My Most Important Job

A few days ago, I went to my 10-year-old daughter's band concert. It was a great evening, and after the show a few parents told me they were surprised I'd made it, considering my schedule -- which got me thinking. To me, it was unfathomable that I could have something more important to do. This was my child -- I was supposed to be there. There was nothing more important I could do than be supportive as a dad.

Somewhere during the course of our national dialogue, our expectations for parents have lowered, particularly for fathers. Today, I want to challenge every father to step up. If we want strong schools and strong communities, we need more dads involved.

Young people know how important it is for dads to be involved in their lives. As I travel the country and talk with students, some of them tell me that their lives would be totally different if their father was around.

The statistics on this front are staggering. Almost 24 million children -- one in three -- are likely growing up without their father involved in their lives. Those statistics are even higher if you look at the numbers inside our communities of color. That absence puts much too great a burden on our strong moms and teachers. Everyone is trying to do their part, but when dad is not around, we are all playing a man down on the team.

We know that increasing parent involvement, particularly the involvement of fathers, is key to improving schools and communities across the country. As we work to drive down drop-out rates and increase graduation and college completion rates, fathers have an important role to play.

Research shows that children do better in school and are less likely to drop out when fathers are involved. Engaged parents can strengthen communities, mentor and tutor students, and demonstrate through their actions how much they value their children's education. Great teachers and principals make a huge difference, but they can't do it by themselves. At the Education Department, we are investing more in parental engagement. We are re-doubling our efforts -- and asking Congress to double the budget for parent engagement programs to about $280 million from about $135 million -- in order to get more dads and parents engaged. We're looking at programs that are already making a difference and scaling them up to help improve more communities.

These efforts at the Department of Education are part of a larger project underway through the president's Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative to help dads connect to their families and to raise awareness about responsible fatherhood. Through this Initiative, the president is lifting up positive examples of fathers and father figures in local communities.

These "Fatherhood Heroes" are connecting with local, community-based institutions like barber shops through the Fatherhood Buzz Barbershop Tour to help fathers get the tools and information they need to participate in the lives of their families.

As the president has said, "Fathers are our first teachers and coaches. They're our mentors and role models. They set examples of success and push us to succeed ourselves -- encouraging us when we're struggling; loving us even when we disappoint them; standing by us when no one else will. And when fathers are absent, when they abandon the responsibilities to their children, we know the damage that that does to our families."

Fathers: we must be there for our kids. Instead of lowering expectations, let's raise them.