Two days before Father's Day, President Obama put the focus on being a good dad with a series of events for youngsters and an essay on fatherhood that challenges fathers to "step up."
Obama carved out several hours Friday afternoon to meet young adults for a discussion on fatherhood, then host young men from local schools. In an essay for this weekend's Parade magazine, Obama said he felt his own father's absence throughout his childhood.
"In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence — both in my life and in the lives of others," he wrote in the article on the magazine's Web site.
Obama's father left the family home in Hawaii when Obama was just 2 years old. After that, the younger Obama saw his dad only once. Although the president's grandparents helped raise him and his sister, Obama said he often identified with Chicago boys who needed the supervision and direction that a father provides.
"We need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one," he wrote.
On Friday, Obama visited with about 50 trainees at the Year Up program in Arlington, Va., which helps get career training young adults. He encouraged them to stay on track despite the rough economy.
Later, the White House hosted a town hall on meeting the responsibilities of fatherhood, introducing five fathers who shared their personal struggles and triumphs.
The five are: Juan Carlos Artero, an El Salvadoran native immigrant who is helping to raise his 16-month-old daughter; Joe Jones, a former drug addict who turned his life around and founded the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, Md., to support families in difficult circumstances; U.S. Navy Chief Quartermaster John Lehnen, who helps care for his four special needs children and supports fellow sailors whose families are stressed by long deployments; Mike Laas, who raised two children while dealing with the pressures of running a small business owner and fighting cancer; and NBA star Etan Thomas, who balances fatherhood with a hectic schedule on the Washington Wizards.
During a discussion with the group, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden agreed that being a father is a role that is important to families — and to the country. Obama said 23 percent of U.S. children are growing up without a father.
As a presidential candidate, Obama chided fathers who don't live up to their responsibilities. Friday's events kicked off a White House initiative to underscore the importance of fatherhood and mentoring. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is scheduled to host forums across the country this summer to learn more about how to support families.
In his essay, Obama said he has been an "imperfect" father, sometimes letting the demands of his work keep him from spending time with daughters Sasha, 8, and Malia, 10. But he pledged to improve and challenged other dads to do the same.
"On this Father's Day, I am recommitting myself to that work, to those duties that all parents share: to build a foundation for our children's dreams, to give them the love and support they need to fulfill them, and to stick with them the whole way through, no matter what doubts we may feel or difficulties we may face," he said in his essay.
Material from NPR wire services was used in this report.