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Thoughts on Fatherhood in the 21st Century

Thoughts on Fatherhood in the 21st Century

Cross-posted courtesy Huffington Post and the White House.

Growing up, if I wanted to play catch, I often had to play it alone. Sometimes I'd even aim at a tree for lack of a person with a glove at the other end of the yard. I admit, the tree wasn't a very good replacement. But when you're a kid -- and you don't have a dad to play catch with -- you'll toss a ball at anything. Even if that thing is a 40-foot-tall oak and unlikely to toss the ball back.

In this respect, I'm probably not unique. Far too many children grow up without a dad in their lives, like I did. And for many, the effects cut deeper and last longer than being forced to have a one-way game of catch.

Photo of Secretary Foxx in his office

I'm a father now. My daughter was born 10 years ago, and my son soon after. And one of my greatest challenges, having never grown up with a father myself, is figuring out what a dad is supposed to do. I got the memo about taking out the garbage. And I change more light bulbs than Thomas Edison. But when it comes to preparing your kids for the slings and arrows of life, that's something I've only learned about fairly recently.

And here's the key: I only learned about it because I was able to make the time.

My record isn't perfect, but I'm often lucky enough to be home and to tell stories to my kids at bedtime. (I read them Harry Potter until my daughter decided I wasn't reading fast enough and finished the book herself.) Only recently, however, have I begun to tell them about my life: About the time I was seven, tried to push a huge lawnmower up a hill and failed spectacularly; or about the time I won a debate championship, after a blistering loss in the first round.

I was surprised that these stories excited my kids. (They seem sort of boring to me.) But I realized that these were also stories that allowed my kids to see me as something other than the guy who tucks them into bed and tells them what to do. They're stories that let them know I'm also the guy who's endured bumps and bruises and failures and successes.

Part of being a father, I've figured out, is letting your kids know that you're just like them -- that you're human -- and that your experience can help them navigate their own lives.

This wouldn't have happened had I not put in the time at home, obviously. After all, being a working father includes working at being a father. It's the best kind of work, but it takes man-hours nonetheless.

That's why I'm glad the President has begun a national discussion about how we can help working fathers balance the twin responsibilities of breadwinning and childcare. On Monday, I participated in a summit at the White House. It brought together leaders from the public sector and the private, as well as dads and advocates -- or, "dadvocates" -- to discuss a range of topics: everything from paternity leave to the growing number of mothers who serve as primary breadwinners. And we spoke about how policies -- both in government and at individual companies -- have to change to accommodate our changing society.

I left feeling optimistic.

A lot of ink has been spilled in recent years about fatherhood - and about how it's becoming a lost art among 21st-century pressures and distractions. (Dad never takes his eyes off his phone, and his kids never take their eyes off theirs. It's a cliché by now.) But that doesn't mean it has to be true.

Every father -- whether he grew up with one at home, or not -- can learn to be a good dad. And the good news is, most of them want to. They just need the time.

As a country, we should work together to give it to them.

This post is part of a series produced by The White House in conjunction with its Working Families Summit, the goal of which is to help "create 21st-century workplaces that work for all Americans." Monday's White House summit on fatherhood was part of a series of events across the country leading up to the main event on June 23, 2014, in Washington, D.C. Read here to learn more about the effort.

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Comments

Nice blog.

Reading to your kids is one of the best things you can do for them. Even if they're too young to understand the words, the sound of those words will leave a lasting memory in their minds. When they grow up, reading and writing will be a comfortable, familiar thing. Had my father not read to us in bed I wouldn't be a writer, today. I continued the reading tradition with my own kids. My daughter is now a better (and faster!) writer (in television news) than I am. My son is incredibly articulate on his feet -- as a Chapel Hill law school grad and a personal manager in L.A. So, thanks for confirming something I've always believed, Secretary Foxx. Just be careful how much you let your hair down with those kids. That's a mistake I may have made since my own father was the "strong, silent type." Deep down, at least sometimes, I think they all want parents like Ward and June Cleaver! Happy Father's Day!

Thanks Mr. Secretary. Great story.

Thank you, Secretary Foxx, for sharing your experience and thoughts. It sounds like even though you grew up without a dad, you know and/or are figuring out what is important in this life.

fatherhood is a great phase of life.yes it's true sometime we have to manage things but in the end we spend quality time with children,with family with our friends.

Great posting! Thanks for bringing up the plight of kids growing up without Dads. I, like you, represent that group and are good examples of how extra effort certainly pays off.

GREAT STORY. I CAN RELATE TO BOTH SIDES OF YOUR STORY AS A FATHERLESS CHILD AND A DIVORCED FATHER. THANKS FOR SHARING.