Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Town Hall on Fatherhood

This morning the President hosted a Young Mens Barbeque at the White House for students from local schools to discuss the importance of fatherhood and taking personal responsibility:



The President kicked off a national conversation about the importance of fatherhood today at a White House town hall meeting afterwards. The President was joined in the discussion by well-known fathers from across the country, national and community organizations, young students, as well as five outstanding fathers from diverse backgrounds. These men shared their stories of their commitment to fatherhood and personal responsibility, covering everything from the struggles of balancing work and family to the importance of family dinners.
Following their stories, the President discussed the vital role of fathers in their families and their communities. He said he hopes this conversation will spark a national dialogue about fatherhood in America, which will inspire participants to fulfill their obligations and become positive role models in their own communities.
The message was clear – fathers can make a world of difference in the lives of our children. The President explained that while government can do a lot to help people, it simply cannot take the place of a father in a child’s life:
And when fathers are absent -- when they abandon their responsibilities to their children -- we know the damage that that does to our families. Some of you know the statistics: Children who grow up without fathers are more likely to drop out of school and wind up in prison. They’re more likely to have substance abuse problems, run away from home, and become teenage parents themselves.
And I say this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life. I had a heroic mom and wonderful grandparents who helped raise me and my sister, and it's because of them that I'm able to stand here today. But despite all their extraordinary love and attention, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel my father's absence. That's something that leaves a hole in a child’s heart that a government can't fill.
That's why it is time for all men to step up and be responsible fathers. The President went on to explain that while you don’t have to be a perfect father, you always need to try. He emphasized that sometimes the smallest moments are the most important. He discussed how his father gave him his first basketball and took him to his first jazz concert. Although his father was not a large part of his life, these little moments had a lasting impact. The President said his own father’s absence helped teach him to take responsibility and be a better father himself:
If we want our children to succeed in life, we need fathers to step up. We need fathers to understand that their work doesn’t end with conception -- that what truly makes a man a father is the ability to raise a child and invest in that child.
We need fathers to be involved in their kids’ lives not just when it’s easy -- not just during the afternoons in the park or at the zoo, when it’s all fun and games -- but when it’s hard, when young people are struggling, and there aren’t any quick fixes or easy answers, and that's when young people need compassion and patience, as well as a little bit of tough love.
Now, this is a challenge even in good times. And it can be especially tough during times like these, when parents have a lot on their minds -- they're worrying about keeping their jobs, or keeping their homes or their health care, paying their bills, trying to give their children the same opportunities that they had. And so it's understandable that parents get concerned, some fathers who feel they can't support their families, get distracted. And even those who are more fortunate may be physically present, but emotionally absent.
I know that some of the young men who are here today might have their own concerns one day about being a dad. Some of you might be worried that if you didn’t have a father, then you don't know how to be one when your turn comes. Some of you might even use that as an excuse, and say, "Well, if my dad wasn’t around, why should I be?"
Let’s be clear: Just because your own father wasn’t there for you, that’s not an excuse for you to be absent also -- it’s all the more reason for you to be present. There’s no rule that says that you have to repeat your father’s mistakes. Just the opposite -- you have an obligation to break the cycle and to learn from those mistakes, and to rise up where your own fathers fell short and to do better than they did with your own children.
That’s what I’ve tried to do in my life. When my daughters were born, I made a pledge to them, and to myself, that I would do everything I could to give them some things I didn’t have. And I decided that if I could be one thing in life, it would be to be a good father.
The White House plans on continuing this conversation in a series of regional town halls on the importance of fatherhood and personal responsibility. The goal is to find and emphasize what works to address these challenges, and how we can work together to strengthen our efforts as families, communities, and as a nation.
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