12 November, 2009


Ten years ago – in October 1999 -- when I launched IN SEARCH OF FATHERHOOD® and began interviewing Fathers, Fathers’ Rights Advocates, and Fatherhood Practitioners in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, researching global health and parenting resources for Fathers, publishing interviews of Fathers and essays and articles about Fatherhood, and speaking in public forums about Fatherhood issues, I sensed that it was just a matter of time before the importance of Fatherhood and men’s unique parenting and health issues would capture the attention of the world’s leaders and policymakers. Ten years later, in 2009, the critical role that Fathers play in the lives of their children and in our families and communities and their unique issues have not gone unnoticed by at least one world leader. On Friday, 19 June 2009, the 44th President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama who recently became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, held a Town Hall Meeting on Fatherhood at the White House in Washington, D.C. President Obama’s launching of a National Conversation on Fatherhood has become the proverbial “shot heard around the world”. It has moved, with meteoric speed, the parenting issues of 64 Million Fathers to the center of America’s radar screen.

What is the mission of the National Conversation on Fatherhood?

The National Conversation on Fatherhood is providing a forum for Fathers, organizations, and communities to share initiatives, tools, and programs that they have either designed and/or implemented to resolve the unique parenting challenges that Men face. It is providing Fathers, organizations, and communities with an opportunity to find out what works and what does not work. They will be able to identify successful tools, initiatives, and programs that are effectively addressing the unique challenges of parenting in the Millennium from a male perspective which can be incorporated into policy decisions that will support Fatherhood and Family Initiatives. The National Conversation on Fatherhood is moving individuals, organizations, and communities to work with a “sense of oneness” to create and implement key “pieces of the puzzle” to resolving the challenges and obstacles that make parenting for Men in the Millennium a very daunting task.

So, what happens at a Town Hall Meeting on Fatherhood?

On Friday, 19 June 2009, Fathers from all Walks of Life from different regions of the United States joined President Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C. for a discussion about, among other things, what Fathers are currently doing to empower themselves and to strengthen their families and the communities in which they live and work. President Obama along with a group of Fathers and mentors visited a number of non-profit organizations in the Washington, D.C. area that provide young men with mentoring services and support. A mentoring session with visiting Fathers and over approximately 120 youths from the Washington, D.C. area was also convened at the White House. President Obama used the occasion of the White House Town Hall Meeting on Fatherhood to stress the importance of Fathers. He remarked:

"We all know the difference that responsible, committed fathers like these guys can make in the life of a child. Fathers are our first teachers and coaches. They’re our mentors and role models. They set examples of success and push us to succeed ourselves – encouraging us when we’re struggling; loving us even when we disappoint them; standing by us when no one else will.”

On Thursday, 6 August 2009, the first White House Roundtable on Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families was convened in Chicago, Illinois and attended by, among others, internationally acclaimed Fathers’ Rights Advocate and Attorney Jeffery Leving, United States Congressman Danny K. Davis of Chicago, Illinois, and Michael Strautmanis, the Chief of Staff to The Honorable Valerie Jarrett who serves as the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison. The White House Roundtable on Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families was a private meeting conducted at the University of Illinois in Chicago. It explored ways in which Fathers and families can be strengthened and addressed the many critical challenges created by the absence of Fathers in America.

The Town Hall Meeting on Fatherhood was conducted at the University of Illinois in Chicago immediately after the conclusion of the private meeting of the White House Roundtable. President Obama participated in the Town Hall Meeting through a video conferencing link. At the invitation of the White House, Attorneys James M. Hagler and Andrey Filipowicz also participated in the event. They were joined by Mr. Samuel McNabb and his wife Wilma McNabb who are the parents of National Football League and Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb, former NBA player Kendall Gill, and Fathers from all Walks of Life from the Chicago, Illinois area.

A number of men attending Chicago’s Fatherhood Town Hall Meeting discussed what Fatherhood means to them and how Fatherhood has transformed their lives. Men who have acted as surrogate parents to youths who do not have a dominant male presence in their lives were also in attendance and punctuated the discussion with their perspective on dealing with the vacuum created by the absence of Fathers and the accompanying problems.

The National Conversation on Fatherhood moved to Manchester, New Hampshire on Wednesday, 23 September 2009. United States Secretary of Education The Honorable Arne Duncan, Superintendent of the Manchester School District Thomas Brennan, Cathy Duffy who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Girls Inc. New Hampshire, leaders of non-profit organizations throughout New England including, for example, Jacqui Nye, a male-involvement specialist employed by Providence, Rhode Island’s Children’s Friends – a non-profit organization that works with children and families struggling with poverty and education issues, and Fathers from all Walks of Life participated in panel discussions and a question-and-answer session at the Radisson Hotel. Nye, during a question-and-answer session, identified illiteracy as an obstacle that she encounters when she attempts to get Fathers actively involved in the lives of their children.

In a panel discussion, Manchester School District Superintendent Thomas Brennan pointed to the need for school districts to “create a welcoming environment for Fathers who want to get involved” in their child’s education. Brennan also cited the need for more elementary male teachers and added that schools should make an effort to have a discussion about their students with both parents – Mom and Dad.

Cathy Duffy, the Chief Executive Officer of Girls Inc. talked about, among other things, how her organization has worked on behalf of Fathers who were seeking legal custody of their daughters. Why did Girls Inc. get involved with helping Fathers obtain custody of their daughters? Duffy pointed to the fact that Fathers of these young ladies were the most responsible parent.

United States Secretary of Education The Honorable Arne Duncan cited the creation of partnerships as one of the key “pieces of the puzzle” to encouraging Fathers to take an active role in their child’s academic progress. Secretary Duncan stated that schools should “do more to make Fathers feel welcome in their buildings.” He also encouraged Fathers to read to their children and to talk to them.

Some of you may be wondering: “Why all the fuss about Fathers? Is there really a need for America to be concerned about Fathers? Do we really need a National Conversation on Fatherhood?”

Yes, we really need to be concerned about Fathers. And yes, we really do need a National Conversation on Fatherhood.

Fathers are one of the key “pieces of the puzzle” to creating and sustaining efficiently functioning family units. Efficiently functioning family units positively shape the minds and souls of our children – our future – our bridge to the future and empower communities, and empowered communities strengthen a nation.

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