The Problem with Obama's Father's Day Speech

Barack Obama's gave a carefully calculated political speech on Father's Day calling attention to the problem of children growing up without a father.  In one important respect, Obama was absolutely right:  Far too many children are being raised without the attention, discipline and care of a father in the home.  But in another equally important respect, Obama took the easy, fast and safe path in his speech.

The problem of children being born into fatherless homes is, perhaps, the defining social problem of our times.  The starkest possible contrast with the fatherless children of America decried by Obama, was tacitly drawn by the tragic death of Tim Russert, whose reverence for his father was the lodestar of his wonderful life.

Why did Russert, whose home was humble, have such a dramatically different life?  Was it because of Big Russ?  Yes, of course, in one sense it was precisely because of Big Russ -- a father who was the model of all positive traits and all ennobling characteristics.  Those rubbed off on Tim.

But there is another difference in the parallel stories between Tim Russert and the child raised without a father.  That difference does not involve Big Russ as much as it does Tim Russert's mother.  She chose not to have a child out of wedlock.  She chose to love Big Russ.  She chose to make her marriage to him work, despite the hardships and problems that the family faced.  Without her choices and will, the life of Tim Russert would not have been the success that it was.

The problem of fatherless families is the problem of mothers as well as absent fathers. Children born out of wedlock, after all, are born because a woman decides that a good father is not that important.  The prior irresponsibility is not these young men, but the young woman who decides to have sex with them, intending or assuming that society, rather than a husband, bear the costs of her pregnancy.

In fact, it has long been possible for a woman to have children without having sexual relations at all.  Does our structure of welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and so forth provide any negative consequences for a woman who wants children as a hostage against society -- and who wants to be artificially inseminated?  No:  The plague of fatherless families could exist without a single unmarried man having sexual relations with a single unmarried woman. 

When young women have casual, indiscriminate sexual relations with a number of young men -- in many cases not even knowing these men beyond their first names -- then the catastrophe which follows is at least as much the fault of the mother as of the father.   If young women stopped having sex before marriage, then the problem of fatherless children would vanish. 

It is much easier, however, to pummel young men, than for Obama to lay blame for fatherless children where it also belongs:  on the reckless actions of those mothers who count upon taxpayers to step in the place of fathers.

As Tim Russert's mother could attest, marriage and raising children in a stable home is no picnic.  Staying married to a man like Big Russ, who works two jobs and has does not have much free time for his children or for his wife, requires a moral commitment for a mother and wife.  Her example, like the example of the wonderful Big Russ, made the life of Tim Russert profoundly different than the lives of so many children, black and white, born into "homes" which are not homes at all, but more like brothels.

What Obama should have talked about was the failure of mothers to understand the importance of fathers.  That is the heart of why we have fatherless homes.  Once, it was accepted that a child needed both a father and a mother to grow up right.  Now, it is politically correct to believe that a father who pays child support and visits his offspring every other week is sufficient.  My mother grew up with a father who was sick and who could contribute very little to his family, except for his paternal love -- but that love was incomparably more important than any wages that he could have earned.  

Money is a sideshow in raising good children, especially here in the richest nation in human history.  Big Russ worked his tail off, but it was not the money he brought home that transformed the life of Tim Russert:  It was the fact of his love, shown by his sweat. 

Marry before having children.  If you have children, stay married. That is a critical theme of Father's Day.  That should have been the heart of Obama's Father's Day speech.  He focused on the easy target of absent fathers, instead less chic idea of a traditional nuclear family.  Tim Russert could have told him how much fathers matter in the home, beside mothers, together loving and raising children.  That is the real message of Father's Day.