When he was campaigning in Chicago during the summer of 2008, Barack Obama shocked liberals and conservatives alike with his bold (and true) declaration that, “We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception.”
That Fathers Day audience was made of up his own people: South Side Chicago blacks sitting in the pews of the Apostolic Church of God. What audacity for this man, this candidate to address, as The New York Times called it, “one of the most sensitive topics in the African-American community: whether absent fathers bore responsibility for some of the intractable problems afflicting black Americans.”
Basically, without much equivocation, Obama said, “Yes, they do.”
“Too many fathers are MIA, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes…. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”
Bad Getting Worse
The magnitude of the problem is in the numbers, and its rate of growth continues to be discouraging.
In 1965, the percent of unmarried births among blacks was 24%, a USA Today editorial recalled this week. It noted that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Johnson administration official and later a U.S. senator, decried this alarming level of unwed births, and that his comments created “a furor among liberals and civil rights leaders, who accused him of blaming the victim.”
Despite the outcries, the problem contuse to grow in magnitude and by 2008 Obama labeled it a “national epidemic of absentee fathers.”
Since the Moynihan comment, the level of unmarried births has increased to:
- 73% for blacks,
- 53% for Hispanics, and
- 29% for whites.
Today, this discussion is more relevant than earlier because of legislative and social debate over the value of and federal funding for the nation’s Head Start program for pre-school children. (And sadly the discussion of fathers’ responsibilities has faded into near silence.)
To What Advantage?
“In the eyes of many parents and most educators, starting a child’s schooling before kindergarten is an indisputable virtue,” USA Today reported.
However, “the evidence says universal preschool alone won’t get the job done.” And, indeed, the benefits of Head Start “wear off by third grade.”
The probable reason for this erosion of benefit is not hard to deduce: ”Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down” as indicated by the unmarried births rates.
An expert on children and families at the Brookings Institution calls single parenthood a “little motor pushing up the poverty rate.” As evidence, Brookings noted that in 2011 the poverty rate for children of single mothers was more than 400% greater than the poverty rate for children of married couples.
Researchers at Princeton and Columbia, who followed 5,000 children born to married and unmarried parents, “found that the effects of single parenthood seep into every aspect of kids’ lives.
- Single mothers read less to their children,
- Are more likely to use harsh discipline and
- Are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime.”
All these behaviors are important predictors of a child’s health and development.
Early childhood education is important. But more important than Head Start are responsible fathers, who live up their duties as parents.
Unfortunately, Obama has abandoned his previous perspective on black male responsibilities and now points his finger at society as a whole with Head Start as a substitute for the parental role. That’s a sad political statement, and shows a genuine shallowness in Obama’s character.
As a result both the children and society will suffer.