President Barack Obama dedicated his entire afternoon today to promoting the importance of fatherhood and urging men to fulfill their responsibilities to their children, a topic that has great personal significance to him and one he has addressed forcefully in the past.
"Fatherhood also brings great responsibilities," he said in a proclamation today. "Fathers have an obligation to help rear the children they bring into the world. Children deserve this care, and families need each father's active participation."
Obama often speaks candidly about his own childhood growing up without his father, who left him and his mother when Obama was 2-years-old, and has issued strong words for men who do not live up to their responsibilities. A Father's Day speech last year sparked considerable debate because of his sharp criticism aimed at the African-American community.
The president took the time tp visit to Year Up, a local non-profit organization that helps young adults prepare for a professional career.
A the same time, several members of his staff fanned out across the city to partner with athletes and other celebrities to reach out to young boys through various local organizations.
Dwyane Wade of the NBA's Miami Heat, Antwan Randel El of the NFL's Washington Redskins, pro skateboarder Tony Hawk and Tony Award winning actor B.D. Wong took part in events around Washington to promote the president's message of responsibility.
Obama will later hold a town hall-style event in the White House, where he will lead a discussion about fatherhood and take questions from an audience of local fathers and young men. The event will feature five fathers discussing their own personal stories, including a military dad raising four children, including a set of triplets, and the founder of a national organization that promotes fatherhood and family programs.
The president and his guests will attend a barbecue on the White House South Lawn with celebrity chef Bobby Flay firing up the grill.
Obama Writes, Again, About Life Without Dad
The trio of events are also part of the Obama administration's continuing efforts to open up the White House to regular Americans. The day's schedule was similar to the day first lady Michelle Obama partnered with notable women to reach out to young girls across Washington D.C., and mark Women's History Month in March.
"I knew him mainly from the letters he wrote and the stories my family told," the president writes. "And while I was lucky to have two wonderful grandparents who poured everything they had into helping my mother raise my sister and me, I still felt the weight of his absence throughout my childhood."
In his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," Obama wrote about the questions he had for his father but couldn't ask him because he had such a limited presence in his life. He describes his struggle to understand his identity as an young African-American man growing up with a single mom and his white grandparents.
Writing for Parade, Obama describes how, through his work as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side, he saw countless young men growing up as he did, without a father or a male role model to help steer them on the right path.
"In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence -- both in my life and in the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill," he writes. "We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference."
In a provocative speech last year in Chicago, Obama delivered some tough love to the African-American community on how absent fathers have contributed to the breakdown of the black family.
"Too many fathers are MIA," he said. "Too many fathers are AWOL. Missing from too many lives and too many homes. They've abandoned their responsibilities. They're acting like boys instead of men. You and I know this is true everywhere, but nowhere is it more true than in the African-American community."
Obama: Dads Are 'Irreplaceable Influence'
He called on men to step up and realize that their responsibility "doesn't just end at conception."
"That doesn't just make you a father. What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. Any fool can have a child. That doesn't make you a father. It's the courage to raise the child that makes you a father," he said.
In a proclamation declaring June 21, 2009, Father's Day, Obama today described fathers as "an irreplaceable influence upon their children" and outlined the responsibilities and obligations that comes with that title.
"Fathers must help teach right from wrong and instill in their kids the values that sustain them for a lifetime," he said. "As they encounter new and challenging experiences, children need guidance and counsel. Fathers need to talk with their kids to help them through difficult times. Parents must also help their children make the right choices by serving as strong role models. Honest and hard-working fathers are an irreplaceable influence upon their children."
He called on community organizations to do more to help men become better fathers.
"These groups can support men as they take on the great challenges of child-rearing," he said. "Through honest and open dialogue, more men can choose to become model parents and know the wonders of fatherhood."