Excerpts from a Fathers Day speech delivered by U.S. Senator Barack Obama
In a Father's Day sermon Sunday at a South Side church, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) appealed to fathers in the black community to begin acting like "full-grown" men in order to earn the devotion and respect of their loved ones. The following is an excerpt of that challenge.
I was reflecting in Scripture in preparation for this discussion. I came upon 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13: Verse 11, ... "When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things."
It raises for me the issue of what does it mean to be a full-grown man. Because there are a lot of folks, a lot of brothers, who are walking around and they look like men. ... They've got whiskers, they might even have sired a child, but it's not clear to me that they are full-grown men. What I mean by that is one of the difficulties that African-American men in particular face is that many of us grew up without fathers.
My father was not in the home. I knew him from the stories my mother and my grandparents told me, but I didn't actually meet my father until I was 10 years old ... I met him for a month and then after that I did not see him again. I am not alone in that. A lot of men don't know their fathers. And then there are some of us who had fathers in the house, but they were so distant. ... We might live a whole lifetime with them and not have a sense of who they really are. ...
As a consequence of that, a lot of us had to go and try to figure out how to be a man by ourselves. We've got to kind of piece it together. ... If we're lucky, we've got an uncle or a cousin or somebody in the neighborhood. ...
As a consequence, there are a lot of 30-, 40-, 50-, even some 60-year-olds who never quite grew up, who still engage in childish things, who are more concerned about what they want than what's good for other people, who may not treat their women the way their women deserve to be treated, who may not engage their children and nurture their children in the way their children need to be engaged.
So, the question is, what do we have to do, as a community, to lift up an ideal of being full-grown?
Now, I don't have all the answers.... But there are a couple of things that I think all of us should reflect on in terms of being full-grown.
The first is setting an example of excellence for our children.... If we are to pass on high expectations to our children we've got to have high expectations for ourselves. It is wonderful if a black man has a job, but it's even better if a black man owns a business.... It is a wonderful thing that you are married and living in a home with your children, but don't just sit in the house watching "SportsCenter" all weekend long....
We know that our children's future is in education. The day when you could walk into a steel mill, and if you had a strong back and were willing to work you would be able to support a family--those days are over. Our children are competing against not just folks from Indiana ... our children are competing against folks in China,... playing the world game, which means we have to achieve the highest educational levels.
Sometimes I go to an 8th-grade graduation and there's all that pomp and circumstance and gowns and flowers. It's just 8th grade, people. They've got to get out of high school, then they've got to go to college, then they've got to get a graduate degree if they want to compete. ... An 8th-grade education is not going to cut it! Just give them a handshake. Congratulations, now get your butt in the library.
I know that our schools don't have all of the equipment. ... I understand that the school-financing system in the state is screwed up. ... I understand that our teachers need more money. And I understand that we need more computers and equipment. I understand all those things, but let me say this: That is no excuse.
We have to get beyond making excuses if we are going to be full-grown.... To be full-grown, you have to live out your values, and teach your children to live out your values, not just give them lip service to your values. You can tell what's important to somebody, not by what they say, but by what they do. Where they put their bite, where they put their energy, where they put their time....
One of the values that I think men in particular have to pass on is the value of empathy. Not sympathy, empathy. And what that means is standing in somebody else's shoes, being able to look through their eyes. You know, sometimes we get so caught up in "us" that it's hard to see that there are other people and that your behavior has an impact on them. And sometimes brothers in particular don't like to feel empathy, don't like to think in terms of "How does this affect other people?" because we think that's being soft. There's a culture in our society that says we can't show weakness and we can't, therefore, show kindness. That we can't be considerate because sometimes that makes us look weak. That sometimes we can't listen to what our women say because we don't want to act like they're in charge.
And our young boys see that. They see when you are ignoring your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home. They see when you are thinking only about yourself. And so we've got to learn to pass on the value of kindness.
One of the things that I learned about being a man is that you're not strong by putting other people down, you're strong by lifting them up.
The last thing that's required for being a full-grown man is hope.
Sometimes when we think about our history ... it's hard to feel hopeful sometimes. And yet Scripture reminds us that what makes hope hope is that you can't see it right there.... It seems to me that the greatest gift that we can pass on to our children is understanding that God is looking after us in this difficult journey, and that, even if we don't realize it, there's a plan for us.
And that, if we do what we must do ... if we try to be true to the example of our father and use the gifts that he's given us, then not only can we be full-grown, but ultimately that we can raise the kinds of young men that will make us all proud.