Sunday, February 17, 2013
On Friday, President Obama gave a speech in Chicago regarding a myriad of issues including gun violence, educational opportunity, bringing people out of poverty and moving the country forward. It was a sweeping speech that touched on many of the same themes that he discussed in the State of the Union.
Unfortunately, a few members of the pundit class on the left, most notably Melissa Harris-Perry, for whom I have a great deal of respect, took exception to a portion of the speech that spoke about absentee fathers. Saying in a tweet:
"Sigh...the fatherhood thing is distressing for me President Obama. I know you don't mean to say single moms cause gun violence, but..."
Now this came around 10 minutes into a thirty minute speech and the President was indeed lamenting that his father was absent, but in no way was he blaming single mothers for poverty and gun violence. Here's the actual quote from the speech:
Now, that starts at home. There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable families -- which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood. (Applause.) Don’t get me wrong -- as the son of a single mom, who gave everything she had to raise me with the help of my grandparents, I turned out okay. (Applause and laughter.) But -- no, no, but I think it’s -- so we’ve got single moms out here, they’re heroic in what they’re doing and we are so proud of them. (Applause.) But at the same time, I wish I had had a father who was around and involved. Loving, supportive parents -- and, by the way, that’s all kinds of parents -- that includes foster parents, and that includes grandparents, and extended families; it includes gay or straight parents. (Applause.)*
That passage in no way demonizes single mothers nor does it say that single parenting is the cause of gun violence. It speaks a truth that many don't want to acknowledge. Two supportive parents do make a difference in a child's life. Single mothers are heroic. There is no mistaking that, but I just don't see that passage as blaming single mothers for gun violence. In fact it acknowledges all different sorts of parenting as being important.
On today's show, Ms. Harris-Perry and her panel had a lengthy discussion of her tweet and the response it got. They also discussed the idea of government wanting people to be married. If you read the President's words on the issue, again from the speech, you'll see he said government should work to make easier for people who want to get married, to do so.
So we should encourage marriage by removing the financial disincentives for couples who love one another but may find it financially disadvantageous if they get married.
He also spoke specifically to absent fathers by saying "Because what makes you a man is not the ability to make a child, it’s the courage to raise one. " Raising one doesn't mean marriage or cohabitation, it means supporting your child when and how you can. Many fathers can't support their child financially to the extent they want to but they can always be present emotionally for their kids.
The thing that I think is missing from the discussion as the panel tried to parse out words and accuse the President of "Daddy Politics", is that absentee parenting is not just a daddy issue, a race issue or a socio-economic issue.
Many of you know that I investigate child and abuse and neglect. I've been in social work for 25 years and almost 20 of them have been spent in the trenches seeing first hand the devastation of absentee parents on children. President Obama was speaking of fathers who were absent physically, emotionally and financially. Children are just as devastated by parents who are physically present but otherwise absent due to alcohol, drugs, domestic abuse, and mental illness.
I've got cases on my desk right now that encompass all of those issues. My colleagues and I go into poor neighborhoods where crime is high due to poverty and absent parents. We also go to middle class and wealthy neighborhoods where children are harmed by the 'present' but absent parents that I mentioned above.
While single mother's in and of themselves don't cause gun violence and there are thousands of cases single mothers raising wonderfully well adjusted children, there are also thousands of cases in which children of single parents do fall into poverty and crime. There are thousands of cases where addiction, violence and mental illness distance a parent from their children.
There are no easy answers to ending gun violence and raising people out of poverty. There is hard work to be done in a comprehensive way, which is what I heard from the President on Friday. To accuse President Obama of blaming it all on single mother's and his own "daddy issues" does a grave disservice to his message. If you're looking for people to jump on that bandwagon, count me absent.