(Traditional) Fathers Don’t Always Know Best
By Kai Wright


The notion that kids can’t develop properly without a biological father was a lie when Dan Quayle asserted it in 1992, and it’s a lie when Barack Obama says it now.
Who’s your daddy? Barack Obama, that’s who. We haven’t seen black family role modeling like this since the Huxtables. Actually, Cliff and Clair couldn’t touch the Obamas—they didn’t have Bo. Still, the president’s not content with his own nuclear family bliss. He really, really wants you to have a great dad, too.

But the problem with Obama’s effort to turn Father’s Day into an annual conversation about the tragedy of failed fathers is that it’s rooted in one of the greatest—and most consequential—lies the Christian right has sold the country: That “traditional” family structures are best equipped to produce healthy kids. The notion that biological fathers are essential to childhood development wasn’t true when Dan Quayle asserted it in 1992, and it won’t become true no matter how eloquently Barack Obama restates it.

“The hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill,” Obama wrote in a beautifully crafted Parade magazine essay last week. “We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference.”

This is a terribly moving refrain that echoes through all of the president’s rhetoric on fathers—and it’s entirely beside the point. Nobody sane would argue that government can give a child love. That truism, however, does not mean only a gendered dyad of parents are adequately equipped to do so.
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