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White House Summit Examines Changing Roles of Fathers

D. Kevin McNeir | 6/11/2014, 3 p.m.
Business leaders, researchers, athletes and Obama administration officials hosted more than 100 fathers at the White House at a recent ...
Courtesy photo

The world has changed in monumental ways since fathers like Ward Cleaver or Heathcliff Huxtable dominated the airwaves. But whether the dads are real or fictitious, one element remains constant – when fathers routinely participate in their children’s lives, everyone reaps the rewards.

That conclusion dominated the conversation as business leaders, researchers, athletes and Obama administration officials hosted more than 100 fathers at the White House on June 9 for a summit that addressed the needs of today’s working fathers.

“Children like it when their dads cook breakfast, play games or take them out for pizza but most of all they just want their fathers to simply be around,” said Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff and a father himself. “Fathers want to be more than just breadwinners – they want to be caregivers. It’s time to discard dusty old stereotypes about dads.”

Last Monday’s summit summarized the state of working fathers today and illustrated how some businesses have created policies that allow men to be more involved parents and better employees. The day of panels and presentations laid the groundwork for a larger event: The White House Summit on Working Families, scheduled for Monday, June 23.

“Too many men and women say they’d have to win the lottery in order to have enough time to spend with their children and their aging parents,” said Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. “We live in a ‘Modern Family’ society but still follow ‘Leave It to Beaver’ policies. Studies show that greater workplace flexibility and paid parental leave encourage employees to be more productive – boosting profitability and reducing costs.”

One father addressed the audience and shared his story.

“I grew up without my dad and was raised with six other siblings in a single-parent home,” said Julian Jenkins, 57. “My mother showed us what sacrifice was all about and I refused to fall into the trap of being a so-called deadbeat dad. So I washed clothes, cooked meals, attended school functions and nursed my three girls when they were sick,” said the Philadelphia native.

Recently published data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that African-American dads are more involved with their children on a daily basis than fathers from other racial groups, defying stereotypes about black fatherhood.

An advocate for fathers who heads a grassroots organization in the District said African-American fathers in particular often lack the support services and opportunities needed to remain connected to their children.

“The media incorrectly paints black dads as uncaring and aloof and that’s why we’re working to change the paradigm and to train fathers to be more responsible and competent,” said Franklyn Malone, CEO, The 100 Fathers, Inc. “Throughout D.C., regionally and nationally, fathers are doing great things for their children every day – their stories just tend to be ignored,” said Malone, 63, a Northeast resident.

Perez said that when the summit on working families kicks off later this month, President Barack Obama’s recommendation for a higher minimum wage will once again be at the top of the agenda.