Monday, June 16, 2008

Obama and Absent Fathers

So, Barack Obama gave a resounding sermon, in a church (not Jeremiah Wright's), on Father's Day Sunday about the importance of fathers. The black community suffers disproportionately with fatherlessness and the results of this cultural phenomenon manifest many, many social ills from crime, to drug use, to drop-out rates, to incarceration, to teenage pregnancy etc. It's a mess. Obama's speech included some gems:

“Don’t get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation,” he said, bringing many members of the congregation to their feet, applauding. “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”

His themes have been also been sounded by the comedian Bill Cosby, who has stirred debate among black Americans by bluntly speaking about an epidemic of fatherless African-American families while suggesting that some blacks use racism as a crutch to explain lack of economic progress.

John Hawkins quips, "Clap, clap, clap. I guess, even a blind squirrel grabs a nut every once in a while...". But earlier Hawkins called the speech "spot on". Well, the speech might have been spot on, but it's the actions of the candidate that matter most and I'm not thrilled with how Obama proposes to solve the problem that has been a scourge in the community:

On Friday, Mr. Obama announced that he would be a co-sponsor of a bill with Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, that his campaign said would address the “national epidemic of absentee fathers.” If passed, the legislation would increase the enforcement of child support payments and strengthen domestic violence prevention services.

Mr. Obama cited the need for stronger law enforcement services and resources for education, more job opportunities and other resources for communities.

Laws already exist to encourage enforcement of child support. Laws already exist to address domestic violence. How does any of this get men back with their families? Obama was in a church, after all. He could have spoken about the moral failings of the community, because surely, that's what's lacking.

The cycle is vicious. Part of the problem is a simply a lack of supervision. Children have a working mom, come home to an empty house. They are hungry and lonely. They eat junk and they seek comfort. A girl gets pregnant too young. Now we can talk about birth control, but even if it's being used, a 16 year old girl is extraordinarily fertile, so any slip up will likely result in a baby. She has to choose between abortion or a child. She will be making a life-changing decision either way. If she chooses to have the child, she will likely not be in the position to marry. She's in High School. The father is probably a boy, too. How will he support her? What does he have to offer at that point? And then, he's going to go work, make minimum wage and the government is going to come after him?

Reversing the problem means finding an adequate substitute for the lack of a father now, in this generation. The hopelessness and loneliness, the lack of discipline and structure when the mother is gone, needs to be filled somehow. The government is woefully inadequate at finding solutions that require, essentially, love. Churches, though, are really good at this. The problem, I'm wondering at, is whether the mothers want their children to hear that premarital sex is a moral failure. It will indict them.

When pastors like Jeremiah Wright externalize blame on the government and white people generally, the congregants feel better but don't look within. But the fact is, the problems within the family both black and white are moral in nature and won't be solved by blaming someone else. Only when women and men take responsibility will things get better, but personal responsibility isn't a very sexy message.

Enforcing child support may ease the difficulty of daily lives for the women trying to raise children. Just paying for child care straps single mothers who have to work to pay for food and shelter. Still, it doesn't solve the underlying problem. Will liberals start sharing the uncomfortable message of abstinence, personal responsibility, self-sacrifice, delaying gratification, etc.? Somehow I doubt it. It goes against all their ideals, and actually runs directly counter to their policies of intervening so a person doesn't have to deal with the consequences of bad decisions. The liberal message is all about self-gratification and indulgence.

As usual, Obama's words are pretty, but his actions are the same old same old.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News


Coldkoolin said...

Golly, Melissa.

Can you say "double standard"? Now, I won't even mention the family that your McCain abandoned because his wife was was crippled after a horrible car accident and he wanted to chase floozies. Okay. So McCain's not the model Father of the Year that Obama is.

But then to actually criticize Obama for delivering an amazing call to arms for Fatherhood? It just seems . . . I don't know . . . ABSURD. Next, let's lambast him for enjoying Mom's apple pie.

Absurd with a tinge of desperation.

Actually, I think that might be a good slogan for the Right this year. "Absurd with a touch of desperation."

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