WARREN: ‘First father’ calls dads to take action

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On his first Father’s Day as president, Barack Obama — our nation’s “first father” — encouraged America’s dads to be there for their children. For our nation’s dads and the 25 million children living in father-absent homes, there could not have been a more welcome presidential message.

Mr. Obama’s compelling, first-of-its-kind call to action to dads was distributed via a public service advertising campaign for the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. In his message, Mr. Obama urges fathers to “take time to be a dad today” because “the smallest moments can have the biggest impact on a child’s life.”

For many dads, this message is a simple reminder that they are doing the right thing by their children. For many other dads, Mr. Obama is exposing a troubling truth about American fatherhood. The United States leads the Western industrialized world in father absence — one out of three children in America lives apart from his or her biological father. Two out of three black children live in father-absent homes.

The president knows firsthand what that experience is like, he has outlined it in detail in his book, “Dreams from My Father,” and in various speeches. I also grew up without my father, and I believe that every child has a “hole in his soul” in the shape of his dad. When a father is unable or unwilling to fill that hole, it leaves a painful wound that is not easily filled, even in “successful” or “powerful” people.

That Mr. Obama decided to send this message on his first Father’s Day as president illustrates his motivation and dedication to strengthening fatherhood in our country. Decades of research have confirmed what common sense tells us — fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in the lives of their children. Children from father-absent homes are at risk; they are more likely to fail in school, use drugs, become teen parents and commit crimes than their peers living with both parents.

The president appears to understand that for our nation to meaningfully address these intractable social ills, our nation’s fathers must take action now.

Additionally, Mr. Obama’s recent call to national service and civic engagement, coupled with this new call to dads, shows he also understands the power of a nation of involved, responsible and committed fathers to transform our neighborhoods and communities.

As president of National Fatherhood Initiative, I want to add to the president’s call. Think of the enormous impact we could have on the well-being of our nation’s children if America’s dads became “double-duty dads” — fathers who not only lovingly care for their own children, but who also are intentional about reaching into their families and communities to mentor other children from father-absent homes.

While mentoring programs have accomplished many great things, even the biggest and best mentoring programs have trouble recruiting qualified male volunteers. But there is no one better qualified to mentor our nation’s fatherless children than our nation’s good fathers. They already have survived dirty diapers, helped with homework and dealt with dating “disasters.” They have been on the front lines building a reservoir of fathering, relationship and communication skills.

Given the scope of father absence today, a father will not have to search far for a child to mentor. He can just look into his own circle of influence, and likely will find a child in need of a father’s care and guidance — a nephew, a neighbor, a child from his church.

However, my hope is that the need for “double-duty dads” begins a rapid decline as a result of fathers heeding the president’s call and stepping into their own children’s lives — stepping in to fill those painful holes in their children’s souls that only good fathers can fill.

In the wake of Father’s Day, let’s not only celebrate dads, let’s take action. I stand with the president in his conviction that we don’t have a fatherless child to spare.

Roland Warren is the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org). Send e-mail to rwarren@fatherhood.org.

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