- - Monday, June 21, 2010

Being a good father is “the most important job,” President Obama said Monday as he unveiled a series of initiatives to help American dads engage in responsible parenting.

A day after official Father’s Day festivities, the nation’s first father said “without hesitation … the most challenging, most fulfilling, most important job I will have during my time on this Earth is to be Sasha and Malia’s dad,” referring to his two young daughters.

Speaking before about 300 people gathered at an event in Anacostia in Southeast Washington, Mr. Obama officially kicked off a mentoring program that will provide additional funding for job training, parenting classes, domestic-violence prevention and other services to address the blight caused by of absent fathers.

Acknowledging that he “can’t legislate fatherhood,” Mr. Obama said his administration also would work to help divorced fathers catch up with child-support payments and “re-engage them in their children’s lives.”

Mr. Obama, whose Kenyan father left when he was just 2 years old, has started a national dialogue on how to address the challenges of absent fathers, dispatching top officials around the country to discuss the issue. 

He has not shied away from talking openly about being abandoned as a child by his father, whom Mr. Obama last saw when he was just 10 years old.

“I say all this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life. He left my family when I was two years old. And while I was lucky to have a wonderful mother and loving grandparents who poured everything they had into me and my sister, I still felt the weight of that absence,” Mr. Obama said. 

“It’s something that leaves a hole in a child’s life that no government can fill.”

With Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. looking on, Mr. Obama said the Justice Department planned to create its first “Fathering Re-Entry Court” for dads who are ex-offenders.

Under the initiative, fathers would receive help as soon as they leave the criminal justice system in order to obtain employment and services to begin making child-support payments and “reconnecting them with their families.”