Obama Wants Better Fathers

When I saw the headline “Obama wants better fathers” at YahooNews, my reaction was, “Who could blame him?” After all, he didn’t really have a father in other than the biological sense that we all do. He was abandoned as an infant and knew his father only through stories and his imaginings.

But Nia-Malika Henderson‘s story for Politico is actually somewhat more interesting than the headline.

President Barack Obama will kick off a national conversation today about fatherhood, family, and mentoring with a series of events around DC and a gathering of young men for a discussion at the White House.

Obama will be joined by several high profile athletes, actors and celebrities, and others who will visit area non-profits focused on youth and mentoring.  Among the people participating are basketball player Dwayne Wade, football star Antwaan Randle El, chef Bobby Flay and Obama’s body man, Reggie Love.

The events will culminate with a White House town hall on fatherhood that will feature several men talking about their experiences as parents.

Obama, whose father abandoned him when he was two years old, also penned an essay for Parade magazine about his experiences as a dad. In that essay he talks about seeing fatherhood through his father’s absence—he saw his father for the last time when he was 10 and only got to know him through letters and family lore.

Obama admits that he has sometimes been an “imperfect father” because he often put work ahead of family. He urges fathers to be present in their children’s lives. “We need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one,” he writes.

Now, one could argue that he’s got more important things to do right now than lecture the country on the importance of fatherhood.  And, without casting any aspersions at all, one might reasonably wonder if there weren’t more obvious candidates for a panel on fatherhood than two young athletes, a cook, and a presidential aide.

But presidents have a larger role than mere crisis managers and there’s only so much he can do about the economy, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, and any number of other pressing issues.  Arguably, the most important power presidents have on the domestic front is what Teddy Roosevelt termed the Bully Pulpit.  We could go a long way toward fixing a lot of our social problems if more dads took responsibility for shaping their kids’ lives.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Heh. Maybe he is going to hand out a trillion dollars more in debt for father’s day.

  2. just me says:

    Honestly, this is a bully pullpit issue I wouldn’t mind Obama taking up. There are a lot of children growing up with single mothers whose fathers aren’t in the picture.

    I don’t think I want to see him focus on the issue to the exclusion of others, but getting more men to be involved fathers isn’t a bad thing to advocate.