- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

First lady Laura Bush last night credited President Bush with helping successfully raise their twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, and said more men should become responsible fathers.

“Children need fathers in their lives,” Mrs. Bush said at an awards ceremony sponsored by the National Fatherhood Initiative. “George and I were fortunate to grow up in families where our parents — both of our parents — were always in our lives.

“And we’re proud of the young women that our girls have become,” she said of their 23-year-old daughters. “A big reason for their success is that their dad has always been involved, and he’s never been embarrassed or afraid to show his love for them.”

Mrs. Bush pointed out that men are much more likely than women to separate from their children. “At every stage of parenting, it’s easier for fathers than mothers to get disconnected,” she said at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington.

“Fathers aren’t always encouraged to trust their paternal instincts,” she added. “Hugs are a hurdle some fathers can’t cross — and kisses are out of the question.”

Mrs. Bush has been focusing on fatherhood since February, when she took the reins of her first national initiative, a three-year, $150 million program aimed at keeping boys out of gangs. Her husband announced the initiative in his State of the Union address, saying it was designed to “show young men an ideal of manhood that respects women and rejects violence.”

Last night, Mrs. Bush said absentee fatherhood is a problem that affects all sectors of society. “Every father faces challenges, regardless of his circumstances — the father who’s absent because he’s in prison, or the father who’s absent because he works 80 hours a week,” she said.

“Both have children who wish they could see their dads more,” she added. “It’s important for dads to know that they can still offer love and guidance, even if it’s in a weekly visit or phone call.”

Mrs. Bush and the president were praised by Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, “for their steadfast support of this issue.” Mr. Bayh, who preceded the first lady to the podium at last night’s award ceremony, noted that the number of homes without fathers in the U.S. has increased 300 percent over the last 40 years.

“Here in the nation’s capital, more than half of the families with young children — more than 50 percent — have no fathers present,” said the author of “From Father to Son: A Private Life in the Public Eye,” a book about his relationship with his father, who was also a Democratic senator from Indiana.

Among the men honored last night as outstanding fathers was Pat Williams, vice president of the Orlando Magic basketball team. Mr. Williams and his wife, Ruth, have 19 children, ages 18 to 32, including 14 adopted from four countries.

Also honored were country music star Buddy Jewell, Atlanta Falcons defensive back Allen Rossum and Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes.

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