Finally, the left has found a reason to criticize Beto O’Rourke.
Kicking off his presidential campaign in Iowa last week, the former congressman from Texas, who was last seen losing a Senate race, told a small group of supporters that his wife “is raising, sometimes with my help,” their children.
His tone was apparently self-deprecating, but as the New York Times reported, some on the left saw this as an expression of his white male privilege. And it aggravated concerns elicited by his campaign video, in which his wife sat by his side and smiled lovingly at him, never saying a word.
O’Rourke quickly apologized for his characterization of himself as a detached father. “I think the criticism is right on,” he said the next day. “My ham-handed attempt to try to highlight the fact that Amy has the lion’s share of the burden in our family – that she actually works but is the primary parent in our family, especially when I served in Congress, especially when I was on the campaign trail – should have also been a moment for me to acknowledge that that is far too often the case, not just in politics, but just in life in general.”
I am unsure what set them off. Was the problem that he was bragging about spending a couple of years on a failed U.S. Senate campaign, followed by a foolish road trip building his social media following? Or was it that he has indeed been a largely absent father for a couple of years? Either of these facts would be enough to decimate a woman’s campaign, and that bugs them too.
The usual cries of “white male privilege” and O’Rourke’s almost ritualistic admission of guilt make it easy to dismiss the issue as just another example of social justice warriors and the radical left overreacting with criticisms of every little thing any public figure says. But although I’m generally inclined to defend people who are under attack from the "PC police," I think O’Rourke’s liberal critics have a fair point.
His distant parenting may not be that different from many fathers a generation or two ago, but today we expect more from fathers, and for good reason. Study after study has proven that children thrive when fathers are active in their lives.
This is a hard subject because dads are sometimes absent due to death, military service or other hardships. (Studies have shown that children process that differently than abandonment.) We women blame ourselves for everything, including a loser ex-husband, and we shouldn’t.
But let’s not get confused. In a perfect world Dad is around and engaged with his kids. It’s best for them and for us.
Years ago, we wouldn’t have been shocked by a CEO father or politician joking about being absent and conceding the raising of his children to his wife. Thankfully, for the left and the right, those days are gone.
This isn’t to say that men and women will ever play the same roles as parents. Women have higher expectations for themselves and for other women. We give birth. We nurse in the middle of the night. We love so deeply that it hurts. Men can only do one of those things.
But dads count, and they don’t get a pass anymore. That’s why it’s so troubling that a presidential candidate was so glib about how little time he spends with his family, without any apparent feeling of sadness.
Contrast that with the frank and self-critical assessment of the former CEO of Pepsico, Indra Nooyi, who said bluntly in 2014 that “women can’t have it all” and that because of her career, “if you ask [my] daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure.”
My husband and I are on the cusp of becoming empty nesters; our last child goes to college in the fall, so we’re preparing for a new normal that doesn’t revolve around the needs of children. We both are working through very complicated feelings, from great relief to deep sadness.
Even though I was the primary caregiver to my children when they were young, I can’t help wondering whether I was right to go back to work full-time 10 years ago. Was I too “lax”? Was I gone too much?
At the same time, I’m grateful that my husband was – and still is – deeply devoted to our children and family. He made career sacrifices that helped him optimize his time with his children, just as I did. We are all better for recognizing the short time we have to parent, and for fighting to achieve a balance that lets us engage, parent and love our children.
I don’t regret one moment of those years when I leaned out of my career to stay home full or part-time. But I do regret some of those days I didn’t.