The Monday after Father's Day, I returned to work to find a flurry of e-mails from friends and colleagues across the political and ideological spectrum. Surprisingly, they all said essentially the same thing. "Did you hear Obama's speech on Father's Day?"
Being the "fatherhood guy" who has a fiduciary obligation to know about all significant things fatherhood, I had, of course, heard it. In case you did not, let me fill you in.
From the pulpit of Chicago's Apostolic Church of God, Sen. Barack Obama encouraged fathers, especially black ones, to do better. He said "they are missing from too many lives and too many homes." He went on to say that too many "have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it."
This is not the first time Mr. Obama has spoken about the fatherhood crisis in our nation, but these were probably some of his strongest and most direct remarks. No doubt, I am delighted when someone of his stature and influence speaks out about this important issue in such a forceful way. I have been in Washington long enough to know the power of words and the importance of rhetoric.
However, I tend to be more impressed by reality than rhetoric. In this case, the real story - the underemphasized one - is not Mr. Obama's rhetoric, but rather the reality of his example. Unlike most black fathers, Mr. Obama is married to the mother of his children. No "baby mama" for Mr. Obama. His real "Obama girl" is his wife.
My sense is that Mr. Obama understands very well the impact his marriage to Michelle has had on his ability to be the kind of father he seeks to be, especially as one who essentially lost contact with his father after his parents broke up when he was just 2 years old. In the community of fathers, he is not the only one who gets it. In fact, in a recent National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) survey of dads' attitudes about fathering, 8 out of 10 fathers agreed that men generally perform better as fathers if they are married to the mother of their children. Of note, 6 out of 10 fathers strongly agreed.
In addition, different kinds of fathers perceived different things to be obstacles to good fathering. Among those who perceived the greatest obstacles were those not married to the mothers of their children. Involved, responsible and committed fathering, like real estate, is about location, location, location. A healthy marriage to the mother of one's children has a way of making sure a father is in the location where his kids desperately need him most - in their home.
Despite these facts, it is still popular in some circles to assert that marriage has nothing to do with fatherhood and that there is no problem with delinking the two. In fact, some are convinced that dramatic declines in marriage rates in all communities over the last 40 years, but especially in the black community, are just an example of "change that we should believe in" despite the fact that it conflicts with a reality we know.
The social science data overwhelmingly confirms that a healthy marriage has a positive and lasting impact on the well-being of children. If there was ever a need for some "straight talk" on this issue, now is the time. As Obama's example clearly illustrates, the best and most durable societal "glue" we have to break the pernicious legacy of father absence and consistently connect fathers to their children - heart to heart - is a strong and healthy marriage between him and his child's mother.
That's why a few months ago, NFI launched a new Web site (legacy.fatherhood.org) and a radio, print and outdoor public awareness campaign aimed at black men with the tagline, "What's Your Legacy?" to celebrate, strengthen and encourage responsible fatherhood and help increase the marriage rate in the black community.
To those naysayers who say this is not possible, I say, "Yes we can!"
Roland C. Warren is the married father of two sons and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org). His column appears on the first Sunday of the month. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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