- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

President Obama on Friday honored the nation’s dads and as part of a day geared around the Father’s Day holiday said they must “step up,” imploring men across the country to remember that fatherhood doesn’t end with conception.

Mr. Obama said 23 percent of young people are without fathers, and noted his own father’s absence in his life. He said that is no excuse to be a bad father, and called on men to “rise up where your own fathers fall short.”

The day-long event was to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday but the president said he also plans regional town hall meetings to push community involvement.

“When fathers are absent we know the damage that does to our families,” Mr. Obama told a group of fathers gathered in the East Room at the White House. “That’s something that leaves a hole in a child’s heart that a government can’t fill.”

The president, introduced as “First Dad of the United States,” for the event, said men can do little things to improve relations with their children like only watch ESPN’s SportsCenter once instead of multiple times.

Mr. Obama has attended several of Malia and Sasha’s soccer games since he’s been president, but on Friday admitted that due to his job he’s missed some moments in his daughters’ lives that “I’ll never get back.”

“It’s about showing up and sticking with it,” Mr. Obama said.

The president also said the most fun he’s had as president was at the girls’ parent-teacher conferences.

“Teachers were bragging on my children — I was basking in the glory,” he said.

As Mr. Obama made the rounds at an event on the White House south lawn with young men, the president answered a reporter’s question about what he wanted for Father’s Day: “a health care bill.”

He also said it was a possibility he’d go golfing on Sunday.

As participants talked about fatherly duties with community leaders and pro-skater Tony Hawk, Mr. Obama said it was the beginning of a national conversation he wants to start about fatherhood, personal responsibility and what government can do to support “those who are having a difficult time.”

The group offered a mix of practical advice — from keeping a journal to share your reflections with your children to getting a good job — and policy recommendations with a focus on volunteerism.

For years on the campaign trail and since, Mr. Obama has reserved his tough talk for black men for targeted speeches, such as one at a Chicago church last year on Father’s Day.

He told the predominantly black church fathers must understand “responsibility doesn’t just end at conception” and said he feels an obligation as a father to “break the cycle.”

Using strong language, the president talked about his own fatherless experience.

“What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child; any fool can have a child,” he said, adding, “It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”

Mr. Obama also issued a proclamation for Father’s Day.

It stressed community involvement to help fathers do better jobs and called on Americans to honor fathers with the flag, ceremonies and service projects.

Friday’s events at local mentorship nonprofits included top staffers such as Denis McDonough of the National Security Council to high profile local sports stars, including Antwan Randle El of the Washington Redskins and Etan Thomas of the Washington Wizards and renowned chef Bobby Flay.

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