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President Obama Talks Fatherhood in Morehouse College Speech

"Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important." —Barack Obama, President

President Barack Obama recently delivered the commencement address at Morehouse College and talked personally about fatherhood and family.

Respecting Presidents

This is a post from National Fatherhood Initiative’s Executive Vice President, Christopher Brown.

I’ve thought a lot recently about the value Americans place on respect and the role that parents and the media play in communicating the importance of respect to our nation’s children.

What brought this issue home to me recently is the behavior of my daughter’s high-school classmates during a speech that President Obama gave last week to students across the country.

This isn’t the first year that the President has delivered a speech to the nation’s school children on the importance of school and a good education. While President Obama has made it an annual address, previous Presidents also addressed our nation’s school children on the importance of school and a good education (including both George W. and George H.W. Bush).

When Obama first started his speeches, I thought it strange that parents were given a form they could sign to “opt out” their children from hearing the speech. Why would I not want my child to hear the President of the United States deliver a speech on the importance of school and getting a good education? Perhaps only that I have an unfounded, paranoid fear that the President would deliver a partisan speech and that, as a result, my child would be co-opted into a way of thinking that I disagree with. If a President had that level of influence, I’d tell him to talk about the importance of eating your vegetables.

At any rate, my daughter reported that her classmates were so disrespectful—hooping and hollering and calling the President names—that she couldn’t even hear parts of the speech. She was genuinely disgusted with the behavior and wondered why these kids—some of whom are her friends—would show such disrespect simply because they don’t agree with or like the President (similar stories emerged of a lack of respect for President George W. Bush as well)

Should we be surprised by this behavior? Not when we live in a nation that has become so polarized politically that words like “respect” and “compromise” and “moderate” have become nostalgic words, at best. In a media-saturated world in which partisan radio, TV, and Internet outlets have grown in number and influence, it is critical that fathers teach their children that they can respect and disagree with someone at the same time without attacking the person’s character.

Fathers have much more influence on their children than any President, and they should help their children develop values necessary for a democracy to thrive, such as the values of compromise and common courtesy. In fact, one of the core values of NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program is to respect others, teach children to do the same, and extend respect through common courtesy—a cultural value that appears to be slowly, sadly disappearing.

President Obama and Work-Family Balance

Forbes just published an interesting take on President Obama's vacation. Putting politics aside, the article (by Lauren Stiller Rikleen) makes a good point about the importance of dads achieving work-family balance for their children's sakes.

I was struck by how simple yet profound this statement is: "...there are important lessons to be learned here about fatherhood. This is because the president is also the father of 2 young girls, both of whom have expectations about family time during the summer..."

When you think about fatherhood from the perspective of what children need, the story looks a little different. Amazingly, this is something we have to do often here at NFI - remind folks that fatherhood should not be thought about from the perspective of adults, but from that of children.

And when you do that in the context of work-family balance, it is clear that fathers are under a great deal of stress, and the environment needs to change to keep pace with fathers' deep desires to be more engaged in their children's lives.

Hopefully, folks will be able to see this particular lesson from the President's actions.

What do you think we can learn about work-family balance from the President's choice to go on vacation?

Congressman Daddy

On January 5, 2011, the largest group of freshmen representatives to enter Congress in the past two decades took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. With an average age of 48 years old – eight years younger than the 111th Congress – many of these legislative newcomers are fathers raising young families.

Marin Cogan of Politico observed that this demographic profile of the 112th Congress was particularly noticeable on induction day: Little girls with ribbons in their hair and boys in satin suit vests lined the laps of several new members in the chamber, and talks of moonlit monument tours were on more than one new member’s itinerary. One of the freshmen, Democrat Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, cast his vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker with a little girl in his arms.

Some of the representatives brought their fathers to the official events as well, or memorabilia to commemorate their dads’ influence in their life: Florida’s Sandy Adams […] was joined by her father, a World War II and a Korean War veteran. […] New York’s Michael Grimm […] wore his late father’s gold ring, etched with the initials GG, for Gerard Grimm. […] “It’s been absolutely surreal,” Grimm said of the day. “My father could barely read or write. Now his son is a U.S. congressman. I can barely think of a better example of the American dream.”

The family affair continues beyond the ceremonial events of January 5. A very practical question that these 94 new representatives will have to answer is whether to uproot their family and bring them to D.C. or leave them at home and commute back and forth. Cogan discusses the pros and cons of both scenarios in Politico. Balancing work and family is a challenge for any dad, but the new Congressmen are certainly facing a unique juggling act.

Representing American citizens in Congress is serious responsibility with the opportunity to have a tremendous impact on the next generation. For these new representatives with young children, perhaps that responsibility has a more personal meaning. The next generation looks up at them every day and calls them “Daddy.”

The timing of this new wave of dads in Congress is significant. In the past 10 years, fatherhood has become a national priority. Congress allocated funding to support fatherhood programming and President Obama announced a national initiative to help engage dads in the lives of their kids. These representatives who are raising children and representing constituents have a unique opportunity to combine both those roles as responsible fatherhood legislation comes to the floor during this session of Congress.

Eventually their role as Congressmen will come to an end. But, as Illinois Representative Bobby Schilling, father of 10 children, said, “You won’t be a member forever. Everybody comes out of office at some point, but you’ll always have a family.”

Father's Day Rewind

We hope all you dads out there had a GREAT Father's Day! Here at National Fatherhood Initiative, we were celebrating our favorite holiday in a pretty big way. Here's our Father's Day Top Five:
  1. Chris Brown, our Senior VP, was trackside to honor three NASCAR drivers with Fatherhood Awards.

  2. President Roland C. Warren appeared on CNN,, and BET talking about the important role dads play.

  3. News outlets across the country were buzzing about our work and about the issue of involved responsible committed fatherhood.

  4. We snacked on HIS Chips from Herr's and Dad's Root Beer thanks to our Father's Day partnerships with these great companies.

  5. President Obama spoke on the importance of fatherhood and the direction of his fatherhood and mentoring issues.
Click here to see a full recap of our Father's Day celebration, and check out our news feed to see what the media were saying about NFI and fatherhood this weekend!

Thanks for following us here on The Father Factor. We're committed to raising awareness about the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fathers and equipping our nation's dads to be the best fathers they can be!

Of Princesses and First Ladies

In Roland's latest Washington Times column, he explores the idea that "a good father helps his daughter find her prince without kissing all the frogs" and how this is played out in Disney's upcoming movie, "The Princess and The Frog."

He also points out the father factor in the President and First Lady Obama's strong marriage.

You can read the full article here!

"Can" Versus "Should"

Don McNay, in a review of a book about President Obama, makes some profound statements about fatherhood: "I can say, from firsthand experience that having an absent father can hurt your development. I can also say, from firsthand experience, that having an encouraging and loving father can be the key to achieving greatness."

However, he comes to a conclusion that, after pondering it for a while, I found to be meaningless: "If Obama can do it, every other child of an absent father can make it too."

First, President Obama's case was not typical in that he was raised, during several key years of his childhood, by his married grandfather and grandmother.

Second, saying that something "can be done" is not nearly the same as saying it "is likely to be done." Every child can break the Olympic sprinting record set by Usain Bolt. That is a true statement - but does it have significance? Will every child break the record? What are their chances? The research on the consequences of father absence on children is clear that those children face significant risks that are not easily overcome.

Finally, just because something "can" be done does not mean we should be neutral or complacent about whether it "should" be done. Even if McNay's statement was meaningful or significant, would it mean that President Obama should immediately end his responsible fatherhood initiative? Should men, when they get women pregnant, just move on with the assurance that their children "can" make it without them?

We need to, as a society, give children their best chances to succeed. Going with the flow of father absence and hoping that something unlikely "can" happen is not fair to our children.

Live Feed From White House Event on Fatherhood

Check it out: NFI president Roland C. Warren is there.

What Daddy Dilemma?

I am not sure what the point of this article is by Melissa Harris-Lacewell. It suggests that President Obama has a dilemma on his hands because he grew up without his father and he became President, yet he talks about the importance of fathers being involved in their children's lives ... Big dilemma!

Wait, why is that a dilemma? The President had a very unusual upbringing (that mostly involved his married grandparents raising him) that almost no children with uninvolved fathers will have.

Ms. Harris-Lacewell also says that the experiences he had as a result of being raised by a single mother (adolescent angst, search for self-identity, etc) were his recipe for success, and that children who grow up with fathers will not have these experiences .... What? Doesn't every teenager have those experiences? How about the 40 or so other Presidents in our nation's history who did grow up with their dads. They obviously had experiences that led them to the Presidency.

Like I said, I don't understand the point of the article ... Do you?

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