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Sunday, June 21, 2009

We Need Fathers to Step Up

By President Barack Obama

(And a tribute to my own father at the end)

Spotlight-obama-and-girls

As the father of two young girls who have shown such poise, humor, and patience in the unconventional life into which they have been thrust, I mark this Father’s Day—our first in the White House—with a deep sense of gratitude. One of the greatest benefits of being President is that I now live right above the office. I see my girls off to school nearly every morning and have dinner with them nearly every night. It is a welcome change after so many years out on the campaign trail and commuting between Chicago and Capitol Hill.

But I observe this Father’s Day not just as a father grateful to be present in my daughters’ lives but also as a son who grew up without a father in my own life. My father left my family when I was 2 years old, and I knew him mainly from the letters he wrote and the stories my family told. And while I was lucky to have two wonderful grandparents who poured everything they had into helping my mother raise my sister and me, I still felt the weight of his absence throughout my childhood.

Obama-family-4 As an adult, working as a community organizer and later as a legislator, I would often walk through the streets of Chicago’s South Side and see boys marked by that same absence—boys without supervision or direction or anyone to help them as they struggled to grow into men. I identified with their frustration and disengagement—with their sense of having been let down.  

In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence—both in my life and in the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference. 

That is why we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.

As fathers, we need to be involved in our children’s lives not just when it’s convenient or easy, and not just when they’re doing well—but when it’s difficult and thankless, and they’re struggling. That is when they need us most.

Obama-01 And it’s not enough to just be physically present. Too often, especially during tough economic times like these, we are emotionally absent: distracted, consumed by what’s happening in our own lives, worried about keeping our jobs and paying our bills, unsure if we’ll be able to give our kids the same opportunities we had.

Our children can tell. They know when we’re not fully there. And that disengagement sends a clear message—whether we mean it or not—about where among our priorities they fall. 

So we need to step out of our own heads and tune in. We need to turn off the television and start talking with our kids, and listening to them, and understanding what’s going on in their lives.

We need to set limits and expectations. We need to replace that video game with a book and make sure that homework gets done. We need to say to our daughters, Don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for your goals. We need to tell our sons, Those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in our house, we find glory in achievement, self-respect, and hard work. 

WE SHOW OUR CHILDREN BY EXAMPLE

WHO WE WANT THEM TO BECOME

We need to realize that we are our children’s first and best teachers. When we are selfish or inconsiderate, when we mistreat our wives or girlfriends, when we cut corners or fail to control our tempers, our children learn from that—and it’s no surprise when we see those behaviors in our schools or on our streets. 

Obama-04 But it also works the other way around. When we work hard, treat others with respect, spend within our means, and contribute to our communities, those are the lessons our children learn. And that is what so many fathers are doing every day—coaching soccer and Little League, going to those school assemblies and parent-teacher conferences, scrimping and saving and working that extra shift so their kids can go to college. They are fulfilling their most fundamental duty as fathers: to show their children, by example, the kind of people they want them to become. 

It is rarely easy. There are plenty of days of struggle and heartache when, despite our best efforts, we fail to live up to our responsibilities. I know I have been an imperfect father. I know I have made mistakes. I have lost count of all the times, over the years, when the demands of work have taken me from the duties of fatherhood. There were many days out on the campaign trail when I felt like my family was a million miles away, and I knew I was missing moments of my daughters’ lives that I’d never get back. It is a loss I will never fully accept. 

Obama-03 But on this Father’s Day, I think back to the day I drove Michelle and a newborn Malia home from the hospital nearly 11 years ago—crawling along, miles under the speed limit, feeling the weight of my daughter’s future resting in my hands. I think about the pledge I made to her that day: that I would give her what I never had—that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father. I knew that day that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless she had every opportunity in hers. And I knew I had an obligation, as we all do, to help create those opportunities and leave a better world for her and all our children. 

On this Father’s Day, I am recommitting myself to that work, to those duties that all parents share: to build a foundation for our children’s dreams, to give them the love and support they need to fulfill them, and to stick with them the whole way through, no matter what doubts we may feel or difficulties we may face. That is my prayer for all of us on this Father’s Day, and that is my hope for this nation in the months and years ahead. 

Published on 06/21/2009

Parade Magazine

*******

TO MY FATHER ...

Dad1 I read this letter in today's Parade and it really touched me.  My own father was ever present in my life until his sudden death when I was 21 and 5 months pregnant with my 2nd daughter, Kimberly, who was born 4 months later with heart disease that almost took her own life.  I reflect on my younger days when my father was alive, vibrant, involved, and interested in our lives.  He always let us know how much he loved us and how proud he was of my brothers and me.  He passed away far too young and it makes me reflect on my own mortality. 

Most of all, even though my father was a staunch Republican, I truly believe he would be proud of our current President because he would see that Obama is a man of integrity and virtue.  My father was not perfect, but he was a man of integrity.  He looked up to those men and father's of higher standing who were men of integrity, successful in family and career, and intelligent, and tried to live a good life.  He recognized his own shortcomings, and only hoped that his children would succeed him in education and success throughout their lives.  We are all blessed, and we have our father to thank for our glorious journey through life, no matter how difficult it has been at times - for the bumps have surely made us stronger. 

When I reflect on the days that I would sit with my own father and we would talk about what was going on in my life, what I thought about certain things, or just chatting, I recall how interested my father was in me and how valued that made me feel.  It was "our" time and it was important to me.  He let me know it was important to him too. 

Dad if you can hear me - "I love you and I miss you every day.  I cannot believe it has been almost 30 years since you passed away.  Maybe you were a little too anxious to jump into that cold swimming pool in your shorts just 6 days after moving into your new home in Florida.  I remember your call to me on that day telling me that it was blue skies and white clouds and sunshine and that you couldn't wait to see us that Christmas 1980.  Your sudden death was a shock to all of us.  I still hear your voice, I still feel your guidance, I know that you are always with me and helping me walk through this life.  I can even hear your counsel when I need you.  Thank you Dad.  You may be gone from this world, but you are always with me in spirit.  You are never forgotten.  You are always loved.  And, you are dearly missed." 

Your loving daughter, Susan (Soapsuds)


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