- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

President Obama on Friday honored the nation’s dads and - as part of a day geared to the Father’s Day observance - 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 one’s own experience is no excuse to be a bad father and called on men to “rise up where your own fathers fall short.”

The day-long emphasis was to tout 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.”

Mr. Obama, largely reared by his mother and maternal grandparents, spoke at length about his difficult relationship with his own father. Barack Obama Sr. left home when the future president was just 2, and Mr. Obama saw his father only once more, at age 10 - a short visit that left a lasting imprint.

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 - watch sports news once instead of multiple times a day, for example.

Mr. Obama has attended several of his daughters’ soccer games since he’s been president, but on Friday he admitted that due to his job, he’s missed some moments in Malia and Sasha’s 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 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 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 that 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. “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, 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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