Fathers Implored at Rally to Fulfill Duties

Families gather in the D.C. area to celebrate Father's Day, a holiday which dates to 1909.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

Several hundred people gathered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday to issue a national call for fathers to become more committed to their children, rallying through occasional downpours and bursts of lightning.

The event, organized by the National Partnership for Community Leadership, drew men and their families from across the country. They got an early start on Father's Day by recognizing the responsibilities that come with the holiday. Participants said they came to show unity in their pledges to be strong fathers and pay homage to the national holiday, which dates to 1909.

"Sometimes, we emphasize the negative," said Jeffrey Johnson, president of the Washington-based organization. "But we need to presume that most fathers want to be the best fathers they can be. And we believe that had we not lifted that up, a hundred years of Father's Day would have passed us up."

The rally included speeches from dignitaries, performances and a video message from President Obama that encouraged men throughout the country to take responsibility for their children and be more engaged in their lives.

Most participants were African American, and each performance and speaker was followed by rallying cries reminiscent of the 1995 Million Man March in Washington.

The event was an effort to counter the facts about fathers -- or the lack thereof.

Recent census figures show that more than 25 million children live in homes without fathers. Nearly three in 10 white children live without their fathers, compared with two of three black children and four of 10 Latino children, according to the figures.

Those figures fueled the calls for action at the event.

"We are here preaching to the choir," said journalist and talk-show host Ed Gordon, who founded an organization dedicated to fatherhood called Daddy's Promise, inspired by his relationship with his daughter, Taylor.

"But the choir has to go further and shine a light on the brothers not doing the right thing," Gordon said.

Grant Weston traveled to the rally with members of the Oglala Lakota Nation from the Pine Ridge Sioux reservation in South Dakota. They had been participating in a national conference in Baltimore on fatherhood leading up to the rally. At the event, they performed a traditional song in the pouring rain meant to encourage fathers to be strong and caring.

Weston, 28, a father of two children -- a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son -- said he felt rejuvenated after taking part in the rally.

"All my life, I've been taught that fathers only go so far, that the women and children are usually the only ones to go on," said Weston, who said he has tried to instill in his children the value of family and culture.

"But here, knowing what I learned from my mother and father," he said, "it has taught me that fathers are also up there."

Although most participants kept by the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the rally, Juan Yarbrough was removed from the crowd, just enjoying the moment with 23-month-old son Hunter, wife Danyiel and 10-year-old niece Lá Jayvia Hunter.

The Orlando family was en route to the Sesame Place theme park in Pennsylvania when they heard an announcement on their car radio about the rally.

Yarbrough, 35, said being there made him feel proud to be a father, especially because he grew up without a parent. More so, he said, it reinforced what he tries to instill in his son: that celebrating fatherhood never ends.

"It's good to have a day to show respect for what's going on," he said. "But it's not just a one-day thing. For me, every day is Father's Day."

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