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The Father Factor

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Congressman Daddy

On January 5, 2011, the largest group of freshmen representatives to enter Congress in the past two decades took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. With an average age of 48 years old – eight years younger than the 111th Congress – many of these legislative newcomers are fathers raising young families.

Marin Cogan of Politico observed that this demographic profile of the 112th Congress was particularly noticeable on induction day: Little girls with ribbons in their hair and boys in satin suit vests lined the laps of several new members in the chamber, and talks of moonlit monument tours were on more than one new member’s itinerary. One of the freshmen, Democrat Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, cast his vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker with a little girl in his arms.

Some of the representatives brought their fathers to the official events as well, or memorabilia to commemorate their dads’ influence in their life: Florida’s Sandy Adams […] was joined by her father, a World War II and a Korean War veteran. […] New York’s Michael Grimm […] wore his late father’s gold ring, etched with the initials GG, for Gerard Grimm. […] “It’s been absolutely surreal,” Grimm said of the day. “My father could barely read or write. Now his son is a U.S. congressman. I can barely think of a better example of the American dream.”

The family affair continues beyond the ceremonial events of January 5. A very practical question that these 94 new representatives will have to answer is whether to uproot their family and bring them to D.C. or leave them at home and commute back and forth. Cogan discusses the pros and cons of both scenarios in Politico. Balancing work and family is a challenge for any dad, but the new Congressmen are certainly facing a unique juggling act.

Representing American citizens in Congress is serious responsibility with the opportunity to have a tremendous impact on the next generation. For these new representatives with young children, perhaps that responsibility has a more personal meaning. The next generation looks up at them every day and calls them “Daddy.”

The timing of this new wave of dads in Congress is significant. In the past 10 years, fatherhood has become a national priority. Congress allocated funding to support fatherhood programming and President Obama announced a national initiative to help engage dads in the lives of their kids. These representatives who are raising children and representing constituents have a unique opportunity to combine both those roles as responsible fatherhood legislation comes to the floor during this session of Congress.

Eventually their role as Congressmen will come to an end. But, as Illinois Representative Bobby Schilling, father of 10 children, said, “You won’t be a member forever. Everybody comes out of office at some point, but you’ll always have a family.”

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