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First Father Knows Best: Famed Dads Mentor Youth

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 20, 2009

The students of Ballou Senior High School's automotive technology program can thank Barack Obama's absent father for their current predicament: getting rapped at by Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC, who's mixing rhyme and reason about being a good man and finding significance in one's life. He and a dozen male students are sitting in the program's auto shop in Southeast yesterday afternoon, sheltered from the first truly sunny day in recent memory.

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"I didn't come here to be a famous rap dude," says McDaniels, standing in front of a hydraulic brake demonstrator across from three busted-up cars on hydraulic lifts. "I didn't come here to be the king of rock. If [Run-DMC] didn't do what we did, there would be no hip-hop."

The students consider this theory.

McDaniels ponders his example more deeply, saying: "What I represent is purpose and destiny. . . . Don't let anyone tell you you can't do it. . . . I was like y'all, a school kid growing up in the 'hood. . . . And I became not just a rapper but one of the greatest ever to do it. And the reason it happened was because I took every opportunity."

Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher sits nearby, silently, in a beige suit and blue oxford shirt, next to the diagram of a multi-part fuel-injection trainer. His mustache won't say whether he's smiling.

The Super Bowl champion and one-third of the legendary hip-hop group were in the garage as part of President Obama's national day of conversation about fatherhood and personal responsibility. Father's Day is tomorrow, and Obama -- whose father's absence shaped his life and inspired a best-selling book -- deployed famous and semi-famous men to eight sites in the Washington area to interact with nonprofit organizations that focus on youth mentorship. Obama visited one such group in Arlington yesterday morning before heading back to the White House for a town-hall meeting on fatherhood and a mentoring session with young men on the South Lawn.

At Ballou, Cowher gets in some less-lofty words.

"Part of life is acquiring a skill," he says. "I'm not saying you are going to [repair cars] for the rest of your life, but your skill separates you from a lot of people. I couldn't even change the oil on that car."

Then DMC takes over, popping around in his black CBGB shirt and paint-splattered jeans. He gesticulates with passion, stressing the importance of not dropping out of school, not using foul language and not getting shot.

"Put me on the stage with any rapper," he challenges the students. "I will defeat them and I won't curse at all."

Then he says that if he hadn't been given up for adoption and cared for by a loving family in Hollis, Queens -- We're funky fresh from Hollis, Queens! -- there would be no Run-DMC and, hence, no hip-hop.

And it would follow that without Barack Hussein Obama the father, there would be no Barack Hussein Obama the son, and maybe without the father's absence, there would be no President Obama, and no White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which coordinated yesterday's events and will sponsor regional town halls on fatherhood in the future.


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