Mr. President, Don’t Paint All Fathers With Broad Brushstroke

What were the chances, in this polarized political environment, that anything in the President’s State of the Union Address would receive accolades from conservatives and progressives. Turns out the odds were pretty good. One sentence, sandwiched between the minimum wage increase and Afghanistan.

“And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one.”
President Barack Obama, SOTU, Feb. 12

Father and Son Shaving in Bathroom Mirror

President Obama, in a throwaway applause line, dropped some jewels of wisdom on fatherhood and personal responsibility. Strong parenting that leads to “stronger families, stronger communities, a stronger America.” Who could argue against any of these things? Toss in a farmer and a Dodge Ram, and you have a Super Bowl commercial.

The problem lies in trying to pass off moral speechifying as policy. A host of evidence doesn’t back up Obama’s sweeping pronouncements about responsible fatherhood and marriage in poor communities. As Raw Story noted:

Stephanie Coontz, author and professor at The Evergreen State College, wrote late last year for CNN, that “nonmarriage is often a result of poverty and economic insecurity rather than a cause.”

And:

Research by Boston College social psychologist Rebekah Levine Coley found that black fathers not living at home are more likely to keep in contact with their children than fathers of any other ethnic or racial group.

Promulgating this stereotype of the absentee father is even more glaring knowing that candidate Barack Obama in 2008 was rightly criticized for spreading the false assertion that black fathers don’t engage with their children. In fact, the State of the Union quote on courage and raising a child is a retread from his 2008 remarks. Five years later, it sounds just as preachy and patronizing.

As an unmarried mother successfully co-parenting with a black father who lives outside the home, Obama’s generalizations about fatherhood and irresponsibility strike a nerve with me. Healthy families come in all configurations, from two-parent households and single-parent units, to blended families and other nontraditional forms. There are strong, intact, black families out here. There are and have always been happy and functional black families. And those families come in all shapes and forms.

Paraphrasing author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Whether Obama is trying to shore up his family values credentials with conservatives or is venting personal anger over his own experience of being raised without a father is anybody’s guess. Obama certainly doesn’t mean to slander all, or even most, black fathers, as derelict fathers — yet every utterance by him is instant news and is taken as fact. That makes his stereotypes about black men even more painful.