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Michelle Obama talks fatherhood

From NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A day after the revelation of Jesse Jackson's crude criticism of Barack Obama's speeches on fatherhood and faith-based initiatives, this morning Michelle Obama was talking about fatherhood, responsibility and accountability.

"There's government responsibility and accountability, and then there's individual responsibility and accountability," she said in response to a young woman's reference to the Democratic nominee's emphasis on fatherhood. "One never cancels out the other."

Her remarks came in response to a question from 25-year-old audience member Ibbaanika Bond, whose boyfriend has been trying to regain custody of their child after she, an unwed mother, gave up her son Noah for adoption, an action she now says she regrets. 

Craig Lentz, the son's biological father, took the case against Noah's adoptive parents to the Missouri Supreme Court on the grounds that he never agreed to the adoption. (NBC's Kansas City affiliate did a story on the case.)

Referencing Obama's efforts to put fathers' responsibility into the spotlight, Bond insisted, "There is a system in this country that, even in court, they're keeping people from doing that. People want to take care of their children."

After listening to the young mother's passionate appeal for legal justice, Obama agreed that the family court system is flawed, but added that her husband's directive to parents is aimed at those who fail to take an active role in children's lives despite available resources.

"I want to make sure that people, that people understand that as Barack talks about his personal experiences growing up without a father, that in no way doesn't recognize that there are serious problems in the system," she said. "As we are talking about that fight, we also have to recognize that there are some people who do have complete ability and access to do what they need to do."

The Kansas City roundtable, held at the city's University of Missouri campus, was the aspiring First Lady's second in as many days. Yesterday, she held a similar event in Pontiac, Michigan, before a crowded auditorium of mostly black women where they discussed soaring health care costs and unemployment.

Today's audience was also made up of almost all women, but the crowd in the more affluent university area was more mixed. Participants mentioned college-loan payments and day-care fees as monthly costs that drive them to scrimp and cut corners.

Obama used the roundtable audience, as she did yesterday, to describe her husband's understanding of women's issues through the prism of the strong -- but sometimes struggling -- women in his life.

His own mother, she said at the beginning of her remarks, was "very young and very single when she had him." And, Obama added, he has observed his wife's attempts to reconcile motherhood with her career aspirations.

"He sees me, his wife, who struggles every day with that guilt that we all hold deep in our hearts as women," she said. "That guilt that you don't have the choice to stay home, and even if you do, you feel guilty."

"He has seen me struggle with this my entire life," she added. "Trust me, Barack understands the struggles of women."