Published June 19, 2009
WASHINGTON -- In an unusual devotion of time for an American president, Barack Obama is blocking out nearly an entire afternoon to promote the importance of being a good dad as a national priority.
The emphasis on responsible fatherhood is personal for Obama. When he was a presidential candidate he rebuked absentee dads -- particularly those in his own black community -- for acting like boys and putting their kids at risk. Now one of the world's most famous fathers has a presidential megaphone.
Obama on Friday will visit a nonprofit center that helps train young adults for professional careers; host a town hall on personal responsibility, where successful everyday dads will share their stories; and invite male students from local schools to the White House to have fun hanging with some famous faces.
The day's events will serve to launch an ongoing White House effort on fatherhood and mentoring. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will host forums around the country this summer and fall to gather ideas on good programs and to help promote them.
"We think if we can lift some of that up, we can inspire more activity and engagement on these issues," Joshua DuBois, the director of the office, told The Associated Press. "Is everything going to change because of one day at the White House and a sustained commitment throughout the year? No. But the president thinks it's important to lead by example, and to do something about these matters."
It is common for presidents to celebrate strong fatherhood, particularly heading into Father's Day weekend.
But Obama is purposely giving the matter prominent attention, knowing that alone might draw the kind of media coverage the topic otherwise would not get at a time of war, economic crisis and other important news.
While the president is visiting Year Up, a highly regarded program that helps young adults, athletes and other figures will be visiting different nonprofits to broaden the outreach. Obama also recorded a video to be shown during Saturday's Rally for Responsible Fatherhood on the National Mall.
Obama spent much of his own life without a father around. His dad left home in Hawaii when Obama was 2 years old and the future president saw his father only one other time after that. The president and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters, Sasha, 8, and Malia, 10.
"This is an issue that he takes very seriously both because he grew up without a father in his own life, but also because he's seen the impact that present fathers can have, and absent fathers can have, in our communities," DuBois said.
An estimated 24 million children are growing up with absent fathers, and a disproportionate number of them are African-American. Those children are at higher risk of falling into lives of poverty and crime and becoming parents themselves in their teenage years.
Obama bemoaned those trends last Father's Day in an attention-grabbing speech at the Apostolic Church of God in his hometown of Chicago. He said families need help -- more police on the street, more job opportunities, more good teachers -- but that responsibility starts at home.
And he has spoken about the issue many other times, too.
The White House is not expected to unveil any new public policy. But part of the effort is designed to figure out how the federal government can support or adopt programs that help fathers and at-risk children succeed.