus one of my personal disappointments — was that he would use his bully pulpit to emphasize the importance of a two-parent family, and especially of fathers, to children’s well-being.
Few understand better than the president the value of a present and involved father. Much of his literary work and his examined life pertains to his own absent father. By his example, he has certainly demonstrated his own commitment to parenting — and his family is a source of pride for all Americans. But the true story of fatherlessness in this country can’t be repeated often or forcefully enough.
This is not a new story.
Children who grow up without fathers tend to fall into patterns of destructive behavior — from drug use and truancy to early promiscuity, delinquency and, in too many cases, incarceration. Children raised in fatherless homes are also more likely to grow up in poverty, which is no fault of their mothers but is a fact.
Also well-known is that these pathologies and consequences are more prevalent in the African American community where, as it happens, most children are born to unwed mothers. Is this the fault of the mothers? Absolutely not. Can a child raised by a single mother prosper? Sure, but it is the exception, including the president, that proves the rule.
Here’s another rule: You can’t solve a problem if you refuse to acknowledge it. Yet in today’s sensitive environment, to even suggest a problem that might feel offensive to some is to risk being labeled an “-ist” of some variety, followed by a public flogging.
Therefore, to suggest, as University of Texas law professor Lino Graglia recently did, that blacks and Hispanics are falling behind in education because they tend to come from single-parent families (largely mothers who are both poor and often uneducated) is pure blasphemy.
Graglia made these remarks to a BBC interviewer who noted that he himself is black and was raised by a single parent. Such personal anecdotes, though interesting, cannot be construed as arguments for single-motherhood. I was raised by a single father who was a serial husband (four stepmothers), but only an idiot would argue that a relentlessly dysfunctional childhood is the correct path to becoming a healthy adult without overt tics (other than a propensity for adopting homeless, disabled animals).
The simple truth is that it is harder to succeed in life if you are burdened with unnecessary obstacles from the get-go. These would include no father (or no mother) in the home, not enough money — or books, or aspirational conversation, and a community culture that, as Graglia previously mentioned, does not value academic success.
Graglia’s head is on the block as various offended parties demand that he be punished for his observations. But imagine for a moment if Obama had said the same things. What if Obama had said, you know, African American kids are as smart as anybody else, but as a group, they are disadvantaged because about 70 percent are born out of wedlock? They are disadvantaged by neighborhoods and a community culture that are often bereft of healthy male role models.
If the president uttered these words, they would be embraced as irrefutable truths. Who knows how he might alter individual destinies through the simple act of articulating these crucial matters of the human experience. It is laudable to model behavior through one’s actions. It can be miraculous to put those actions into words that people can take into their own homes and incorporate into their own hearts.
Words, as Obama knows deeply, are powerful.
And the president has taken steps to keep promises related to fatherhood. He created a task force, took a pledge and upgraded a fatherhood Web site. “The President’s Fatherhood Pledge,” featured on the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services, basically renews commitment to family and community.
Not much pain there. This is like saying, “I like dogs and promise not to run over any — on purpose.”
A nice gesture, perhaps, but nothing like the power of words: Men, be men. Marry the mother of your children. Be a father to the children you sire. Go home and stay there.
No one could say these things better than Barack Obama. Perhaps in a second term . . .