There’s no point trying to find something wrong with Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention. It was perfection.
From her stage presence to her delivery — from the punctuating smile to the strategic repetition of the words “you see” — it was brilliant. The first lady ruled the first night of the convention, and that’s saying something given the lineup of oratorical stars she followed — notably the Castro twins, Julian and Joaquin, respectively the mayor of San Antonio and a Texas congressional candidate.
No matter what one’s politics, only the mingy-minded could fail to be proud of America’s first lady Tuesday night. In this spirit, I submit my favorite lines of the speech, which have received scant attention. It was perhaps the most important statement of any thus far uttered in either convention and has been sorely lacking from the American conversation.
Herewith: “He was so proud to be sending his kids to college, and he made sure we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late. You see, for my dad, that’s what it meant to be a man. . . . That was the measure of his success in life — being able to earn a decent living that allowed him to support his family.”
She was talking about her father, of course, and his struggles to make sure that his children got an education. One could extrapolate her meaning to include the problem of unemployment, which, she asserted, would be solved under Barack Obama’s watch. But the larger message was not political. It was that being a man means taking care of your family. It means showing up and being there.
It means that children need a father.
To this point, Michelle commented during a film montage immediately preceding her speech — that her girls would not be who and what they are without a man who loves them. Their father. The photo accompanying this statement showed President Obama nuzzling their youngest child.
This profound and simple message shouldn’t need elaboration, but we seem to have forgotten it. During the past several decades, women have been encouraged by a culture dismissive of traditional family structure to feel free to go it alone and ignore the contributions that fathers make in the nurturing of children.
One needn’t diminish the heroic efforts of single moms, many of whom are single by necessity or circumstances beyond their control, to understand that fathering is just as important as mothering. From their fathers, boys learn to be men, and girls learn how to manage them. The Obama girls are indeed blessed. They’ll know how to relate to men in healthy ways and how to navigate a sexually aggressive culture in which some boys won’t have had a decent man to guide them.
Yes, women can teach girls these things, too, but a father’s love for his daughter teaches without preaching. A girl knows what a man’s healthy love looks and feels like. She sees how he treats her mother. She learns by experiencing what should be.
The importance of fatherhood to the health of children and therefore to the nation can’t be exaggerated. Studies have shown for decades that social pathologies afflicting the young tend to cluster among children without fathers. We also know from experience and the testimony of some of Tuesday night’s speakers that single mothers can and do raise exceptional children. Again, see the Castro twins.
But these young are exceptional, which is why we are so riveted by their biographies. More often, young males (and females) without fathers wind up in trouble. Boys join gangs in search of male fraternity missing at home. Young females seek male attention, mistaken for love, through sexual adventurism.
The Obamas seem to be a model family, as do, by the way, the Romneys. I also loved Ann Romney’s speech, in which she said she doesn’t have a perfect marriage, she has a “real” one. Those who have spent time in the marital trenches understand what she meant — marriage is hard work, and parenting is the hardest of all.
That Michelle Obama chose to underscore those struggles and to set an example for women and, through her daughters, for little girls was a gift to the nation. That she chose to highlight her father’s meaning to her life — and that of her husband to her daughters — was a gift to the future.