Photo by Marco Carcia – AP
There’s a lot more attention focused on fathers right now than I can remember in decades. That can only be a good thing.
President Obama has especially centered the nation’s attention on fatherhood.
President Obama, who barely knew his own father, devoted
his afternoon Friday to promoting the importance of being a good dad,
saying he wanted to start a “national conversation” on the subject.
Two days before Father’s Day, Obama attended events related to
fatherhood — gathering famous and not-so-famous dads for a series of
service projects around Washington and a White House town hall meeting,
then addressing young men on the South Lawn.
He spoke in deeply personal terms of “the hole in a child’s heart”
left by an absent father and of the powerful influence his Kenyan
father exerted during the only visit the senior Obama made after he and
the president’s mother had divorced. Obama noted that during that visit
— when he was 10 — his father gave him his first basketball and took
him to his first jazz concert, stirring lifelong interests.
“Fathers are our first teachers and coaches, they’re our mentors and
role models, they set an example of success and push us to succeed,”
Obama said at the White House. “When fathers are absent, when they
abandon their responsibility to their children, we know the damage that
does to our families.”
Although presidents typically mark Father’s Day and celebrate the virtues of family, the attention Obama devoted was unusual.
Whatever else may be calculated for political gain in this man’s
career, it is not this. His commitment as husband and father is genuine
Which is all the more reason why he has such great potential to
inspire family values. But his definition of that term is in tension
with the traditional understanding in our culture.
During the presidential campaign, he made the impromptu remark that
if one of his daughters made a mistake, he wouldn’t want her “punished with a baby”.
He didn’t say ‘punished with a pregnancy’, though that’s the general
sentiment of the ‘pro-choice’ movement, to which he adheres. He didn’t
say ‘punished with a fetus’, the euphemism to de-humanize the pre-born
child in the womb. He did say baby, and that sentiment about his
daughters was genuine, and lays bare the tension in his vision of
family and human values.
Then on Father’s Day 2008, candidate Obama gave a rousing talk to a church congregation on fatherhood.
‘We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception,’ he said.
He thus recognized that a child has been conceived at that moment,
and the man has become a father. And yet…..he politically stands for
the right to end that child’s life at any time prior to – and in the
midst of – birth.
According to a Church prelate who spoke personally with him about
the contradiction between what he says and what he does, Obama realizes
the tension exists. He seems willing to live with it instead of trying
to reconcile it one way or the other.
But on this subject he has as much conviction as on anything.
In his essay in Parade, Obama speaks of the struggles
that he faces in common with much of the country in balancing work and
family life, noting that at times he has been “an imperfect father.”
“I know I have made mistakes,” he writes. “I have lost count of all
the times, over the years, when the demands of work have taken me from
the duties of fatherhood.”
“On this Father’s Day, I am recommitting myself to that work, to
those duties,” he writes, “to build a foundation for our children’s
dreams, to give them the love and support they need to fulfill them,
and to stick with them the whole way through.”
Good for President Obama. Time to recommit to fatherhood, from the moment of conception, “the whole way through”.