Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's recent call for responsible fatherhood is welcome, overdue -- and misleadingly incomplete.

That America's fathers need to embrace their most important role is no secret. Activist fathers have been trying to make the same claim for decades, without much success.

Not all fathers are trying to be good dads, it goes without saying. But neither are all absent by choice, as Obama's message implied.

His plea to fathers came on Father's Day, a time we usually reserve for praising good men. Noting the plague of fatherless homes, he called on fathers who have abandoned their responsibilities to act like men, not boys.

Hear, hear.

We pause briefly to ponder the kind of response Obama might have received had he decided to criticize negligent moms on Mother's Day. No one in his right mind would do such a thing, but we're so accustomed to dissing dads that even a Father's Day reprimand leaves America's eyelashes unruffled.

Double standards are sometimes allowed for the greater good. We cut Obama slack because his message is so urgent. We also know that the African-American community has been hardest hit by father absence. In Obama's words:

"We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled -- doubled -- since we were children. We know the statistics -- that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it."

Obama is right on all of the above, but the stats are even worse. More than 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock. Since 1960, we've tripled the number of American children living in fatherless homes, from 8 million to 24 million. The population as a whole increased just 1.7 times during that period.

What Obama fails to mention is that the problem of absent fathers, especially in the black community, is tied in part to well-intentioned social programs such as those the presumptive Democratic nominee intends to expand -- domestic violence prevention and child support collections.

As I point out in my book, "Save the Males: Why Men Matter; Why Women Should Care," cracking down on deadbeats is one of those guaranteed applause-getters, but most of the fathers of whom Obama is speaking make less than $10,000 a year -- or are unemployed.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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