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Op-Ed - A Father's Day Wish for Fatherless Children

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Written by Senator Evan Bayh

Published by the Indianapolis Star on June 19, 2010

One year ago President Obama and I stood together at the White House to honor the contributions of America's fathers and launch a national conversation about responsible fatherhood and healthy families. We celebrated fathers who serve as role models for their children and pledged to address the alarming fact that more than 24 million children in America live absent their biological father.

This Father's Day, we remain acutely aware that too many children will spend the day without the support of a father who is actively involved in their lives. Our nation's moms -- particularly single moms -- do a heroic job of raising their children, but fathers have a vital role to play.

Kids without fathers in their lives are five times more likely to live in poverty or commit a crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. Taxpayers spend $100 billion a year coping with the effects of fatherlessness, and that does not begin to account for the emotional burden.

Girls who grow up without a father are six times more likely to become teenage mothers. Boys without fathers are more likely to be absent from their own children's lives.

Being a responsible father requires personal commitment, and Congress cannot just pass a law to mandate that every father be a good dad. Wanting to be a good parent is the first step toward actually becoming one, and we can do nothing about the sad fact that not every father has that wish.

For some fathers, however, economic, social and cultural pressures overpower their better instincts to be there for their children. In those cases, government does have a role to play.

We can and should make it easier for dads to find jobs, provide incentives to encourage non-custodial parents to pay their child support, and remove "marriage penalties" that make it financially more difficult for fathers to become a part of their child's family.

This year the president announced that his administration would create a $500 million Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund to help states cope with the effects of absent fathers. By rewarding states that come up with the most effective policies, the president's proposal would create the healthy competition necessary to put a serious dent in the rate of fatherlessness.

Also important are the community groups and national organizations that have been in the trenches and understand what it takes to connect fathers to their children. These groups provide counseling and career opportunities for dads, support the single parents tasked with raising a child and offer countless other services to those affected by absent fathers. They are true innovators, and I hope they too will have the opportunity to compete for the administration's Fatherhood Innovation Fund grants.

Solving the problem of fatherlessness requires a joint effort among states, the federal government, national organizations and community groups. Above all, we need a revolution in personal responsibility on the part of America's absent fathers.

My hope is that fathers across the nation will recognize the truth of those words. In doing so, they would truly make this a happy Father's Day.


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