Monday, June 16, 2008

Obama on Fathers

Maybe it's just me, but I found Obama's Father's Day speech a little ... odd. It's clear that the speech came from a deeply personal place, since Obama himself lacked a strong paternal figure. The topic of missing fathers is certainly relevant in the African American community, where higher rates of young men end up in prison than in college and often leaving children behind. But it seemed to me to imply that the fathers were a predictor of success rather than race, class, or education. While it is certainly easier to parent with two rather than one, there's no reason to believe that emotionally stable, successful children can't come out of a single-parent household. The greater predictor of problematic child rearing tends to be poverty rather than the number of parents. Obama points out that:
children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves.
To me the cause and effect is a little backwards here and it seemed a rather heteronormative approach to child-rearing. It isn't the lack of father that causes the poverty, but more often its the other way around. It's certainly true that holding fathers more accountable for their children's lives would do wonders for any number of children, but a more effective public policy pursuits is to work on eliminating poverty, not trying to solve daddy problems.

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