Remember: Wag the Tail (Not the Dog or the Finger) This Sunday

With so much going on, now is not the time to tell half of a story or assign blame of one side for an issue that has holistic ramifications – and plenty of responsibility to go around.

With so much going on, now is not the time to tell half of a story or assign blame of one side for an issue that has holistic ramifications – and plenty of responsibility to go around.

Before I start, I have to ask everyone not to get it twisted. Therefore, I just need to say – again – pretty clearly:

Mr. President, from a "Black pride" perspective, I am very happy that America is at a point of time where we can elect an African-American to the presidency without people acting out too much. Granted, there have been some incidents – items that I abhor both publicly and privately – but it could have been worse. Hopefully, America can begin to rise up collectively over the rest of 2011 and beyond. I’m pretty certain you feel the same way, particularly for the sake of your re-election bid.

And yes, although I will not be voting for you (again) in 2012, I will defend you when people cross the line on you when doting out "criticism." I have done that both in public and in private and with both sides of the political spectrum taking the heat from my responses to their deemed improprieties.  Yes, I will still continue to openly criticize policies of yours that warrant critique. Yet, I also acknowledge and support that there needs to be a level of respect for the Presidency of the United States and, to a larger extent, for all Americans in general, a respect that has not been given freely to our American presidents, politicians, and people alike over recent times. Granted, people will say, "With people like Anthony Weiner, David Vitter, and President Clinton in office doing the things that they have done, it’s hard to give them that high esteem elected officials once received." Ok – that’s a fair opinion, although we should act in regards to our highest standards, not change our standards for the lowest examples among us.

So, in that spirit, I want to you, President Obama, to do something, not as the 44th president, but as an African-American man. Actually, it is more like not doing something. I am hoping that you will refrain from doing something that you have shown a tendency to do over the course of your time on the national stage this time of the year. If you grant my request, it will be an example towards the highest standards among us, not the lowest illustrations that are always brought to our attention.

Mr. Obama, this year, please refrain from wagging your finger solely at Black men about being better fathers if you choose to discuss fatherlessness – and, more directly, Black fatherlessness – on Fathers’ Day, acting as if the crux of turning around this plight within our nation rested solely on one group of people making one collective decision. Please resist the media, political, and societal urges to get on your soap box unless you are more inclined to speak to the actual whole of the matter, not the popular talking points that have been exhausted for years now.

Now, I’m not saying that Black men are without responsibility when it comes to the problems facing urban America. If more men did decide to be daddies instead of just being fathers, this country could collectively be in a better place. There is certainly a need to properly assign and highlight some of the accountability that Black men need to claim for the phenomenon. However, to denote that it all rests on them is akin to the same economic arguments that you have made with tax cuts for “the rich” or the same talking points you gave on Obamacare. Namely, it represents your negligent willingness to focus solely on one aspect of a problem while demonizing the other players in the game, all while ignoring vital items impacting the overall issues therein.

Please, Mr. President and fellow African-American father: this time around, resist the urge to go down this path again. Refuse the risk of coming across as haughty and elitist when speaking about the need to have more men become involved in the lives of their children, particularly when you are referring to these issues within urban and Black America and not speaking to the other factors that have created fatherlessness in America. In addition to coming across as condescending and sterile, the stance doesn’t highlight more of the pertinent issues that need to be fixed in order to remedy the problems.

It becomes patronizing and hollow for you to criticize the condition of Black fatherlessness when you also have consistently refused to tackle (be it rhetorically or by way of actually addressing some issues officially) the disparities between Black America and other Americans – ones that, in many ways, lead to the conditions that you and I (and many others) want to reverse. Further, you have shown an aversion to speaking on or acting for the improvement of issues concerning race (even when your attorney general broke the ice for you in early 2009) – all while feverishly working to improve the conditions of both your political constituents and illegal residents in the meanwhile. This line of thinking – much like some of the actions that you are being criticized for (rightly or otherwise) ends up being counterproductive to the end goal: changing the dynamic found within too many American families today.

The problem of Black fatherlessness is not simply a matter of getting deadbeats to get a move on and do right by their children. Most men want to be fathers in a holistic fashion – and they wish to fulfill the role with pride and act to be involved with a sense of desperation not commonly reported. That’s why if you choose again to give the "Black men should be better fathers" speech without taking the plunge and diving more into the depth of the issue, your remarks will be reported in the media as being much-needed hype for Fathers’ Day but will actually only come across as disingenuous due to your lack of perspective and direction to boldly speak the whole truth, not just the popular talking points.

For example, giving the same canned speech on the need to get fathers involved with their children while ignoring the injustices and inequalities within the family courts only condones the well-documented biases within the system and plays into the stereotypes held by many other Americans about today’s fathers and particularly among Black men: namely, that we are lazy, nonchalant, and wantonly devoid of moral authority and parental accountability when it comes to being fathers in the lives of our children.  I testified on these injustices and prejudices within the system as far back as 2004 to my native Pennsylvania’s Judiciary Committee despite having my older children in my primary custody in North Carolina for years at that point of time. I knew then – as I present to you now – that the perpetuation of these images of willful fatherlessness hurts children as they grow into adulthood. These promoted ideas – through pro quo rhetoric alone – provides the fodder for judicial activism and social engineering based on misnomers about the supposedly unwillingness of men – and most Black men – to be fathers. It is more potent when the toxic feed comes from the nation’s first POTUS of color. Ironically, some statistics may prove otherwise: some studies have shown that out of all diversity groups that report on the involvement of non-custodial fathers in the lives of their children, Black men – when given the opportunity – show the highest level of involvement. Of course, this cannot continue to be atypical any longer; it must become the norm across the nation as we do need more Black men involved regularly, but it is not just Black men that will facilitate this movement of 21st century family re-stability and justice.

What I am getting to is this: Black fatherlessness is a systemic problem in America with several widespread causes, sadly becoming an entrenched issue that has permeated throughout our communities as a result of multiple factors, not just the negligence of Black men. Having the first African-American president be so one-sided on such a hot-button issue without providing any feedback or solutions to the matter – in essence, merely serving as the Finger-Pointer-in-Chief – denigrates Black fatherhood in a way that overt oppression could not generations ago, even at a time when more men are actively trying to be strong, active, loving fathers.

The mess that dominates much of the Black family dynamic often involves choices that Black men must make that, in reality, should not be a factor when it comes to raising one’s children. Mr. President, out of all due respect, you have a tendency not to speak to entrenched social realities of inequality when you make cursory statements that make you look noble while the proverbial bus is actively backing over others.

Never mind the issues brought on by the liberal Great Society Movement, where millions of people were impacted because of the simple but forced collective choice underprivileged men (many of whom were African-American men just emerging from the weight of Jim Crow America) were prompted to make: stay in the home with your families and watch them starve or leave the home and have them receive scraps from the government to help them survive. That policy alone of big government dependency is enough to fractionalize the Black family for generations. However, leaving unfinished the work of actual pursuing and defending equal rights for the sake of big government bureaucracy and outdated liberalism has brought many American families to the brink of extinction in the 21st century. If you are going to use the prime opportunity once again of having a high-profile African-American father speak a word of encouragement to improve the Black family dynamic, please make sure that you do not merely continue the status quo instead of challenging all aspects of the current crisis.

We have seen your administration stand up for the civil rights of those that, by way of the Constitution, have none. We have seen you defend unions and special interest groups at the sake of the poor. If you must speak on fatherhood this Sunday, please speak up for the sake of the institution socially, not merely speak to a section of voters that you want on your side politically. Real fatherhood needs your understanding and your advocacy, not your professorial distain or scorn, as the institution is one of the most attacked social structures in our nation today, particularly and lethally even more so in Black America.

Fatherhood is a wonderful joy, a rewarding obligation, and an overlooked civil right throughout our land. It should be a bond helping to bring us together as a nation of laws, not become a burden of love because of the dysfunction of our social mores.  

Fathers should not have to endure being assaulted (even tied up like hogs), all for the sake of trying to remain active fathers in their children’s lives. Nor should they have to endure murder-for-hire plots against them, just as the most recent example (occurring in Philadelphia by way of a Facebook solicitation) highlights once again. (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2011/06/14/2011-06-14_philadelphia_mom_eley_london_allegedly_tried_to_hire_a_hit_man_over_facebook_to_.html#ixzz1PMG8wnve).

Fathers should not have to endure late-night terror calls or on-the-job harassment just because they had the audacity to demand equal rights in parenting roles and an active presence in the lives of their children. Nor should they have to tango with bankruptcy for 2 decades merely to defend a right granted to them by God, not by the government: the right to raise their children with consistent love and guidance without fear of loss or discrimination.

Fathers should not have to choose between one’s children’s emotional balance and stability and one’s own reputation and professional career. Fathers should not have to file class action suits in order to protect parental rights against a system that codifies unethical behavior and condones prejudice in defiance of law. Fatherhood should not be about choices and fights, enduring unnecessary indignities and being “guilty under proven innocent” in the courts of family law and public opinion, but yet it is so today for the sake of the institution. More dads tolerate bureaucrats looking over their shoulders during their family time with their children than there are judges that must force fathers to spend time with their offspring.

Some fathers go through some of those aforementioned things in order to be dads in their children’s lives.

Few fathers go through most of those aforementioned things in order to stay relevant in their children’s lives.

No father – or any parent trying to be a positive difference in the lives of their children, for that matter – should go through any of those things. No one – father or mother – should be forced into the role of King Solomon from the Old Testament, having to choose between giving up on being a tangible parent and splitting a child in two in order to “get what you’re entitled to as a parent”, thus having to risk sacrificing a child’s self-esteem, potential in life, and enjoyment of childhood academically and socially.  Yet, no one speaks to this totality within the dynamic of fatherlessness within America. To date, you haven’t, either, and it is particularly harmful for you to neglect this as an African-American man in such a socially-influential position. This year, you could choose to make a difference.

Sir, if you are going to speak to the need for increased fatherhood in America (and particularly within the Black community), please make sure that this time, you also bring up items such as parental alienation, domestic abuse and violence (including the underreported nature of this crime), and judicial misgivings as they are very real and very much clogging up the process of allowing more men to be daddies, not just fathers. No one – man or woman – should have to endure violence to be a parent. They should not have to endure ridicule for freeing one’s self from a dysfunctional adult relationship yet while also trying to break the cycles of parental-children relationship dysfunction for the sake of their children’s future. How you craft your words for Fathers’ Day could make a difference in this journey back to family re-stability within the nation. Of course, you could take the quid pro quo approach, again saying all of the expected half-truths and sound bites for the sake of having pollsters and reliable voters give you kudos afterwards.

However, in the end, we each have a role in this effort to reverse the dysfunction found within too many American families today, especially as it has had a deathly stranglehold on African-American communities. If we are going to heal the situation with visionary leadership, political correcting (versus just political correctness), social awareness, and re-education, make sure that we are addressing the issues by – in essence – wagging the tail, not the other way around by avoiding other causes and issues inhibiting solutions to fatherlessness in America. If you speak on this Sunday, I ask you, Mr. President, as a fellow father: articulate something that, one day, you will say that you were proud to speak into existence, not merely recite some oft-repeated words that some constituents will be happy to hear you speak.

Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of “Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister” on The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM WVON (www.wvon.com). Find him Saturdays with host TJ Holmes and fellow pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 9:30 AM CDT (10:30 Eastern / 7:30 AM Pacific.) He is the author of the upcoming edition of the book, “The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative).” Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/lennyhhr ; and on Facebook at http://www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook .

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