Politics aside: President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney put premium on being good dads
The two men battling to lead the United States of America have some very different ideas on how government should run and what the nation's priorities should be. But both Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat and sitting President Barack Obama agree on one thing: Family truly matters and fatherhood is important.
Obama is father to two girls: Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11. Romney is father to five adult sons: Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig.
Forget politics and partisanship. Today, we take a look at two men who love their families and what they and others say about their role as dads. The order was chosen, by the way, alphabetically.
In an interview which will air as part of the documentary "Obama Revealed: The Man, The President," CNN reports that Obama frequently refuses social invitations in favor of time at home with his daughters.
"Sometimes Michelle and I not doing the circuit and going out to dinners with folks is perceived as us being cool," Obama said. "It actually really has more to do with us being parents.
"Sometimes on the weekends, we may turn down the invitation to this or that or the other just because we're trying to carve out family time," Obama said. "And I think that's sometimes interpreted as me not wanting to be out there slapping backs and wheeling and dealing. That really has more to do with just the stage we are in our lives."
The article quoted one of Obama's aides and close friends Valerie Jarrett who said Obama "wants to be the kind of dad he never had."
"I want my girls to know that no matter what else is going on, they're my first priority," he told Essence Magazine.
Right after he was sworn in, Parade magazine published a letter it had asked him to write to his daughters, outlining his hopes for them and other children. Among other things, Obama wrote how their births changed him.
"But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours."
His dreams for them and other children, he noted, include schools "worthy of their potential," pushing "the boundaries of discovery" and wars that endanger young lives "only for a very good reason." He concluded, "These are the things I want for you — to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That's why I've taken our family on this great adventure."
Fatherhood — and doing it right — has been a recurring theme with the president, who launched a fatherhood initiative early in his first term. During Father's Day, 2010, he reflected on that, calling for fathers to engage with their children and be responsible:
"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," he said in a speech that was transcribed on the White House website.
The Washington Post noted that "Obama's special interest in fatherhood has been a boon for groups that support fathers and have been working for years without much attention. 'His leadership and using the bully pulpit has been important,' said Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, which was founded in 1994 and recently contracted with the federal government to produce public service announcements promoting fatherhood."
In a weekly address last summer, the president called fatherhood "my hardest, but always my most rewarding job," and talked about his own father, who abandoned the family when he was 2 years old. It is, as quoted by ABC News, "why I've tried so hard to be a good dad for my own children.”
“Malia and Sasha may live in the White House these days," he said, "but Michelle and I still make sure they finish their schoolwork, do their chores and walk the dog.”
According to ABC's Michael James, Obama said children most need unconditional love, time and structure from their parents. And he said Obama had become an assistant coach to his daughter Sasha's basketball team.
This summer, the president's fatherhood initiative did an unusual outreach, talking to men about their responsibilities to their families during visits to a number of barbershops nationwide, according to The Root.
"People, not government, are the source of America's strength," Romney asserted to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in 2007. "There is no place that is more important to the future strength of America than the American home. The work that goes on within the walls of a home is the most important work that is ever done in America. And if we want to strengthen America, we need to strengthen the American family."
"Certainly a big part of the Mitt Romney story is his family," Russ Schriefer, a senior Romney campaign strategist, told the New York Times recently. "One of the real organizing principles of his life is his relationship with Ann and with the boys."
Romney's sons have all taken an active role in both of his campaigns for president, speaking more openly and warmly about Romney as a family man than the candidate himself, who has largely focused on the actions he would take should he win the election.
The candidate's sons have spoken often and lovingly of their father, such as Tagg Romney's comment, "If I could be half the man my dad is, I would be very happy."
He told the Times that "You knew your grandfather was a man of great values and principles, you knew that your dad was the same way. There was nothing said, but you just knew that it was important that you were a good person and treated other people with respect."
Tagg Romney noted that his father worked hard to keep his work and family life separate and when he got home at night, he was father, not businessman.
Times writers Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Ashley Parker wrote: "In the Romney home, Saturdays were for chores; Mr. Romney grew up weeding his father's garden and his own children spent Saturday mornings scrubbing floors, doing yard work or helping their mother clean bathrooms, though the family could have easily hired help.
"Whether it was digging a hole and filling it back in the next week, he'd find stuff to keep us busy," they quoted Josh Romney. "But he'd work right along next to us and then when he'd say, 'You can leave,' he'd still be out there and you'd be inside eating lunch and watching your dad outside working and you'd feel guilty."
According to the Times, the Romneys often hosted cookouts and church-related activities at their home in Massachusetts. It was, noted a friend of Craig Romney's, "our home base."
Romney himself has often spoken of his love and admiration for his own father George Romney who ran for president in 1968 and was a former governor of Michigan. Several stories reported that George Romney advised Mitt to raise his children before entering politics and make his own living so he could be his own man and be not be "beholden to anything other than principle," the article said.
A Washington Post article earlier this year portrayed Romney as a young husband and father. "Dane McBride, Romney’s friend and former missionary companion, was also newly married and rented upstairs in the three-story brick building close to campus. He would come down with his wife for spontaneous spaghetti dinners. The men would reprise jovial songs from their missionary days." At that time, Tagg was an infant and slept in a crib at the foot of their bed.
The article went on: "'I remember Mitt explaining to me the benefits of married life,' said Clayton F. Foulger, a close friend who water-skied with Romney on Lake Utah and still spends summers at the family vacation home on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. 'He didn’t have to explain a lot. It was sort of self-evident. But he was appreciative of it, I’ll tell you.'”
His boys said that Romney raised them to treat their mother Ann with special respect. In a profile of Romney by Vanity Fair, Tagg was quoted: "We were not allowed to say anything negative about my mother, talk back to her, do anything that would not be respectful of her.”
"What makes his parents’ relationship work," the article continued, "is their distinct characters: Mitt is driven first by reason, while Ann operates more on emotion. 'She helps him see there’s stuff beyond the logic; he helps her see that there’s more than just instinct and feeling,' Tagg said. Mitt and Ann’s relationship would grow and change as their family entered the public eye. But she has remained his chief counselor and confidante, the one person who can lead Mitt to a final decision. Though she did not necessarily offer detailed input on every business deal, friends said, she weighed in on just about everything else.
" ... Ann would later be mocked for her claim that she and Mitt had never had an argument during their marriage, which sounded preposterous to the ears of many married mortals. Tagg said it’s not that his parents never disagree. 'I know there are things that she says that he doesn’t agree with sometimes, and I see him kind of bite his tongue. But I know that they go and discuss it in private. He doesn’t ever contradict my mother in public.' Friends of the Romneys’ back up that account, saying they cannot recall Mitt ever raising his voice toward Ann."
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