Obama’s Fatherhood Cop-Out

Caryn: Carla you’re going to be so mad at me. Because after months of being too swamped or lazy to start a post myself, it took our president’s foolish words to get me writing.

Of all the things I disagree with Barack Obama on, perhaps this little ditty from a public service announcement is the worst. Here’s what he says:

“To be a good father is the most important job in a man’s life, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Play catch, go to a park or visit a zoo. Help your child with their homework. Sit down together for dinner. Ask them how their day was. Things get busy, and sometimes we all fall short, but the smallest moments can have the biggest impact on a child’s life. Take time to be a dad today.”

Okay. So, of course, being a dad is the most important job in a man’s life (well, except maybe if you’re president…) and yes, those are all fun ideas for being a good dad. But “it doesn’t have to be hard”?!?!? Honestly, that’s one of the worst messages for both moms and dads I’ve ever heard. Now, an open letter to our President:

Dear Pres. Obama: Being a good dad isn’t about playing catch or going to the zoo or sitting down to dinner while leaving all he hard stuff to your baby’s mama. In fact, a dad who doesn’t do the hard stuff is a slack dad. A bad dad. You’re letting men off the hook.

Pres. Obama, you’ve also just sent a horrible message to moms. That WE alone are responsible for the hard, ugly stuff of parenting while dads just need to be there for the fun. This is one of the grueling stereotypes that continues to oppress women and mothers. It’s one of the reasons we have the Mommy Revolution.

You claim to be for (fight for?) equality, but your message just gave lazy dads a nice boost and good dads a slap in the face. Thanks. You owe all mothers—-and HARD-doing dads—a giant apology.

Because you’re clearly confused on this issue, I’m sure Carla and I would be happy to come to Washington for a nice lunch and help you understand this matter.  And then perhaps we should become your Parenting Czars. I’d be happy to suspend my outrage over your Czars and my Libertarian, small-gov beliefs if it came with a sweet six-fig salary and that awesome government health plan for me and Carla (I mean, for EACH of us. We can’t share the six figs).

Thank you for your hard work as President.

(Carla, if this is hard for you to respond to, just pretend W–or maybe Nixon–said it).

Carla: I get your point. I do. But as I’ve barked at you on Facebook this morning, it’s hard for me to separate my impressions of his words from my weariness with the Obama-bashing. I mean, the man’s reading a script. He didn’t say this off-the-cuff at some dinner party. If you want to be irked at someone, be irked at the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. This is their message.

And really, I think your parsing words here. The word “hard” is meant to convey that parenthood is not rocket science. You don’t have to be an expert on child development to be a good parent. You need to be there, be invested, take initiative, pay attention. In that sense, it’s not hard. And honestly, for the kind of dad who needs an organization to help him figure out how to be a dad, this is a good start. Be there. Show up. Take an interest. Participate.

Like I said to you on FB, I think there are moms who would love the fathers of their children to take them to the park or read them a story. I know that’s the fun stuff, but so what? It’s still involvement. And it’s a starting point. Anyone who’s ever taken a kid to the park knows it’s usually anything but fun. That dad will have to push the swing till his arms hurt. He’ll have to deal with that mean kid who shoves his baby off the slide. He’ll have to soothe his child when she gets sand in her eye and figure out where the bathroom is and learn the hard way that he should have brought snacks. The fun stuff leads to the hard stuff.

To me, the bigger outrage is that there is a need for a message like this. It’s ridiculous that the president has to tell men how to be fathers. If you want to be mad about something, be mad at the men who abandon their families–whether it’s a physical abandonment or an emotional one. Be mad at the men who spend all of their free time away from their kids because they need to “recharge” after a long week. Be mad at the dads who work 70 hours a week in the name of “providing” when what their kids really need is a dad who shows up at their games and concerts and tucks them in at night. Being mad at the president for telling men to step it up is, to me, a waste of a good rant.

Did you know that earlier this week this same president proposed doubling the childcare tax credit for families that earn less than $85,ooo a year? That has nothing to do with anything, but I thought you’d like to know that he does, occasionally, do nice things for families.

And for the record, Mr. President, I am absolutely free for lunch.

Caryn: I understand your weariness. I did, after all, vote for George W. Bush—twice. One of the reasons I was actually glad to see Obama will was that I was just tired of all the bitching.

And I understand that it was scripted. To me, it makes it worse. But alas, we will agree to disagree on that. You ARE right that it is the bigger point that we live in a country where the president (who by the very nature of his past few jobs means he was almost never with his kids—I say this as the wife of a political candidate, so I’m not judging. Just grumbling) needs to help teach dads how to be dads. And I think his version was a smack in the face to all the actual read good dads. Not to mention moms.

(Oh, and regarding the tax credits…according to him, we should not be paying any taxes. Sweet. We’ll see what happens on April 15. Though, once we get those Czarina posts, Carla, we may be singing a different tax tune. Top brackets, baby!)

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Cindy on February 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    I hesitate to jump in on this topic again after the Facebook smack-down I received, but I do feel rather strongly.
    I think the whole thing with having Obama do the PSA was as a black man talking to other black me, telling them to step up and take responsibility. While I appreciate that, a lot of the baby-daddys donot do much the fun stuff and none of the hard stuff. take pride in impregnating the baby-mommas and going on to the next girl. All the fun and none of the responsibility. Then the girls proceed to neglect their kids when the next comes along or they are no longer fun to dress.
    I’m not trying to be a trouble maker, and certainly not a racist, but I’ve seen this over and over again in my sons’ friends. The black churches I’m familiar with pull out all the stops to support the young mothers by not being judgmental, but no one says, “This is just plain wrong. Knock it off.” Both sides of the equation take great pride in their status, but little responsibility. I have three children of 11 born to three mothers and, yes, 11 fathers.
    I’m disappointed in the President. He could and should have said so much more. These kids all need a dad to step up to the plate and actually parent.
    I’ll go away now. Thanks for the chance to rant.


  2. I see what you’re saying here Caryn, but I’m siding with Carla on this one (and for the record, I voted for Bush AND Obama).

    It’s the same sort of thing as when I say marriage doesn’t have to be hard. It’s actually quite simple – are simple things DIFFICULT or CHALLENGING sometimes? yes. But for most people, marriage and parenting aren’t rocket science.

    In the post enlightenment age, we have tended to make it seem as though a person has to have a post graduate degree in whatever it is they’re wanting to be good at.

    And the bigger picture here shouldn’t be focusing on some semantic annoyances that we have with our president (who has to be judged by his soundbites – as do all presidents – which is unfair for all of them no matter their party) but rather with why he’s having to give this message in the first place.

    Caryn – I know you didn’t mean it this way but by attempting to defend real life parenting, in a way, you kind of insulted it. Suggesting that the things the president mentioned are somehow easy or a copout. I’m sure you didn’t mean that, but that’s how it sounded to me.


    • LOL. Carla changed the title to say “copout.” She set me up! : ) Oh, and I my Facebook page, I TOTALLY said that I think going to the zoo and the park ARE the hard things of motherhood. Honestly, what is more stressful than having to watch three little wild kids while also keeping all the molesters at bay. (Or am I the only one who views a trip the park this way?)

      I guess I see a distinction between something being hard and being rocket science-ish. I think, for example, putting together shelves from IKEA can be hard (those damn tiny tools and misfit holes!) and writing (well) is hard. Most of the good–and rewarding–things in life are hard.

      I realize it doesn’t take a genius to be a good dad. But I still think that to be a good mom or dad is hard–at times. And if it’s not hard to be a good dad, then we need to shut up with all the teenage girls out there who want to be mommies and play house. Because if being a dad doesn’t have to be hard, neither should being a mom. That made no sense, but I’m being dragged away. Hard, hard, hard….


      • Posted by Carla on February 1, 2010 at 8:11 pm

        I didn’t mean to set you up. I was trying to draw google traffic. Good marketing is hard!

  3. I just realized I was logged in as the GENERATE account – for the record, I don’t speak for GENERATE above lol


  4. Hmm. I can’t help opining that any man willing to run for President of the United States while his children are still home has his priorities a wee bit out of order. (Of course, that would describe all the presidents since George Sr.) But that’s just my opinion, and it seems like the Obama’s parenting is setting a pretty good example overall.

    Also, I am keenly aware that my babies would not have health care coverage were it not for my beautiful blue-state legislators, so I can’t help but root the man on. 🙂 Heaven forbid we ever have to move out of the MN/WI region!!!

    I wish American politics weren’t so divisive–that instead of trying to find the chink in the armor of our political opponents and going in for the kill, we’d listen to each other, build each other up, and try to come up with productive strategies. We forget to give politicians the courtsey they’re due as human beings–we think that somehow the political ends of our ungraciousness justifies the means. I HATE that both sides of the aisle participate in that kind of bickering-it’s a waste of time and energy, and I believe it’s slanderous and sinful. S.I.N.

    Honestly, I see what you’re saying, Caryn, but I don’t think that commercial is going to make anyone a WORSE father. In fact, it’s a decent starting point for disengaged fathers–I bet Obama would have LOVED it if his dad had done any of those things. A leave-it-to-beaver dad is better than no dad at all.


  5. Posted by Robyn on February 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    I agree with both of you. Is that possible? (Missed the FB drama. Must have been sleeping.)

    The father of my children does the hard stuff and the fun stuff. Aside from pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, there honestly isn’t anything I do that he doesn’t. We’ve always been very intentional about that. He wishes he could be a SAHD, actually. And lordy help the person who says anything to him about him “babysitting.” He will GO OFF. So, that obviously informs my opinion regarding what a “good dad” is.

    Dads don’t get a pass. They don’t get to take the kids to the park but sleep through the 2 am vomit session. Parenting is, ideally, equal opportunity joy and misery.

    Is parenting hard? Sometimes. I sometimes think that parents get a bad rap and that there are far more good ones than mass media would lead one to believe. Other times, I wonder how all these parents have their heads up their asses and don’t seem to give a crap about their kids. Two different sets of parents.


  6. Posted by Pixie on February 2, 2010 at 7:53 am

    I think that educating absentee fathers about the deeper nature of parenthood before encouraging them to just try is rather like explaining the trinity to a non-believer before mentioning that “Jesus loves you” or attempting to teach your toddler algebra before basic addition. As simplistic as the message may be and as much as it leaves untouched, some people really are at that place.

    I say that after my 4-year-old niece told me her Daddy was dead. He isn’t dead and no one told her that is he is or may as well be. My guess was just that it was her way of expressing her anger, hurt & confusion. And what do you say to that? I could have said, “Your daddy has a new baby boy with his current girlfriend, so he’s busy with your brother” or “He’s in jail….again” or “Actually, you’re mommy is kinda relieved that he isn’t showing interest because then she doesn’t have to worry about you being around his girlfriend who requires psychotropics or she cuts people up with beer bottles”. Instead, I just said, “Oh, that’s sad.” And I’ve listened to my cousin tell my how lucky she is that her children’s fathers aren’t involved because then she doesn’t have to worry about them coming home with concussions or behavior problems. (To be fair to the fathers, just last weekend a friend was sharing how his nephew goes to visit his mother and comes back completely non-verbal for days. Bad parenting isn’t gender specific). That’s the right now….there is still the worry about what these daddy-love hungry girls will do once they hit their teen years. Even with the solid, stable, loving male figure in their lives now, will he get the “you’re not my father” once he tries to guide them through dating?

    So obviously a PSA doesn’t begin to touch on the complications of broken families let alone pat good mothers and fathers on the back for not being douche bags. As someone who believes in conversation, I hope that the PSA will get some people thinking and talking and making first steps and that from there they can begin to grow into whole people and whole parents. Maybe we can be there to join in that conversation with the broken families we already know.

    *The above describes past & current situations in my very white, rural, red-state, Christian extended family.*


  7. honestly, i don’t really think most dads would listen to that announcement and feel like they had just been slapped in the face. maybe super emotional dads. but my husband? no. and he’s like robyn’s husband: involved at every step of the process. he (shockingly, and with my complete disapproval) even takes credit for helping my labor go faster by being the “best labor coach i could ever have.” (said with a wink, lest that riles you up…)

    i agree that this PSA is probably for obama to speak to black fathers who aren’t taking their job seriously, although, as pixie pointed out, this runs rampant across ethnic backgrounds and is not gender specific.

    but really, who cares? if he makes a few dads think more about things they could do to enrich their kids’ lives, like other people have pointed out, that’s not a bad thing. everyone has to start somewhere. in my screwed-up-ness, if i think about all the things about myself as a mother that i need or would like to change or work on, i get so overwhelmed that i want to just give up. so if obama had done a commercial talking about how “good dads” need to have a job that provides for their families, needs to get up with those 2 am breastfeeding sessions, needs to be equally involved in all the household cleaning…well, they might just say “screw it.”

    really, though, the bottom line is that these kinds of things flare up and set us off i think because we already have issues with a person. so, caryn, maybe the PSA set you off because you already don’t like him? i’m not trying to be disrespectful. it’s just that we have lenses through which we view things, and if your lens is skewed a certain way to scrutinize everything obama does, then i can see how this commercial might irritate you. or, my lens might be “way cool! yay obama!” 🙂


  8. Posted by Chez P. on February 22, 2010 at 10:42 am

    You are bitter and that is sad. Single parenthood is HARD and our leaders have been more silent than not…so isn’t it better to finally have a president who encourages absentee fathers to Do SOMETHING??? Don’t bash the little progress that we have, when you do that then you risk ALL future progress. Would you rather Obama give up? Say OK no more PSA’s about taking time to be a dad??? Don’t bash small progressive milestones…celebrate them and ask for more Get your head out…


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