Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dear Melissa: Its about fatherhood

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In case you missed it, Melissa Harris-Perry stepped into quite a storm in reaction to President Obama's speech in Chicago on Friday.  Watching the clip up above should get you caught up on why.

I have very often praised Melissa on this blog - but I have to say that I disagree with her take on this one completely.

Overall, I think its important to say that what President Obama was talking about was fatherhood - not marriage. He did mention marriage, but only in saying that we should remove obstacles for those who want to get married.

I think that's an important distinction to make because not all dissolutions of a marriage end in an absent father and not all marriages result in a present father. As someone who grew up in a family where my father was physically present but emotionally absent, I'll claim to have "daddy issues" myself.

In some ways, this might be the tie that binds the whole issue of gun violence across its permutations of white men involved with mass shootings and those in predominantly urban areas by men of color. It comes down to a question of manhood - and what does that mean. Melissa rightly points to some of those white men but fails to make the connection.
Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) proposed a mechanism that might well explain why white males are routinely going crazy and killing people. It's called "aggrieved entitlement." According to the authors, it is "a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.
No matter our race, as children we learn what it means to be a man (or how to relate to men) from the adult men in our lives. And for most of us - that means that we learn it (or don't) from our fathers.

I'd suggest that for the last few decades, our entire culture has been struggling with the whole question of what it means to be a man - and just as importantly, what it means to be a father. Yes, there are some differences in how that has played out in communities of color as it is wrapped in to our history of racism. But the central question is the same.

As a woman and a feminist, I want to do all I can to encourage dialogue about that question while I also recognize that it is not my place to answer it. That's why I found this video so important.

Yep, I think that if boys (and girls) had men like that in their lives, it would make a huge difference.

What I particularly found offensive about what Melissa did with this was to derisively cast President Obama's admission that he wished he'd had a father as a "daddy issue." The way I see it, the President has grappled deeply with this particular loss he shares with so many of us. In talking about that - he's made himself vulnerable. His journey - and his honesty about it - should be something we respect and emulate.


  1. 1. My parents split when I was about 4 years old. I saw my father from time to time, mainly holidays and birthdays. Spent some time at his house during school vacations but he certainly was never a parent. My mother, two of her sisters, one married, shared a house with my sister and two cousins. My uncle was certainly not a father figure nor, for that matter, a strong male role model.

    2. My mother taught me very important principles including: "You aren't better than anyone and nobody is better than you." Use of derogatory language is unacceptable. "If I EVER find out that you (i.e. me) have in any way abused a woman, I will personally whip your ass, no matter how old or big you are." "Don't buy anything you can't afford to pay for."

    3. I never questioned my "manhood" even though I was never "macho". I wasn't very popular with the girls in my early age as a result, but that changed in later years when girls became women and began to care about men caring about them as much as about their own image.

    4. When I became a father, I had the good fortune to be able to share equally in child care, at times probably assuming the greater responsibility. After my marriage ended, that continued. Over any two week period, my child spent half he time with me and half with her mother. Today, when help with the grandkids is needed, I get the call.

    5. Over the years, though reluctant to assume the role, I was nominated to be and became an elected leader, repeatedly reelected over a period of about 20 years.

    6. From my experience, I conclude that a strong woman can raise a male child successfully. I also conclude that not having a father present does not impinge on a man's desire or ability to be a good father himself. Unlike President Obama, however, I do not wish that my father had been more influential in my life. The important thing was that the parent I had established high expectations of me socially, academically, and ethically. It was also important to see that my parent cared for me. We were very poor, but we always had a roof over our head, clothes on our back and three balanced, healthy meals a day.

    Did I mention that my mother was the only one of her siblings (four in all) who graduated from high school?

    1. Can't a weak woman raise a male child successfully, also?

  2. I had both a mother, and a father growing up, and everyday I wished that my father would leave. Why don't people believe it's equally important to have a mother around, as well? Some people seem to believe that fathers are more important than mothers. I disagree. What is so special about having a father around? I don't get it. This father junk is all about stroking the male ego, just to make men feel good, and to make them feel useful. We're still stuck in the 1950's 'Father Knows Best' time-warp.

    1. As a culture we've always validated that its important to have a mother around.

      What I'm trying to say here is not just that its important to have a father around. Mine was there too - but fat lot of good that did me. He thought being a "man" meant ignoring children.

      Its not up to me to decide what it means to be a man. But that ain't it.

      Watch the video...that starts to answer the question.

    2. Fathers are being empasized because when a parent goes for milk and never comes home, most of the time, it's the father. People don't worry about mothers because the myth is that mothers never leave their kids. Obviously, some women do but it isn't viewed as A Problem.

  3. Melissa and her guests seemed to be saying that women raising kids was the best way. The Pres had just left a roundtable for young black men. I bet they all said that they wished their fathers were active in their life. As a single woman raising boys I tried to make sure there were men in their lives and as much as possible their father.

  4. Melissa does this a lot, taking a half of a sentence the President said and making hay over it because it represents something that she feels. Later in the video you showed she even praises the President for putting his father issue in with the other issues causing violence. So she basically got upset over the President highlighting fathers abandoning their children over all other issue and then admit he did no such thing.

    Melissa's show goes deeper into most issues but she is highly prone to settle into the emoprogressive framework of an argument. It happens all the time on her show and Chris Hayes's show, so I watch them in small chunks.

    1. Exactly - that clip is standard Emo-Prog kvetching, saying that kids need father figures is the same as co-signing chauvinist male patriarchy.

      Sorry to break this to all Uber-Lefties out there but absent, unresponsive fathers and no stable male role models isn't a good idea for kids. And basically, Obama was talking to young black men about young black men issues - Professional Left college profs need not apply.