President Barack Obama gave a historic commencement speech at Morehouse College today. If you know anything about anything, you’d know that Obama is America’s first black president; and, that Morehouse College is an all-male, historic black college founded just two years after the American Civil War. As an institute of higher learning that caters to black men that was founded on the backs of former slaves, the historic significance of a commencement speech by the nation’s first black president in 2013 should not be lost on anyone.
That said, as sure as I predicted in one of my tweets today, the media didn’t spare any opportunity to dissect his words and his message. And as just as I had predicted in a separate tweet during the speech, the media didn’t waste time in focusing on what they perceive to be Obama’s daddy issue. That would be, Obama’s projection of the pain felt in growing up without a father, relative to the issue of absentee fathers within the black community.
In his speech, President Obama said, “My whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle & my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me.” He went on to encouraged Morehouse’s Class of 2013 to become good husbands and fathers. In doing so, he singled out one young man who became a teen father, who in spite of being an eventual father of three, he managed to stay committed to his children and obtain a degree from Morehouse College.
This from Obama’s speech:
When I talk about pursuing excellence, and setting an example, I’m not just talking about in your career. One of today’s graduates, Frederick Anderson, started his college career in Ohio, only to find out that his high school sweetheart back in Georgia was pregnant. So he enrolled in Morehouse to be closer to her. Pretty soon, helping raise a newborn and working night shifts became too much, so he started taking business classes at a technical college instead – doing everything from delivering newspapers to buffing hospital floors to support his family. Then he enrolled at Morehouse a second time – but even with a job, he couldn’t keep up with the cost of tuition. So after getting his degree from that technical school, the father of three decided to come back to Morehouse for a third time. As Frederick says, “God has a plan for my life, and he’s not done with me yet.”
Today, Frederick is a family man, a working man, and a Morehouse Man. And that’s what I’m asking all of you to do: keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner, or father to your children that you can be. Because nothing is more important.
The issue of absentee fathers is a point Obama has echoed on many occasions in speeches during his presidency — yes, it’s nothing new. In fact, throughout the black community, Obama’s mention of absentee fathers and single motherhood has been an ongoing debate since his Father’s Day speech in 2008. As inspiring as Obama’s speech at Morehouse College was to me — considering the audience — it’s sad that the take away for some, motivates vitriol like the following excerpt from Yvette Carnell. In a piece titled “At Morehouse Graduation, Obama Blames Kenyan Deadbeat Dad, But What About His White Deadbeat Mom?”, Carnell writes what I see as the most piss-poor argument that passes as yet another critique of Obama.
This from Breaking Brown:
No matter the circumstance, or how unrelated the topic, Obama reverts back to the theme of Black male abandonment, but why isn’t there any blame for the mother who dumped young Barack with his grandparents so she could build a new life?
What criticism does Obama have for the mother who first dragged him to Indonesia, where he was relentlessly bullied, and then dumped him to live with his grandparents? Not much. Even though Obama professes to have adored his grandparents, he revealed during his Jeremiah Wright speech that they both harbored racist resentments. This was no life for a young Black man to live, being abandoned by his mother, left to be raised by racist whites.
But Obama’s life with his mother was no better. Once when Obama was being mercilessly brutalized and pelted with rocks by his racist peers in Indonesia, a friend of Obama’s mother offered to intervene: “No, he’s OK,” replied his mother. “He’s used to it.”
It was devastatingly uncaring for a mother to allow such a thing, but she’s still heralded as a strong single mom. Only Obama’s Black father is maligned as a deadbeat. Why the double standard? Why can’t Obama ever have the gumption to acknowledge the woeful fact that both his mother was painfully indifferent to his needs. Why is it only Black men who are deserving of the label ‘dead beat’?
I’m sorry, but I think I’ll need more than this anecdote to characterize Obama’s mother as a deadbeat mother. To be honest, it’s a very weak and ill-formed argument. Why? Because I’ve read accounts of Obama’s upbringing aside from his mention of it on the campaign trail, and I can’t recall any accounts which suggest that Ann Duncan abandoned her son. From all accounts, Obama’s mother was simply a struggling single-mother (like most single mothers irrespective of race) who had her passport stamped more than normal. Ann Dunham may have “dragged,” her son to Indonesia like Canell said, but as someone born in another part of the world, I struggle to see how this is a bad thing. If anything, as has been my experience, it broadens one’s worldview. But I suppose this is something foreign (pardon the pun) to folks in the black community, like Carnell.
I don’t know if Carnell is a mother or not, or whether she knows a thing about raising children. Not that it matters, but I always find it funny when people without children feel the need to give advice on parenting. What I do know, however, is that what she is suggesting sounds very much like comparing apples to oranges. Why? Because Obama’s daddy issues are very real. Too many of our homes are broken and riddled with dysfunction as a result of absentee fathers. And guess what? There aren’t too many black men from single-parent homes occupying residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C., USA. Maybe if there were, Carnell may have a point; but I seriously whether anything she says matters.
More from Obama’s speech:
I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me. And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you. But I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me. I’ve tried to be a better husband, a better father, and a better man.
It’s hard work that demands your constant attention, and frequent sacrifice. And Michelle will be the first to tell you that I’m not perfect. Even now, I’m still learning how to be the best husband and father I can be. Because success in everything else is unfulfilling if we fail at family. I know that when I’m on my deathbed someday, I won’t be thinking about any particular legislation I passed, or policy I promoted; I won’t be thinking about the speech I gave, or the Nobel Prize I received. I’ll be thinking about a walk I took with my daughters. A lazy afternoon with my wife. Whether I did right by all of them.
In the comment section of her post Carnell says, “This pervasive idea that black men are somehow pathological and dysfunctional is used as a tool for subjugation. I felt the need to call it out.” She’s correct to an extent; however, I’m not sure if she made a case as far as Obama’s mother being a deadbeat. But hey, what do I know. I’m just a married father of four who sees nothing wrong with the promotion of family values.
Watch the video below: