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"Can" Versus "Should"

Posted by Vincent DiCaro

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Oct 1, 2009
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.

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