Federal Conference on the Role of Fathers and Family
Address by Vice President Al Gore
Natcher Conference Center, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland
May 3, 1996

MS. GADSTON: Good morning. I'm Vivian Gadston, the Director of the National Center on Fathers and Their Families, the University of Pennsylvania, and I am delighted to welcome you to this extraordinary event that will allow us to talk seriously about the ways that we might think about and strengthen families, and particularly the participation of fathers and families.
Our center is developed around what programs tell us, what practitioners tell us, and from this we know that fathers care and father presence matters. There are problems such as unemployment and system barriers, and that we should think about co-parenting, and role transitions and intergenerational learning.
Here's an opportunity for us to think more substantively about these issues, and to know that we have the support of the agencies and the individuals who work in agencies, that are aimed at really thinking about strengthening the country.
It is, then, an extraordinary pleasure to introduce Secretary Federico Peña because he was a father of the year, and because of his great work in the Department of Transportation in trying to promote these issues around fathers and families. And so without anymore discussion on my part, I want to introduce Secretary Peña.
SECRETARY PEÑA: Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. Thank you for being here. We're delighted with the turnout, and I know we're going to have a very informative session today.
On behalf of the president, let me welcome you formally to the Federal Conference on strengthening the role of fathers and families. All of you know that last summer the president asked all of us in the administration, the cabinet -- a number of cabinet members are here today -- to find ways to support men in their roles as fathers. And as a father of two young daughters, who I think experiences the typical challenges, frustrations, and joys of being a working father, I thought the president's suggestion was a great idea, and very timely, at least for me.
A number of agencies in the government, ranging from the Defense Department, the Department of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, HUD, and Transportation, among others, have attempted to provide leadership for the entire administration and we're delighted to be here to share our views.
In the White House, the President's Domestic Policy Council and the National Performance Review felt that perhaps one of the best ways to share our own successes, our own experiences, and, yes, future challenges with all of you throughout the government, was to hold this kind of a conference. And as it turned out, we actually had to turn people away, there was so much interest in this.
Now we are not here to give long speeches. We want to have a dialogue, an interaction, with all of you, a conversation, to find out what we can do to improve the quality of life for our children, so we thank you for your participation today. None of this would have been possible without the leadership and the inspiration of one father in particular, and that is Vice President Gore. He has inspired the community and corporate leaders to use the power of computers to support fathers. He and his extraordinary wife, Tipper Gore, have influenced the entertainment world to allow parents to have greater control over what our children see and hear, and he has followed in his father's footsteps in turning dialogue into action for families.
Each of us has been challenged by our own fathers at one time or another, and I'm reminded of an incident that happened in Nashville at the last fatherhood conference, where the vice president and his father were attending, but there was a little bit of a problem. About half way through the presentation after hearing about all the fathers, a gentleman named Al Gore, Sr., broke in and said, "What about grandfathers?" Mr. Vice President, I have a feeling that my father probably would have asked the same question.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor to introduce the father of three terrific daughters and one wonderful son, the Vice President of the United States.

VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Thank you very much. I am grateful to you, Federico, for your very generous introduction.
I often think of Federico Peña when I go running in the mornings because I'll never forget two years ago when Tipper and I were running in the "Race for the Cure," the event that raises funds to battle breast cancer, and I was moving along at what I thought was a pretty good pace until he passed me, pushing two of his children. That's a true story, I'm not making that up. But thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Also, Secretary Henry Cisneros, who will also be joining us in the discussion. And Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton; to my colleagues who have worked with me on this, Elaine Kamarck, Staff Director at the National Performance Review, and Nancy Hoit, Vivian Gadston, Director of the National Center on Fathers and Families. To the members of the Interagency Group, my deep thanks. The other members of the National Performance Review have worked so hard on this: Lisa Mallory and Bev Godwin and Judy Gold. And the members of the Father-to-Father Board; Jim Levine and Ed Pitt; Ken Canfield, and thank you for taking the time to come from Chicago to here, and then you're going back. I'll be joining you on Saturday at the ongoing meetings there. And I also want to thank the Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. And to all of those who will be joining me in this discussion here in a moment, thank you for very much for being here. We've got, in addition to those I've already acknowledged, Captain Gregory Bryant with the U.S. Marine Corps; Mario Moreno, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education; Peter Edelman, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Joe Jones, a long-time friend with the Baltimore City Healthy Starts Men's Services; Chaplain Gary Weedan (phonetic) with the U.S. Coast Guard, Dad's University; C. Calamine Harris, President of the Mount Vernon High School PTSA; and Victor Rush, Director of the Family Investment Center.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, in his State of the Union Address last year, President Clinton made history. Believe it or not this speech was the very first State of the Union Address, ever, that discussed in any detail, fathers and their importance to the nation in their role as fathers. Now the president wants us to take on this challenge.
For too long, fathers in their role as fathers have been at the periphery of the national debate, and it's time to move them to the center. As some of you know, each year my wife, Tipper, and I moderate a Family Policy Conference in Nashville that we call a family reunion. Two years ago this conference focused on the role of men in children's lives. There I met Joe Jones, whom you'll be hearing from shortly, and many other leaders who have been working for a long, long time in their neighborhoods and in their communities to try to lift up the role of fathers, to try to reconnect men with their children. Some of these dedicated leaders, that most of whom I encountered for the first time in my preparations for that family conference, are among those who will be leading your workshops today. There's a whole network of men out there across our nation who have been doing really outstanding work, trying to deal with what is truly a national crisis, and you'll be hearing from a lot of them here today.
Those of us who have embraced this cause have done so, I guess, in large part because we've talked to too many children without fathers, and the words from their lips and the looks in their eyes are enough to break your heart. But, of course, we can't base our public policies on emotion alone, and we don't have to, because several of the nation's most outstanding scholars, after years and years of study and research and work, have confirmed what we know in our hearts to be true. They've studied how many American children must make do without fathers and what the consequences are for these children. The results are troubling, and at times, even shocking.
For example, the 1995 K.C. Foundation, Kid's Count Data Book, tells us that more than half of children born in 1992 will spend all or part of their childhoods apart from one of their parents. Nine times out of ten, that means without their father. In 1994 more than 19 million American children were growing up in homes without fathers.
The K.C. study and other research tells us that, compared to children whose fathers live with them, children in homes without fathers are five times more likely to be poor, twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to get pregnant when they are teenagers, and one and a half times as likely to be out of school and out of work in their late teens.
One of the best known scholars of poverty, David Elwood, who recently completed his work at HHS and returned to Harvard, sums it up this way, and listen to his words closely because there's a jolting starkness to his findings, and I quote, "The vast majority of children who are raised entirely in a two parent home will never be poor during childhood. By contrast, the vast majority of children who spend time in a single parent home will experience poverty."
But, of course, the consequences reach well beyond the economic consequences. We're all familiar with the term "Dead-Beat Dad". We think of a dead-beat dead, in financial terms, someone who's behind on his payments, who's not contributing to the financial well-being of his children and his family. But parents can betray their obligations in other ways, too. Some fathers are emotional dead-beat dads -- way behind in their payments of love, support and devotion. The consequences of those failures can be just as devastating. And again, the data bear out the consequences for children.
A study, comparing children from intact families to children from divorced families, found that the negative psychological consequences of divorce were significant regardless of income. Dads mean more than dollars. Other studies show that family structure has an important and significant impact on how well children do in school, again, regardless of income.
Well, what does all this mean? For starters, it means we've got to make people aware of this condition and its consequences. As is always the case, we've got to change the way people think; help people see what, at the moment, too many evidently do not see. And as always, understanding is the prelude to action. And that means that every institution in America must begin formally to see fathers as more than just a paycheck or a child support payment. The family reunion conferences have connected -- those of us who have participated in them -- to those who work with families at the community level, and they've reconfirmed my belief that, for too long, too much of family policy has been directed at the deficit and pathologies of individuals, rather than at the strengths and assets of entire families. For too long, our whole philosophical approach has been to break down problems to their tiniest components and see everything in terms of the individual. And because you always have to deal with problems at scale, because it's impossible to deal with every single individual personally, the tendency has been to group these individuals together according to their pathologies. And so there's a program for teen pregnancy, and there's a program for this, that, and the other. And a lot of them are good and necessary, but many of them ignore the fact that individuals are part of families. And if the individual is going to have a chance to find healing, likely as not, it will come within the context of that family. And social policies, in addressing families, frequently assume the absence of fathers, and all our language and resources are directed at dead-beat dads, which I mentioned earlier -- fatherless children, single moms, and, in many cases, the constant use of such language has been a self-fulfilling prophecy and led to the active exclusion of men from the community. They have become invisible to the system, and have gone underground in many cases, but in many cases they continue to be involved in their children's lives.
Here's an example of what I mean. Recently Victor Rush, who is on stage, was at a gathering in the Charter Oaks housing project in Hartford, Connecticut. A man entered the room and a small boy rushed up to him saying, "Daddy, Daddy!" "Hush," said his mother. "How many times do I have to tell you not to call him Daddy when people are around." Well, the child's mother was afraid that if she acknowledged a relationship with the father of her child, she would lose her housing.
That's not the only example of a policy who assumes the absence of fathers. I could also cite many examples of great big studies that never even mention the role of fathers. In any event, on that particular example I just cited, we gathered a group of representatives of several federal agencies, as well as the officials from Connecticut, at the White House, and you'll hear from Secretary Cisneros and Victor a little bit later about the resolution of the problem.
We've got to go beyond this idea of fathers as invisible men. Last June when our program, Father to Father, was launched -- and many of the people who made it possible are here -- we brought together at the White House a group of national civic and service leaders from organizations as diverse as the Urban League, The Elks, B'nai B'rith, The Boy Scouts, and The Teamsters. And we asked them to think about what they could do to catalyze the involvement of fathers in American life, and, in particular, we asked the policy and program people in the field of fatherhood how the Federal government could support their efforts with greater wisdom and force. They told us that what was needed was an entirely new way of thinking about fathers and families. They ask that we urge federal agencies to proactively include men in their programs directed at families and children, directly assess fathers in family research, and that the success of programs be measured by considering father involvement as one of the measures.
Three days later, President Clinton signed the memorandum that is the underlying reason why we are at this meeting here today. The president's memorandum is designed to encourage all of us in the Federal government to be father friendly in the programs we administer and the work places we lead. It directs agencies to do four main things. First, to ensure that all policies and programs meaningfully engage and include fathers. Second, where appropriate, to modify programs directed at women and children, to include fathers and strengthen their involvement. Three, where appropriate, measure the success of programs in part by how effective they are in fostering the involvement of fathers with their children and families. Fourth, where appropriate, incorporate fathers in government-initiated research about children and families.
Well, it has been a year since President Clinton issued that memorandum. This morning we have with us some workers from the federal community who are making our vision a reality. I look forward to hearing from them. Thank you very much.

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