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Obama as father-in-chief trumps Bob Woodruff [Updated]

June 19, 2009 | 10:13 am

He grew up without a father, an African American son of a white mother who woke him before dawn each day to help him study. His father, who lived in Kenya, visited once.

Now President Barack Obama, on the eve of Sunday's celebration of Father's Day, wants other fathers to step up to the plate.

"In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence -- both in my life and in the lives of others," the president writes in an article to appear in Parade Magazine on Sunday.

I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference. That is why we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.

The story behind the article is kind of cool too. When the White House -- think David Axelrod's political shop -- called Parade a week ago to say that the president would like to offer a piece, the Sunday supplement magazine "couldn't say no," recalls editor Janice Kaplan.

So Parade bumped a piece on ABC's Bob Woodruff written by his wife, Lee. Kaplan said the Woodruff piece will likely run in the July 12 issue. "We called Bob and Lee to tell them they had been bumped by the president, they could not have been more gracious," she told Editor & Publisher.

In Washington, power is calculated by proximity to the Oval Office. I guess Woodruff will have to get a closer office.

Two days before Father's Day, Obama scheduled a raft of events promoting fatherhood and mentoring, an example of a White House using its bully pulpit for public good. The White House is also deploying a squadron of politicians and celebrities to underscore the message -- basketball players Dewayne Wade and Eton Thomas, former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, Washington Redskins wide receiver Antwan Randle El, pro skateboarder Tony Hawk, Morehouse College President Robert Franklin, Motorola President and Chief Executive Greg Brown, Tony award-winning actor BD Wong, chef Bobby Flay and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.

"Is everything going to change because of one day at the White House and a sustained commitment throughout the year?" said Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, in an interview with the Associated Press. "No. But the president thinks it's important to lead by example, and to do something about these matters.'"

[Updated at 2:59 p.m.: An earlier version of this post, and its headline, said Obama's Parade article was bumping a story about political reporter and author Bob Woodward. That article is actually about ABC TV newsman Bob Woodruff.]

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit: Pete Souza / White House