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Obama steps up fatherhood advocacy with new mentoring initiative

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2010; A06

In what is becoming a Father's Day ritual for the Obama administration, the president on Monday will bring together children, famous dads and nonprofit groups that promote fatherhood to highlight the importance of fathers.

The center of President Obama's day-long celebration will be a speech at the ARC, an arts and recreation campus in Southeast Washington, where he is set to announce the creation of the President's Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. It will build on a theme that has been central to his family policy and a core part of the White House's Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The new initiative, which is enlisting a network of organizations, will expand on a six-city listening tour the administration held last year to bring attention to the issue of fatherlessness. "The tour was a national conversation on responsible fatherhood that was rooted in the president's personal experiences growing up and his realization that father absence is a real challenge facing many communities," said Joshua DuBois, director of the partnerships office.

Last year, more than 24 million children did not live with their biological fathers, census figures show. Among low-income children, the figure is two out of three.

Obama will also ask Congress to move on his $500 million budget request 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 tightened focus on fathers and parental responsibility marks a steady shift from the George W. Bush administration's concentration on traditional marriage, said Chuck Donovan, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former executive vice president at the Family Research Council.

"The economic support for fathers, while important, is not something new for government," he said. "The marriage-building efforts were new and I think they are [being] undernourished."

Obama's special interest in fatherhood has been a boon for groups that support fathers and have been working for years without much attention. "His leadership and using the bully pulpit has been important," said Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, which was founded in 1994 and recently contracted with the federal government to produce public service announcements promoting fatherhood.

The administration will also begin issuing an e-newsletter from the Fatherhood.gov Web site, emphasizing the role of fathers in families and offering parenting tips. Outside groups enlisted by the White House will also promote the issue. The NFL Players Association has agreed to hold community forums on responsible fatherhood, and the National Parent Teachers Association, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and other groups will hold events.

On Sunday, meanwhile, Obama made what appears to be the first presidential Father's Day statement that mentions "two fathers."

"Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a stepfather, a grandfather, or caring guardian," he said.

Staff writer Alec MacGillis contributed to this report.

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