My counterpart on the Tribune op-ed page, Eric Zorn, pointed out to me the need for a correction in my column/post regarding the reaction to President Barack Obama’s call (below) at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago for greater involvement by fathers in the children’s lives. (Update: He responds to this post here.)
In my column, I said,
How interesting it was to watch some liberal MSNBC commentators after the president's speech sound as if Obama had gone over to the evil side by emphasizing how important the presence of a father is to deter violence, family instability and community disintegration.
Eric searched out that video clip (below) to show that I had mistakenly portrayed their reaction; in fact panel members had welcomed Obama’s support for involved fathers. My error was not intentional, but it was sloppy. Making an error like this is troubling for me, but perhaps not as much as the aggrieved parties.
Eric’s point was that I was engaged in creating a “bogus caricature of contemporary liberalism.”
With the MSNBC commentators, that's correct. But on the larger point, I’m not so sure that I was incorrect. If any, some or most liberals have seriously embraced Obama’s passionate,
consistent and correct assessment of the high priority need for involved fathers, I would like to see more evidence of it. More important, I would enthusiastically embrace their conversion to that point of view and welcome them into the community of advocates for greater fatherhood involvement
For years, decades, as I pointed out in my column, this has been the domain of social conservatives. Their determination has been alternately ridiculed and condemned by social liberals. They have been scorned for clinging to an obsolete and destructive social institution. For their lack of compassion for people “only wishing” to live their own way.
So if contemporary liberalism has clasped the fatherhood message to its bosom, I’d love to see their enthusiastic support, not just an occasional nod to the idea.
Perhaps they would openly acknowledge that liberalism was wrong to so thoroughly trash the fatherhood message. Perhaps some liberals would stop grasping at straws in a futile effort to trash the overwhelming evidence of the problems that absent fathers cause. Perhaps they would try to understand that conservatives’ appreciation of fathers’ vital roles is a sincere concern about its destructive effects on mothers, sons and daughters and not a slam at single mothers that are doing their damnedest to construct a loving and secure home for their children.
These are the banalities and unfair stereotypes that liberals have hurled at social conservatives for years. Putting aside the insult, consider how liberals, by these politically contrived and motived contributions, have delayed the kind of change needed to reduce the level of social pathology that its ripping our families, communities, cities and nation apart.
So, my apologies to liberals who believe they have been unfairly stigmatized by my own stereotyping. But I would be more persuaded that my image of liberals needs serious updating if they would:
• See the irony in proclaiming the importance of daddy-presence while even more loudly justifying and demanding the legalization of marriages that don’t contain fathers. I’m referring to lesbian marriages, in which there is little or no father involvement. Does this contradiction even give social liberals pause? If they think that fathers bring something important, even critical, to raising children, why do they so ferociously demand the institutionalization of a family structure that excludes men? (Just as I believe that a mother brings something unique and critical to raising healthy children just as two male parents leaves something out.) This has nothing to do with “imposing” anyone’s morals or religious beliefs on anyone—the usual excuse for not backing fatherhood causes. It has everything to do with the real-life experience.
• Join with social conservatives in energizing the fatherhood movement. With all the talk about the need for bi-partisanship, this is an excellent place to start. Obama acknowledged as much when he suggested a few things that government can do, as I mentioned in my column. But he also said government can only do so much. It would be a sign of good faith if social liberals would join social conservatives in expressing deep concern about our culture (read: the disintegration of norms and values that support fatherhood and marriages). Culture affects behavior and we need to begin changing that culture for the better if we expect children to grow up with something other than thoughts of violence and other pathologies dancing through their heads.
Obama got it right, and is providing the kind of leadership that is so desperately needed from the left. Here’s one issue on which he’s not leading from behind. My prayer is that social liberals are keeping up with their leader, and not just engaged in lip service. And if they are truly engaged, hurrah for them. Let’s get it done, together.