Pete Souza/White House
Joshua DuBois and President Obama at the White House
Joshua DuBois and President Obama at the White House Pete Souza/White House
It's been an important part of President Obama's childhood narrative, growing up with an absent father. It was the cornerstone of a historic speech he delivered last year, assailing men who run away from their parenting responsibilities. And now it's a priority for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership, with the launch of the national fatherhood tour last week. With its first stop in Chicago, Obama's faith-based office will go around the country holding town hall meetings to discuss the importance of fatherhood and speak with community organizations about what policies best work to build strong families.
And the man entrusted by the president to lead the way on this initiative is Joshua DuBois. A 27-year-old Pentecostal minister, DuBois served as the director of religious affairs for Obama's presidential campaign. Now, the young man has been handed an even bigger job, leading the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. And though DuBois is not yet a father himself, the issue of fatherhood is one of the top four priorities for his office. (The others include interreligious dialogue and cooperation, the role of nonprofits in the economic recovery, and working to reduce the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies.)
"[Obama] grew up without a dad in his own home, but he also saw the impact of father absence when he was working in Chicago," DuBois says. "So he started this national conversation about responsible fatherhood."
Joshua DuBois has been named to head the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Joshua DuBois has been named to head the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Arwa Gunja/NPR
Obama's deeply personal views about fatherhood made national headlines in June 2008, while he was still campaigning for the presidency. At the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, then-candidate Obama told the mostly African-American congregation, "We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child — it's the courage to raise one."
The issue of absent fathers is a particularly big one in African-American families, where nearly two-thirds live in single-parent homes. And children who grow up without a father are far more likely to drop out of school, commit crimes, live in poverty and end up in prison.
But the fatherhood initiative is not just targeting African-American families. "This is about kids who are growing up without responsible role models in their families, and that is for all American families regardless of their background," DuBois says.
And he encourages all Americans to get involved by letting his office know what programs in local communities are working to strengthen families.
"At the end of the day, solutions are not going to come out of Washington," DuBois says. "They're going to come out of individuals and families and communities across the country who are stepping up to the plate and meeting our challenges, including the challenge of father absence."