Paul Greenberg

Young Clarence did not fully understand what his grandfather was giving him, not then, for he was a child and saw as a child. "But as I grew older," Mr. Justice Thomas writes now, and "made my own way in the world, and raised a son, I came to appreciate what I had not understood as a child: I had been raised by the greatest man I have ever known."

How we need not just such paternal models, but fathers of all styles and persuasions. For there are different ways of being a good father, which first means being a good husband, and then being there for the kids. Last Sunday, Father's Day, Barack Obama had the candor to point to the man who isn't there in too many American "families" today. Good for him.

Perhaps someday someone, even a presidential candidate with much to lose by being candid, will rise on Mother's Day and point out that bringing children into the world without a father to complete the family, and to help rear and provide for the next generation, also helps explain what's wrong with much of American society. And why so many of our children are being raised, as Sen. Obama put it, with no margin for error.

Let's not overlook maternal irresponsibility, either, or make excuses for it. It merits the same kind of moral indictment that Barack Obama, to popular applause and general approbation last week, drew up against the absentee father.

Single young mothers - and their children - need all the support and guidance their families and society can provide. But so do young, vulnerable girls - little more than children themselves - in a sociey where all the forces of vulgar fashion and the omnipresent media conspire to turn adolescents into sexpots.

In this latest age of sexual liberation (mainly for the male of the species) we need to transmit the age-old wisdom of the species - what used to be called mother wit - to each generation. Namely, the fundamental importance of the marital and family bond.

The Victorians understood the centrality of the family in the nation. So did the Puritans before them, and on back to the sayings of Confucius and the detailed statutes and ordinances of the Old Testament. But man forgets the old lessons, and children pay the price. So does society in general.

Excuses are a luxury that those concerned about the American family can no longer afford. Freedom, independence, character - like so many good things, those begin at home. With families. And with responsible fathers - and mothers.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.