Sasha and Malia Obama must be two of the only girls on in the country who aren’t embarrassed by their father. Sure, he makes a corny joke every now and then, but come on—in addition to the whole being president thing, he dresses well, plays a mean game of basketball, and got them the puppy they’d been begging for all year. Not to mention that, about a week before being inaugurated, he wrote an open letter to them in Parade Magazine. “I know that you’ve both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn’t have let you have. But I also know that it hasn’t always been easy for you,” he wrote. “When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me—about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours.”
Yeah, that made me a little teary, too. Barack Obama takes being a father very seriously. Which makes sense considering that his own dad—a Kenyan man who fell in love with a white midwestern woman while studying at the University of Hawaii—left when Barack was two. Barack wrote a whole book, Dreams From My Father (which if you haven’t read yet, please do), about his life-long quest to understand his dad and truly know him even though, after he left, they only met face-to-face once when Barack was seven. Even a decade later, Barack still feels ambivalence about his dad. In the new forward to his book, written just after his mother died, he says, “I think sometimes had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book—less a mediation on an absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life.”
Obama knows what it’s like to be from a fatherless home. And so he has made it one of missions to speak out about the beauty and importance of being a present father. So this afternoon, he’s hosting a town hall at the White House where assorted dads will share their stories. He’ll also be giving a speech and is recording a message for the Rally for Responsible Fatherhood that’ll take place in Washington tomorrow. And he’s also spending time with assorted charities that encourage dads to step up to the plate. [AP]
In our culture, we talk a lot about motherhood—and the assumption is that it’s something sacred, the apotheosis of life for women who choose to do it. But fatherhood is something we talk about far less often—and often the assumption is sometimes that it’s a fiscal rather than an emotional responsibility. Does this make sense given that, duh, women are the ones who carry babies inside their body while men are slightly detached from the process? Sure. But I think we’ve spun these ideas to the extreme. Take for example, donating eggs versus donating sperm. A woman is paid thousands of dollars for her eggs and given extensive counseling about how they’ll handle knowing that they might possibly have a baby in the world. Meanwhile, dudes are asked to jerk off in a cup for $20, $30, $40 a pop. Yes, donating eggs is invasive surgery while donating sperm isn’t, and we don’t have so many eggs to spare. But still, with donating sperm, there’s just as much of a possibility that, somewhere, a kid that shares half of a guy’s DNA. But that’s rarely addressed in the process. Want another example? Have a guy (outside of the state of California) ask his boss for paternity leave with pay and see what happens. I’m guessing laughter?
All this is to say that I think it’s pretty dope that Obama is taking time out from the rote political stuff to talk about the importance of fatherhood. He’s a role model that many guys look up to, especially African-American men. And since 40% of black children in the United States are raised by single mothers, he could actually make a real difference.
Here’s what Obama had to say last Father’s Day: