President Obama has always been a very credible speaker on the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. In his memoirs and in speeches on and off the campaign trail, he has spoken about his own life and how the absence of his father affected him.
His parents divorced when he was very young, and his father went back to Kenya. Obama saw him on one visit after that.
Today, the president carried the Father’s Day theme into extra innings with a White House event in which he urged more paternal responsibility. Among those in attendance, according to the White House invitation list, was Morehouse President Robert Franklin.
Earlier, the president visited one of Washington’s poorer neighborhoods to announce a new initiative to support fathers.
Speaking a day after Father’s Day, in what is becoming an annual ritual for the Obama administration, the president acknowledged the limits of government in forcing men to be good fathers, but said society still has an interest in providing support so that fathers can meet their responsibilities to their children.
“I can’t legislate fatherhood,” Obama told an audience at the ARC in Southeast Washington. “I can’t force anybody to love a child. ” . . . What we can do is come together and support fathers who are willing to step up. . .
“When fathers abandon their responsibilities, there is harm done to those kids,” the president said. “They are more likely to live in poverty, they are more likely to drop out of school, they are more likely to wind up in prison.”
And from Politico:
“We also know that what too many fathers being absent means – too many fathers missing from too many homes, missing from too many lives,” the president said. “We know that when fathers abandon their responsibilities, there’s harm done to those kids.”
“And I say all this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life,” Obama went on. “He left my family when I was two years old. And while I was lucky to have a wonderful mother and loving grandparents who poured everything they had into me and my sister, I still felt the weight of that absence. It’s something that leaves a hole in a child’s life that no government can fill.”
Obama noted that his own father had left his family when the president was two, and said he still feels “the weight of that absence.”
The key message, he said: “Our children don’t need us to be superheros. They don’t need us to be perfect. They do need us to be present. They need us to show up, and give it our best shot, no matter what else is going on in our lives.” ”
Obama also announced a new initiative to support fathers, including those who have been in prison.
Obama is asking Congress to allocate $500 million for a Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund, which would give grants to nonprofits that support fathers and families, including job training programs and economic incentives for dads. The initiative will also fund programs to fight domestic violence and help find jobs for men just leaving prison. The goal is to have former prisoners paying child support and reconnecting with their children as soon as possible, officials said.
In a time of political unease over blooming budget deficits, Congress may not fund Obama’s new program. But the president still manages a very important role that doesn’t require any new spending: he is an excellent role-model for responsible fatherhood.