Submitted by Charles Knighton
“Marriage key for black family” page 21 article, Daily Nation Sept. 20, “Former magistrate: Break single-parent mould” page 5 article, Barbados Advocate Sept. 20
Local pundits, letter-writers and talk-radio hosts, singularly myopic in their quest to ferret out any word or phrase which might connote some underlying racial animus in the American presidential campaign have, in my opinion, neglected the most important statement uttered in either convention, a sentiment which has been sorely lacking not only in America, but in Barbados as well.
Herewith: “He was so proud to be sending his kids to college, and he made sure we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late. You see, for my dad, that’s what it meant to be a man. That was the measure of his success in life—being able to earn a decent living that allowed him to support his family.”
Michelle Obama was talking about her father, of course, and his struggles to make sure his children got an education. One could extrapolate her meaning to include the problem of unemployment, which, she asserted, would be solved by her husband if reelected. But the larger message was not political.
It was that being a man means taking care of your family. It means showing up and being there. It means that children need a father. This profound and simple message shouldn’t need elaboration, but many seem to have forgotten it.
During the past several decades, women have been encouraged by a culture dismissive of traditional family structure to feel free to go it alone and ignore the contributions that fathers make in the nurturing of children.
One needn’t diminish the heroic efforts of single moms, many of whom are single by necessity or circumstances beyond their control, to understand that fathering is just as important as mothering. From their fathers, boys learn to be men, and girls learn how to manage them. The Obama girls are indeed blessed. They’ll know how to relate to men in healthy ways and how to navigate a sexually aggressive culture in which some boys won’t have had a decent man to guide them.
Yes, women can teach girls these things, too, but a father’s love for his daughter teaches without preaching. A girl knows what a healthy man’s love looks and feels like. She sees how he treats her mother. She learns by experiencing what should be.
The importance of fatherhood to the health of children, and indeed to nations, can’t be exaggerated. Studies have shown for decades that social pathologies afflicting the young tend to cluster among children without fathers. We also know from experience that single mothers can and do raise exceptional children.
But such children are exceptional, which is why we are so riveted by their biographies. More often, young males and females without fathers wind up in trouble. Boys join gangs in search of male fraternity missing at home. Young females seek male attention, mistaken for love, through sexual adventurism.
The Obamas seem to be a model family, as do, by the way, the Romneys. Ann Romney delivered a speech in which she said she doesn’t have a perfect marriage.She has a “real” one. Those who have spent time in the marital trenches understand what she means—that marriage is hard work and that parenting is the hardest of all.
That Michelle Obama chose to underscore those struggles and to set an example for women and, through her daughters, for little girls, was a gift to us all. That she chose to highlight her father’s meaning to her life—and that of her husband to her daughters—was a gift to the future.