The Common Good

Fatherhood: The Best Job in the World

Sojomail - June 24, 2010



QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"The oil spill is like a cancer or tumor ... It is creeping and unpredictable from whether people will have livelihoods or health issues later from helping clean it up. You just don't know whether it is benign or malignant."

- Michele Many, a social worker at Louisiana State University who helps fishermen's wives. (Source: The Washington Post)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse email

Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Fatherhood: The Best Job in the World

Get a free trial issue of Sojourners Get a free issue of Sojourners
Donate to Support Sojourners
Donate to support
Sojourners

Sometimes the most important things are not at the top of the news cycle -- even the things that ultimately make the most difference in the world. The continuing gush of oil and corporate irresponsibility, primary elections and Washington infighting, tea parties and poll numbers, disrespectful generals and failing wars, soccer matches and the longest tennis match in history all are capturing the week's headlines.

I had a great Father’s Day last Sunday with my two boys: 11-year-old Luke and 7-year-old Jack. Despite the mess of the world, I was feeling very happy and blessed all day, just by the opportunity to be their dad. Of all the things I have done, this really is the thing I like the best, and have come to regard as the most important. We started the morning with special homemade cards and gifts, and later in the day raced off to Maryland to play in a baseball tournament, then back to D.C. to catch a matinee performance of The Karate Kid, then off for more baseball in the evening with Luke's travel team families to watch a "Big Train" game at the wonderful Shirley Povich Field where our kids got to watch college players from around the country in a summer league. Being so close to the field made everything seem so fast and exciting, as our kids were mesmerized by the big players they all hope to be someday.

Though it was a long Sunday, Luke and I got up early Monday morning to go hear President Obama's fatherhood speech at a Boys and Girls Club in Southeast Washington. It felt like an honor to be invited and a great opportunity to hear the president, who also loves being a dad, talk about how important he thinks fatherhood is for the country. We expected just to be part of the audience and were surprised to be asked to sit in the front row of the stage right behind the president as he delivered his remarks. (You could tell that placement was unexpected when the television coverage showed both of us in the pictures with Obama, with Luke in his shorts and T-shirt!) But sitting where we were, we really had to pay attention! And I found myself quite moved by the president's words about being a father.

He began by marking the one-year anniversary of the new national conversation on fatherhood and personal responsibility that the White House launched across the country. "Fatherhood" was also one of the key task forces of the Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that I was privileged to be a part of this last year. Obama said that each forum posed a simple question: "How can we as a nation -- not just the government, but businesses and community groups and concerned citizens -- how can we all come together to help fathers meet their responsibilities to our families and communities?"

He spoke honestly about all the problems caused by the absence of fathers in their children's lives, and spoke personally about his own absent father: "I say all this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life. He left my family when I was two years old. And while I was lucky to have a wonderful mother and loving grandparents who poured everything they had into me and my sister, I still felt the weight of that absence. It’s something that leaves a hole in a child’s life that no government can fill." Barack Obama’s own life experience is a big part of why this issue is so important to him, and why his two little girls are so central in his life.

In a way that both conservatives and liberals should find inspiring, he spoke about the limits of government in such a personal and foundational area of life: "We can talk all we want here in Washington about issues like education and health care and crime; we can build good schools; we can put money into creating good jobs; we can do everything we can to keep our streets safe -- but government can’t keep our kids from looking for trouble on those streets. Government can’t force a kid to pick up a book or make sure that the homework gets done. Government can’t be there day in, day out, to provide discipline and guidance and the love that it takes to raise a child. That’s our job as fathers, as mothers, as guardians for our children."

And, as he often does, he spoke about the difference in having a kid and being a father: "The fact is, it’s easy to become a father, technically -- any guy can do that. It’s hard to live up to the lifelong responsibilities that come with fatherhood. And it’s a challenge even in good times, when our families are doing well. It’s especially difficult when times are tough, families are straining just to keep everything together."

From our vantage point on the stage, we could see the faces of the dads and moms and kids who filled the auditorium. Their nodding heads, knowing smiles, and hearty applause indicated that they knew exactly what the president was talking about.

Obama zeroed in on the heart of his message for Father’s Day: "Here’s the key message I think all of us want to send today to fathers all across the country: Our children don’t need us to be superheroes. They don’t need us to be perfect. They do need us to be present. They need us to show up and give it our best shot, no matter what else is going on in our lives. They need us to show them -- not just with words, but with deeds -- that they, those kids, are always our first priority. Those family meals, afternoons in the park, bedtime stories; the encouragement we give, the questions we answer, the limits we set, the example we set of persistence in the face of difficulty and hardship -- those things add up over time, and they shape a child’s character, build their core, teach them to trust in life and to enter into it with confidence and with hope and with determination.”

In our politically divided and polarized environment, it was a refreshing word that should cut across all of our political boundaries. As Obama put it, "Too often when we talk about fatherhood and personal responsibility, we talk about it in political terms, in terms of left and right, conservative/liberal, instead of what’s right and what’s wrong. And when we do that, we’ve gotten off track. So I think it’s time for a new conversation around fatherhood in this country."

Then the president said something that I know he truly believes, and made me feel very grateful that he does. He said, "The work of raising our children is the most important job in this country, and it’s all of our responsibilities -- mothers and fathers." The crowd gathered in that recreation center in a tough Washington neighborhood burst into applause, and it was all I could do to not jump to my feet behind him. He went on to say, "Now, I can’t legislate fatherhood -- I can’t force anybody to love a child. But what we can do is send a clear message to our fathers that there is no excuse for failing to meet their obligations. What we can do is make it easier for fathers who make responsible choices and harder for those who avoid those choices. What we can do is come together and support fathers who are willing to step up and be good partners and parents and providers ... But ultimately, we know that the decision to be a good father -- that’s up to us, each of us, as individuals. It’s one that men across this country are making every single day -- attending those school assemblies; parent-teacher conferences; coaching soccer, Little League; scrimping and saving, and working that extra shift so that their children can go to college."

I think it is both rare and significant when a political leader gets personal in an authentic way. To admit mistakes and failures -- of our country and of ourselves -- is not something politicians normally do, and this president has been criticized for it. But when he spoke of his own struggles and joys as a parent, every dad who heard him could easily identify. "Even when we give it our best efforts, there will still be plenty of days of struggle and heartache when we don’t quite measure up -- talking to the men here now. Even with all the good fortune and support Michelle and I have had in our lives, I’ve made plenty of mistakes as a parent. I’ve lost count of all the times when the demands of work have taken me from the duties of fatherhood. And I know I’ve missed out on moments in my daughters’ lives that I’ll never get back, and that’s a loss that’s hard to accept. But I also know the feeling that one author described when she wrote that ‘to have a child ... is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.’”

I felt myself tear up at that one, and I don't think I have ever heard a better description of what is feels like to be a parent -- to have a child is to have your heart walking around outside your body.

When Obama talked about his own deepest feelings about his girls, he was getting to the hearts of every dad who was listening on that Monday morning: "I’m sure a lot of fathers here know that same memory that I have, of driving home with Michelle and Malia right after she was born, going about 10 miles an hour. Your emotions swinging between unadulterated joy and sheer terror. And I made a pledge that day that I would do everything I could to give my daughter what I never had -- that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father. And like a lot of the men here, since that time I’ve found there’s nothing else in my life that compares to the pleasures I take in spending time with my girls. Nothing else comes close to the pride I feel in their achievement and the satisfaction I get in watching them grow into strong, confident young women."

I think that Obama's speech about race in Philadelphia will be remembered as one of the most important on that subject in many years. Many remember his soaring rhetoric of change in speeches during the campaign, and the promise of hope in the address he gave in Grant Park the night he was elected. But sitting there, just a few feet from the presidential rostrum, the words that came next seemed to me to be among the most important he will ever speak: "Over the course of my life, I have been an attorney, I’ve been a professor, I’ve been a state senator, I’ve been a U.S. senator -- and I currently am serving as president of the United States. But I can say without hesitation that the most challenging, most fulfilling, most important job I will have during my time on this Earth is to be Sasha and Malia’s dad."

And I believe he means that. I believe it in part because that is the way I feel about being Luke and Jack's dad. Of all the things I have ever done, this is the job that now feels like the most important one to me. It's also the greatest privilege and blessing I've ever had.

When he finished, President Obama turned and came to greet the people in the front row on the stage. When he got to us, he shook my son's hand and said, “Hey Luke, it’s great to finally meet you. What grade are you in now?” “I'm in the sixth grade,” Luke replied as he looked in the eyes of the president of the United States. "That was awesome, Dad," he whispered as the president waived and walked away. "I'm never going to wash this hand." I reminded him, "Remember, that's your pitching hand, Luke." It was a good day, a great speech, and a presidential commitment that could make more difference in this country than most of the other things we talked about for the rest of the day and for the rest of the week.

E-mail Email this article to friends
Facebook Share this article on Facebook
Comment Comment on this article on the God's Politics Blog


Inside Sojourners Magazine

Healing Men from Violence

After 20 years of working with men on retreats and rites of passage, in spiritual direction, and even in prison, Fr. Richard Rohr has discovered how trapped the typical Western male feels. He is trapped inside, with almost no inner universe of deep meaning to heal him or guide him. Historically, this is exactly what spirituality meant by 'losing your soul.' Read more from Richard Rohr on men and violence, or read our Interview with Richard Rohr.

Building a Movement

Pledge to the Next Generation

The oil spill crisis and the ongoing devastation have forced us to examine ourselves, our lifestyles, and our habits. We are witnessing a massive despoiling of God’s creation that will impact ecosystems for generations. Our response must think that far ahead as well -- to our children and our children’s children. Fortunately, if we lead by example, others, including future generations, will follow.

Sign the Pledge to the Next Generation to show your commitment to God’s creation and to generations to come.



ON THE GOD'S POLITICS BLOG

+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Time for Some Angry Work
by Bill McKibben

I'd say Barack Obama's long and often tenuous honeymoon with progressive Americans took what looks like a lethal blow in spring 2010.
+ Click to continue

'No Stranger to Danger': RIP Quaker, Lawyer, Indigenous Peace Warrior Waratah
by Jarrod McKenna

Sad news for so many of us in the peace and human rights movement this morning to hear our friend Waratah Rose Gillespie has passed away.
+ Click to continue

For the Widows and the Orphans
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

Today is International Widow's Day. It is a day set aside to consider the lives of the more than 245 million widows worldwide.
+ Click to continue

McChrystal vs. Obama: Battle of the 'Hard Hearts'?
by Rose Marie Berger

Yesterday U.S. top Afghanistan warrior General Stan McChrystal was very publicly called to the carpet in the Oval Office.
+ Click to continue

A Late-Night Save, A Lifetime Commitment to Social Justice
by Emily Bagwell

The other night as I rode my bike up Massachusetts Ave. with my friend Jeehye, we came upon a man who was about to jump off a bridge.
+ Click to continue

Naming Jesus Again and Again
by Pearl Maria Barros

While discerning a vocation to Roman Catholic religious life years ago, I had the opportunity to go on retreat with a group of women religious.
+ Click to continue

Missionaries: What's Wrong with Them?
by David Griffiths

Mention the word "missionary" to an assortment of people around the world, and you are sure to see quite a range of reactions.
+ Click to continue

Voices from the Gulf: Pray We Will Not Lose Heart
by Terri Rousey

My husband and I have lived in New Orleans, Louisiana since August 1999. Until this mess in the Gulf, it felt like we were really starting to recover [from Hurricane Katrina].
+ Click to continue

Is Christ's Gender Paramount?
by Mimi Haddad

How many of us come from traditions where we have been told that women cannot serve in positions of leadership because Jesus was male?

+ Click to continue

Confusing our Kids
by Shane Claiborne

I catch up on my news in the airport. Yesterday I watched this obscure story about a second grader in Rhode Island who wore a baseball cap to school with soldiers carrying guns on the front.
+ Click to continue

Israel Eases Gaza Blockade
by Nathan Schneider

Israel has still barely budged on the Gaza blockade since the Freedom Flotilla incident, but Israelis are at least beginning to recognize that their standing among the international community in the future depends not on accusing activists of terrorism but on changing their profoundly repressive policies toward Palestinians.
+ Click to continue

Children, Church, and God
by Julie Clawson

One of the joys of vacation Bible school (VBS) is watching what the kids take away from the week. Having such an intense daily experience where the kids get to "do church" and learn about God outside of the ways they normally do truly does affect their lives.
+ Click to continue

Voices from the Gulf: Deep Sorrow in New Orleans
by Jane Remson

It's hard for me to speak about the oil spill because the sorrow I feel touches the deepest part of my being. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and have spent 60 of my 70 years ministering in New Orleans.
+ Click to continue

Goodbye, Styrofoam Jesus
by Troy Jackson

Last Monday evening, a massive storm front hit southwestern Ohio. Although the damage was minimal, the storm turned tragic when a 62-foot tall Jesus statue was struck by lightning and quickly went up in flames.
+ Click to continue

Refusing Monsanto to Preserve Haiti
by Chavannes Jean-Baptiste

The problem with these seeds from Monsanto are many. If the peasants use them, they can't use them next year [because the hybrid seeds will not "breed true" seed that performs well in the next year].
+ Click to continue

The Gulf Spill Brings Christians to Lament
by Dave Allen

In early June, a week-long gathering at the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School brought together a diverse group of Christians who are deeply engaged in the ministry of reconciliation.
+ Click to continue

A Pledge to the Next Generation
by Elizabeth Denlinger Reaves

We are witnessing a massive despoiling of God's creation that will impact ecosystems for generations. Our response must think that far ahead as well -- to our children and our children's children.
+ Click to continue

Friday Links Round-Up
by Jeannie Choi

Finally, we'd like to wish a fond farewell to our web editor Ryan Rodrick Beiler. For 11 years he has faithfully served the Sojourners community with grace and excellence.
+ Click to continue

New York Domestic Workers Call for Rights
by Onleilove Alston

Last spring while eating lunch I noticed a domestic worker poring over piles of Christian books.
+ Click to continue

The War, the Well, and the Wall: A Time to Break Silence
by Chris Rice

We rarely slow down to create the sacred space needed to discern the "signs of the times" and who we are as Christians in this time of America. Yet I saw a sign of hope emerge at the recent Duke Summer Institute.
+ Click to continue

Jesus in My Father’s Garden
by Valerie Elverton Dixon

My father is 82 years old, and for most of his life he was an avid gardener and fisherman. He lost interest in the garden after my mother died. This year I told Dad that I wanted a garden.
+ Click to continue

SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS

+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" email - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:

Toward goal of civility
Santa Maria Times
Debate is necessary and healthy for a democracy. It should be done in a respectful way. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, calls for a “Covenant of Civility” in our political discourse.
+Click to continue


Religious leaders urged to move beyond politics
Winnipeg Free Press
Rev. Jim Wallis may have the ear of U.S. President Barack Obama, but he insists religious leaders like him have to look beyond the political realm to evoke social change.
+Click to continue


Odds and Ends
Christianity Today blog
Sojourners president Jim Wallis agreed with President Obama's address on the oil spill. Wallis particularly liked Obama's use of the word "mission" to describe efforts to clean up the spill and to change U.S. energy policy.
+Click to continue

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.




Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!

Click Here!






Wisdom for your commute: Download audio talks by Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, Lucy Winkett, and more. Shop the SojoStore.

Big Oil Got You Mad? Get informed and activated for change with resources from Sojourners on Christians and the Environment. Learn more.

An Award-Winning Magazine: Sojourners was recently named best general interest magazine by both the Associated Church Press and the Evangelical Press Association. Subscribe today!

Scared of being ‘left behind’? What does Revelation really teach us? Explore this question with Sojourners’ four-part study guide, Christians and the Apocalypse. Use it this Sunday with your small group - available online. Click here.

T-Shirts That Teach. Start a conversation everywhere you go with Sojourners' tees on faith and social justice. Click here for more information. Starting at $10.






Click Here!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: sojourners@sojo.net | Advertising: advertising@sojo.net | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.