Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama On Fathers

When John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States, many men still wore the easy to manage crew cuts they brought back from WWII and Korea. Some parted their hair left, right, or center but slicked down like their fathers. Throughout my childhood, I combed a big wave in the front as if announcing surf was up. By the end of the Kennedy years, my hair looked as much like President Kennedy’s as it could, what was called “the dry look,” while the market for the “greasy kid stuff” vanished. This was beyond politics. Remember Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich.

Barrack Obama’s Father’s Day speech has been reported with interpretations as if from a dart board. Racist. Throw a dart at a definition. Pandering for votes. Aim at an exit poll. Pardon my shameless understatement: U. S. politics is entirely too Balkanized. Let's put it this way. I have never voted Republican for an office that would serve in Washington, D.C. Nonetheless I say, just because something appeals to Conservatives does not make it wrong. Sometimes they are right. And sometimes somebody else is right. Barack Obama gets my vote for even trying to reach out beyond the boneheaded divisions crippling our politics.

Rod Williams, a former Nashville-Davidson County Councilman and self-styled “right-leaning, pragmatic, centrist, disgruntled Republican,” blogged from Tennessee, “Barrack Obama’s Father's Day speech was a breath of fresh air. The state of the Black family is such an incredibly sensitive matter, only a Black person can raise the issue.” In my first Paw Paw Bill blog that endorsed Barack Obama, I said, “There are things about my country that are broken and can only be fixed, wounds that can only be healed by the first African-American to be elected President.” Throw the darts anywhere you want. If you think fatherless children exist and suffer only in certain communities, look again.

Here are excerpts from the speech by Sen. Obama:

Too many fathers are missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. You and I know how true this is in the African-American community… that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households… that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison.

We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception… that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one. I know what it means to have an absent father…. I was luckier than most, and had two wonderful grandparents from Kansas who poured everything they had into helping my mother raise my sister and me.

…black or white; rich or poor; from the South Side or the wealthiest suburb.... It’s up to us to say to our daughters, don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for those goals. It’s up to us to tell our sons, those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in my house we give glory to achievement, self respect, and hard work. It’s up to us to set these high expectations…. meeting those expectations ourselves.

…we can pass on to our children…the gift of hope… that spirit inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting for us if we’re willing to work for it and fight for it.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter


EHT said...

Hi! As an educator I see the effect of missing fathers first hand....

Here's a point to ponder---when I was in grade school there was only family that had suffered a divorce in a total student population of about 300. By the time my son entered first grade and I was the room mom every family had had at least one divorce except for my own. My husband and I were the minority.

While we tend to focus on the sperm donors who disappear as soon as the act is complete we also need to remember the thousands of children out there who deal with divorce situations. Even when everyone gets along and families celebrate being blended there are still problems and children harbor deep reservations concerning the whole thing. Fridays are usually the worst times in my classroom because many of my young students are off to visit non-custodial grandparents or non-custodial parents, and even though they love these people they hate the constant packing up and moving here and there for the weekend.

Anytime a family is broken whether the parent is "no-time" or "part-time" it is deterimental to the child. I used to wonder why at 23 I had to suffer the pain of my own parents' divorce....when I began teaching I understood. I understood what my students would share with me and they knew I understood.

I'm wondering...Why do you think many of the folks who jeered Bill Cosby when he told the Black community they needed their fathers cheered when Obama did the same?

Paw Paw Bill said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, informed by your own experience. Indeed I had in mind the fatherless children from divorce, as well as the drive-by sperm donors. It is odd. I suspect I am at least a generation older than you, but many of my childhood friends were from single-parent homes. In my case, I think this was probably the socio-economics of the neighborhood I lived in during the 1950's, the part of Atlanta now called midtown, which even then had a crop of apartment buildings, and in those days the rent was not high. Because of segregation, I was a grown man before I actually knew anybody but white kids without fathers. My own parents were divorced when I was 9 or 10 years old, and I never lived with my father again. My father was anything but Ozzie Nelson or Danny Thomas, but I believe he did his best, with little education or guidance from society, and several strikes against him. I know many kids do not even get that much. My best thought about why Bill Cosby caught criticism but not Sen. Obama is that things change, people change, times change. Sometimes people even learn. If you have further thoughts, I welcome them. I appreciate the ones you have already taken the trouble to share.


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