Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

One of the Most Important Jobs in the World: Being a Father

Ben O'Dell


April 22, 2011
by Ben O’Dell

In his 2010 Father’s Day remarks, the President emphasized how important his responsibility in the East Wing as Father is compared to his role as President in the West Wing.  

“Over the course of my life, I have been an attorney, I’ve been a professor, I’ve been a state senator, I’ve been a U.S. senator -- and I currently am serving as President of the United States.  But I can say without hesitation that the most challenging, most fulfilling, most important job I will have during my time on this Earth is to be Sasha and Malia’s dad.”

Since 2006, the President has used Father’s Day as an opportunity to draw attention to the importance of fatherhood and the crisis in communities where many fathers are absent.  As Senator, the President sponsored legislation supporting fatherhood. Upon his election as President, he has translated that message into policy and programming throughout the federal government.  As a result, the Administration views fathers as an important component to the family unit.  We need to lift up and heighten the importance of fathers to their partners and children, and perhaps also, the men themselves. 

This emphasis on the importance of fathers translates into three areas of activity: policy, programming and cultural impact. 

Policy:  This past Father’s Day, the Administration announced the creation of an interagency working group to focus on fatherhood.  The Interagency Fatherhood Working Group works to make sure that a range of federal policies take fathers into account and engage men, along with women and children, in programs across the federal government. The participation of four offices within the White House and nine federal agencies across government reflects the importance of fatherhood within the Administration. The Interagency Fatherhood Working Group has generated a significant body of work to build bridges between activities and connect these efforts to local communities.

Programming: While there are number of grants that reflect translation of policy into programs, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance grant announcement associated with the Second Chance Act, focuses on Adult Mentoring and reflects a new focus on fatherhood.  About half of male inmates and two-thirds of female inmates leave at least one child behind when they enter a correctional facility. Justice recognizes, as research has shown, that in many cases, the successful reunification of ex-offenders with families is an indicator of positive outcomes for families and their communities. In short: family connections—including responsible and engaged parenting—improve public safety.

Culture: Perhaps most importantly, beyond any policy or program, we want to join partners in shifting our attitudes and practice towards responsible fatherhood and healthier communities.  Through this effort, we reflect a principle outlined with Center for Public Justice’s Guideline on Family to “account [for] the ways that other institutions and the dynamics of society impact families positively and negatively from the earliest stages of family formation on through to the last stages of elder care.”  Working alongside local and national institutions across society, we want to shift the culture across the country to one where being a dad is the norm rather than a distant dream; where mentors provides hope and guidance to all children but especially to those without positive role models.  We want communities and families that are safe, protected from the threat of violence and pain.

In this work, I am personally inspired to action by a story of hope, a story about what is possible for every child born or growing up without a dad. It is exemplified in the headline I saw about the 100th Anniversary of Fathers Day, “Fatherless Son becomes First Dad.” It is story of our President, and it is a story of what is possible for more and more children if we shift the culture in this country toward one where a present father is a probable reality.

More information about what the Administration is doing to support fathers is available at and

—Ben O’Dell serves within the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  From the Center, Ben works closely with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in its effort to address the crisis of father absence in our communities. 


“To respond to the author of this Commentary please email:
Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”