Last week, I witnessed an attack on Capitol Hill. It was carried out by a group of very determined men. A crowd of onlookers stood by and watched this coordinated assault take place. They even applauded as the participants boasted of plans for future strikes.
What is this incident I speak of? It was a group of dedicated fathers launching an all-out attack in support of children who are growing up without involved, responsible, and committed fathers.
AOL's vice chairman, Ted Leonsis, Missouri Senator Kit Bond, and California Congressman Dennis Cardoza set the stage for their war on fatherlessness by helping launch National Fatherhood Initiative's new mentoring initiative, Double Duty Dad, which is designed to inspire good fathers to sign up for another "tour of duty" as mentors to fatherless children. There was even a mother in their platoon -- Alma Powell, wife of Colin Powell and chair of America's Promise.
The motivation for launching such a mentoring initiative is related to the very real problems we face today. Decades of research have confirmed what common sense tells us -- that fathers play a unique and irreplaceable role in the lives of their children. Yet, there are far too many children in America growing up without dads in their lives -- 24 million, one out of three, without their biological father in the home. Two out of three African-American children live in father-absent homes. These children are at risk and face some intractable enemies. They are more likely to fail in school, use drugs, become teen parents, and commit crimes than their peers living with both parents.
This new mentoring initiative was announced near Father's Day intentionally. While mentoring programs have accomplished many great things, even the biggest and best mentoring programs have trouble recruiting qualified male volunteers.
But who better to mentor our nation's fatherless children than our nation's good fathers? They have already survived dirty diapers, homework help, and dating disasters. They have been on the "front lines" building a reservoir of fathering, relationship, and communication skills. And given the scope of father absence today, a father will not have to search far for a child to mentor. He can just look down and around, into his own circle of influence, and he will likely find a child in need of a father's care and guidance – a nephew, a neighbor, a child from his church.
Just think of the impact we could have on the well being of our nation's children if fathers became more intentional about reaching into their communities to guide children in need.
For example, consider the story of Ted Leonsis and the young man he mentored. Ted Leonsis is a highly successful business executive, philanthropist, and married father of two. He wanted to become personally involved in a charity that had asked him for support, so the charity connected him to his mentee, a young African-American teen growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood, attending a very tough high school.
He was growing up without his father, and several of his brothers had already been in jail. But Leonsis, despite all of his corporate, philanthropic, and family commitments, developed a relationship with this young man in which they have spoken every single day for the last eight years. Leonsis guided this young man to his dream of going to college and making the Dean's List.
He is now in an executive training program at a major corporation. Leonsis' mentoring changed his mentee's life -- forever. Leonsis said of him during the abovementioned "attack" on father absence on Capitol Hill, "We'll be connected forever, and he's like my second son."
If one of the busiest men in the country can do this for a child in need, who can't?
So, this Father's Day, I want to sound a clarion call, far and wide, to our nation's good dads. We need you to enter this battle for our nation's future. We need you to sign up for another tour of duty as a mentor to a child in need. Our children need your service, your talent, and your time. Indeed, the hour is late and we don't have a fatherless child to spare.
Roland C. Warren is president of National Fatherhood Initiative.