Recently I blogged about the "O" man's Father's Day speech and a friend of mine who took offense to it. But I was also moved by Anette John-Hall's very fine essay in my hometown paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, about the same subject. As good reporters often do, she personalized her piece with a real live human interest story at the end.
I am posting her article because I don't want it to be ever said that I disagree with constructive criticism.
"In any family, there are always a few hard heads who almost never take constructive criticism well - even if it's said for their own good.
Last weekend, Barack Obama went home to the black church and called a family meeting - with the black side of his family.
"If we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that too many fathers are missing," the presumptive presidential nominee said in a Father's Day sermon-esque speech delivered at the Apostolic Church of God on the South Side of Chicago. "They've abandoned their responsibilities. They're acting like boys instead of men. "We know that this is true everywhere, but nowhere is it more true than in the African American community." Well, now.
His own story
With wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha sitting in the pew, Obama told of how his own father abandoned him. Which made him determined to break the cycle and be there for his children. We know that positive images of black fathers are rarely displayed on television, in film, or even in newspapers - though they are raising their families as all fathers should, like my husband, without expecting a medal in return.
But it's a sad fact that despite the enormous progress into the middle class that African Americans have made in the last 40 years, more than half of all black children live in fatherless households - a devastating number by any measure.
So who could argue with Obama's call for examination, for rising above the struggle, for restoring the framework for family?
The hard heads in the family, that's who.
African American professor Boyce Watkins from Syracuse University and syndicated columnist Earl Afari Hutchinson are among those who have taken Obama to task for everything from, as they see it, painting all African American fathers with the same negative brush to not blasting whites for their high divorce rates.
Sorry, brothers. It's not about white folks this time.
At least there haven't been massive threats to vote for John McCain.
While very real economic and societal impediments have a seismic impact on a black family's foundation - which Obama acknowledged - this is about personal responsibility. About what government can't fix.
It's a simple notion: Just be there and be the best man you can be.
Sabir Alim, founder of Daddy's Right Here Inc., an organization that teaches men how to be better fathers, heard Obama's speech. He didn't hear it as an accusation or an attack - as he heard in Bill Cosby's belittling tirade a few years ago before the NAACP.
After many, many years of irresponsible parenting himself, Alim, 47, heard Obama's words as a reality check.
"In our communities, it is the reality," says Alim, a program director at Gaudenzia, a drug and alcohol rehab program. "That's why it continues to worsen."
Not a model father. If anybody should have received the Bad Dad award, it was Alim.
Crack cocaine - selling it and smoking it - contributed mightily to the South Philly native's trifling behavior. From the start, he was never committed to the idea of family, he says. Even while married, he impregnated another woman while his wife was pregnant with their second daughter. The half-sisters were born two months apart.
"I didn't know how to be a father," admits Alim, whose own father took off when he was 5. "I didn't see fathers in people's homes. There were no [role] models."
He was known for being a verbally abusive hothead whom you didn't want to mess with. And, yes, he carried a gun. Alim lived with his family in North Philly - until he and his wife finally separated in 1994 - but he was someplace else emotionally.
"I'd do my girls' hair, cook dinner, pick them up from day care - but I was on the street clocking drugs right outside the door," he recalls. "I remember hating to hear the Mr. Softee truck coming, because I had spent so much money on drugs, I couldn't afford to pay for ice cream."
Rock bottom hit 14 years ago. Alim had pawned his VCR for drug money and taken his oldest daughter with him at 5 in the morning to buy crack.
The drugs failed to get him high. He broke down in tears. Nicole looked up at him and said, "Dad, it's going to be OK."
"I was done. I couldn't live like that anymore," he said.
It was only while going through the 12 steps that he understood how his father's absence led to his own inadequacies as a father. And even though Alim is trying hard to make up for his absence - the high school dropout went on to earn a master's degree in human services from Lincoln University and recommitted himself to his girls - he knows it may be too little, too late.
He blames himself in part for all three of his daughters' becoming single mothers.
"Lack of parenting played a role in my life, so I know it played a role in theirs," he says. "Barack was right. It's time to break the cycle."
Of course Barack was right, it's his timing that I worry about.