The Father Factor

Even the Most Committed Dads of Special Needs Children Can Use Support

Posted by David Hirsch

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Oct 6, 2020


The issue of father absence is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our time. Research shows children growing up in father absent homes are 4X more likely to grow up in poverty and 9X more likely to drop out of high school.  An estimated 24m children, literally 4 of every 10 across America, are growing up without their dads. Another way to think about this is based current birthrates; 3 kids per minute, 193 per hour and a jaw dropping 4,640 per day will be growing up in father absent homes. Did you know there are 2X the number of white vs. black children growing up without their dads?

I was stunned to learn about these stats in early 1997, shortly after I became a father for the fifth time. I was compelled to do something about it, which lead to the creation of the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative (IFI), the country’s first state-wide non-profit fatherhood organization, whose mission is to ‘actively engaging fathers in the education of children.’ IFI is basically a partnership with the Illinois State Board of Ed, Chicago Public Schools and the Office of Catholic Education/Archdiocese of Chicago.

We learned early on, one of the most direct ways to reach the heart of a father is through the words of his children. Over the past 24 years and among a lot of other programs and events, IFI has had more than 425,000 students write authentic and heartfelt essays about their dads, stepdads, granddads and father-figures. CLICK HERE to download a compilatory copy of the What My Father Means To Me Essay Booklet & Curriculum.

Fast forward, my children are now ages 23, 25, 27, 29 and 31. More recently, I helped create the 21st Century Dads Foundation, whose mission is "Improving the lives of children by raising awareness and resources for greater father involvement, and inspiring dads to be present; physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually.”

The signature program of 21CD is the Special Fathers Network, a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. More seasoned dads are matched with fathers closer to the beginning of their journey raising a child with the same or similar special need. Most all of the first 400+ SFN Mentor Fathers have said “I wish there was something like this when I was a younger father.” Many describe the isolation and loneliness they experienced. No one in their family, neighborhood, friend group or at work could relate to the experience of raising a child with special needs.

To help engage fathers, 21CD also created the SFN Dad To Dad Podcast, which are stories about fathers overcoming their challenges, sharing what they learned and most importantly, to accept their child for who they are vs. who they wanted them to be. Simply stated, these are some of the most inspiring fatherhood stories you’ll ever hear. You don’t have to be a dad or even a man to be inspired.

Are you struggling as a dad? Do you need a little pick me up or way to help work through some of your own challenges? CLICK HERE to find more than 100 episodes brimming with rocket fuel to take your fathering to the next level.

With my 30+ years of being a dad and dozens of years of advocating for father involvement and beyond the shadow of a doubt, some of the best parenting on the planet is found in the families of those raising children with special needs. These moms and dads are some of the fiercest advocates. In many cases, their path is 24/7 challenging. On average they have their priorities in crystal clear focus. They are role models for the rest of society.

The biggest take away is: you don’t have to have a child with special needs to become the best advocate for your child, but you do need to possess the commitment to help your children reach their full potential.

For more information on 21CD or the SFN, please go to If you know of a family raising a child with special needs, please share this information with them. Also, from one dad to another, take the extra step to get to know that special needs family. It might just help you be the best father, husband and man you want to be.

david-hirschDavid Hirsch is the father of five adult children, a grandfather and a Chicago native. He is founder of the; Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, the country’s first state-wide non-profit fatherhood organization and the 21st Century Dads Foundation. He has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He hosts the weekly Special Fathers Network Dad To Dad Podcast. He is the author of 21st Century Dads: A Father’s Journey To Break The Cycle of Father Absence. He gave a TEDx Talk entitled: Why We Need To Break The Cycle Of Father Absence. He also lead three endurance bicycle rides known as the Dads Honor Rides; in 2015 from Santa Monica to Chicago covering 2,300+ miles in 21 days, in 2016 from Boston to Chicago covering 1,400 miles in 21 days, and in 2017 around Lake Michigan covering 958 miles in nine days.

David has a Bachelors degree in accounting from University of Illinois and a Masters of Business Administration in Marketing from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. He started his professional career as a CPA and tax accountant with Price Waterhouse. He has been a wealth advisor the past 35 years working with high net worth and ultra high net worth investors. From 1993-1996 he was a W.K. Kellogg Foundation (Battle Creek, MI) National Fellow, one of the country’s premiere interdisciplinary leadership programs.

His interests include; reading, travel, underwater photography, and endurance sports.

How to Mobilize Your City. County, or State Around Responsible Fatherhood

Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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