Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pres. Obama: Right on Fatherhood

Today, Pres. Obama did something right. And it won't cost the taxpayers a penny.

To the contrary, simply because he's our nation's first black president; simply because millions consider him the Messiah, he was able to do something potentially powerful that can only help, not hurt: He promoted responsible fatherhood.

It's too bad that many of his policies that do cost taxpayers money undermine that message, but today, on Father's Day, I want to give the guy credit. He could have just sent best wishes out to all the fathers of the land, but instead, he wrote a personal essay that was the cover story of Parade Magazine, a supplement to newspapers in most cities across the country. I happen to think it's a hokey, amateurish-looking publication written at a third-grade level with eminently dismissible content. But that might be the perfect vehicle for the president's message today.

The most salient sentence of his piece is this: "...we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one." Sticklers for grammar flinch at such construction, but the point surpasses its expression. He talks about his own missing father; he talks about pressures. And then Pres. Obama continues with timely admonitions: "So we need to step out of our own heads [sic] and tune in. We need to turn off the television and start talking with our kids, and listening to them, and understanding what’s going on in their lives. We need to set limits and expectations. We need to replace that video game with a book and make sure that homework gets done."

YES! Exactly right. If he inspires only a few thousand fathers to come closer to their children, to evaluate their behavior, and to set a few limits, he's improved lives. And that message will get reprinted, and, I hope, sent home with kids, and discussed. Perhaps preachers will cite it, and mothers will read it to their absent co-parents. If it comes from the mouth of the Messiah, it can make a difference.

My opinion of Pres. Obama so far is not great, but mixed. I think he's already proposed and passed destructive measures like the Stimulus Package, which will drag down an otherwise robust recovery. I fear for his health care plan, but expect that doctors, other medical providers and smart consumers can block any near-socialization that would leave us like Canada or England, where individuals die before the system can accommodate them. I know the president's a liberal, but I also see that he seems to take the office seriously. Though he's got much more ego than experience, I believe he does want to do what he sees as right for the country, to protect and enhance it.

My concern, though, is that he does so from a completely non-spiritual orientation. I don't think his 20-year affiliation with Reverend Wright was fomented from deep connection with Jesus and God Almighty, but rather from the social milieu and political benefits that connection afforded. Which is why the ego over experience is problematic: it's not tempered with the humility of one who daily sees a more eternal and supernal purpose.

But at least today, he's using that position of power to motivate in a practical and fundamental way. He concludes movingly: "On this Father’s Day, I am recommitting myself to that work, to those duties that all parents share: 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, no matter what doubts we may feel or difficulties we may face." It would have been nice if he could have suggested that the best gift a father can give to a child is to stay married to the child's mother. But he did next-best: he emphasized the long-term view, and that's something severely lacking in our feel-good society. For that he deserves kudos.

I don't have my own dad around any more to celebrate, and my husband lost his just three months ago, so today we feel that loss. We've never made much of anniversaries or Mother's or Father's Days for ourselves; I like to write a poem, make it into a decorated card with photos, and sometimes offer up a craft-fair object made of wood. But these are concessions to the culture; we understand the real celebration comes in our quiet car-ride conversations about the kids, and recently, the bar-be-que we threw to celebrate our daughter's graduation. Parenthood is in the pursuing, not the pausing, and I did appreciate that the president was willing to underscore that point. I hope you enjoyed a Happy Father's Day, and appreciate all the men who remain dedicated to the complicated but rewarding parental process.

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