June 22, 2005

Sen. Barack Obama on Fatherhood

Sen. Barack Obama in a Father's Day sermon Sunday at a South Side church in Chicago, Illinois urged fathers begin acting like 'full-grown' men.
was reflecting in Scripture in preparation for this discussion. I came upon 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13: Verse 11, ... "When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things."
It raises for me the issue of what does it mean to be a full-grown man. Because there are a lot of folks, a lot of brothers, who are walking around and they look like men. ... They've got whiskers, they might even have sired a child, but it's not clear to me that they are full-grown men. What I mean by that is one of the difficulties that African-American men in particular face is that many of us grew up without fathers.
Sen. Barack Obama appealed to fathers in the black community in this sermon, but this plea to fathers is truly color blind.
The essence of Obama's speech appears on the Commentary page of today's Tribune. Yes, as you'll read, the father of two daughters tailored his words to his audience: "[O]ne of the difficulties that African-American men in particular face is that many of us grew up without fathers."
But if you're a father who is not black, read Obama's sermon and ask yourself: What part of this is not for me?

Is that the passage in which he speaks of fathers who are present in the home, but are so distant, so preoccupied, that it's difficult for their children to know or understand them?

The passage in which he declares that parents should view graduation from 8th grade not as an end to be celebrated as a triumph, but as one step on the road to graduate school?

The passage in which he urges that fathers weigh their choices in life, and their behavior, against the simplest of tests: How does this affect other people?

Obama's tone Sunday was respectful, his words colorblind. It will be difficult for anyone to read those words and lump him with comedian Bill Cosby, whose scathing criticism of poor black parents--"I can't even talk the way these people talk: `Why you ain't, Where you is'"--has provoked charges that Cosby cruelly stereotypes those whose children he aspires to rescue.
Sen. Barack Obama continued in this Father's Day sermon to redefined values in liberal terms.
I know that our schools don't have all of the equipment. ... I understand that the school-financing system in the state is screwed up. ... I understand that our teachers need more money. And I understand that we need more computers and equipment. I understand all those things, but let me say this: That is no excuse.
We have to get beyond making excuses if we are going to be full-grown.... To be full-grown, you have to live out your values, and teach your children to live out your values, not just give them lip service to your values. You can tell what's important to somebody, not by what they say, but by what they do. Where they put their bite, where they put their energy, where they put their time....

One of the values that I think men in particular have to pass on is the value of empathy. Not sympathy, empathy. And what that means is standing in somebody else's shoes, being able to look through their eyes. You know, sometimes we get so caught up in "us" that it's hard to see that there are other people and that your behavior has an impact on them. And sometimes brothers in particular don't like to feel empathy, don't like to think in terms of "How does this affect other people?" because we think that's being soft. There's a culture in our society that says we can't show weakness and we can't, therefore, show kindness. That we can't be considerate because sometimes that makes us look weak. That sometimes we can't listen to what our women say because we don't want to act like they're in charge.

And our young boys see that. They see when you are ignoring your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home. They see when you are thinking only about yourself. And so we've got to learn to pass on the value of kindness.
Go read the whole Father's Day sermon.

Go read the Chicago Tribune editorial on Sen. Obama Father's Day sermon.

The Senator in this sermon does not lay out government programs in order to achieve better father, rather he urges father to reconnected with values and put away childish things to become a man for the improvement of their children. The Senator emphasis the value of kindness, better treatment of women, and empathy rather than the value of acting 'tough' to show off your manhood.

If you have the time, please also read Sen. Barack Obama commencement address delivered at Knox College on June 4. David Kusnet in the New Republic calls it the best case for liberal politics in recent memory.
Like so much of the American story, once again, we face a choice. Once again, there are those who believe that there isn't much we can do about this as a nation. That the best idea is to give everyone one big refund on their government--divvy it up by individual portions, in the form of tax breaks, hand it out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, their own education, and so on.
In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it--Social Darwinism--every man or woman for him or herself. It's a tempting idea, because it doesn't require much thought or ingenuity. It allows us to say that those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford--tough luck. It allows us to say to the Maytag workers who have lost their job--life isn't fair. It let's us say to the child who was born into poverty--pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And it is especially tempting because each of us believes we will always be the winner in life's lottery, that we're the one who will be the next Donald Trump, or at least we won't be the chump who Donald Trump says: "You're fired!"

But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. It ignores the fact that it's been government research and investment that made the railways possible and the internet possible. It's been the creation of a massive middle class, through decent wages and benefits and public schools that allowed us all to prosper. Our economic dependence depended on individual initiative. It depended on a belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity. That's what's produced our unrivaled political stability.
Sen. Obama is becoming the best speaker and advocate for liberalism in American.


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