Two days before Father's Day, Obama was spending the afternoon promoting the importance of mentors and engaged parents.
He spoke at Year Up, a nonprofit program that trains 18-to-24-year-olds from urban backgrounds for college or professional work. The students get training for high-tech professions but also learn personal skills, like how to communicate well and solve conflicts, to help them succeed in life.
At the site in Arlington, Va., just outside of Washington, Obama told roughly 50 young men and women that it is the role of their communities to help provide them with support and direction. He said he knows they are headed into a tough job market but can succeed if they are persistent.
Obama took a brief tour of the center before speaking. At one point he got a lesson on the components of a computer from two of the students. Surveying a table full of parts, Obama said: "It's about time I figure out what's going on."
He implored the men in the group to be present for their own children.
Heading into Father's Day weekend, the White House has geared its events toward boys, young men and fathers from various backgrounds.
The president also planned to hold a White House town hall on fatherhood and mentoring later in the afternoon, and then was to address students from local schools on the South Lawn before they were to gather in small groups for mentoring sessions with other well-known figures.
When Obama was a presidential candidate he rebuked absentee dads
particularly blacks - for acting like boys and putting their own kids at risk. Now one of the world's most famous fathers has a presidential megaphone.
The day's events were intended to kick off a sustained effort. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will host forums around the country this summer and fall to gather ideas on good programs and to help promote them.
"We think if we can lift some of that up, we can inspire more activity and engagement on these issues," Joshua DuBois, the director of the office, told The Associated Press. "Is everything going to change because of one day at the White House and a sustained commitment throughout the year? No. But the president thinks it's important to lead by example, and to do something about these matters."
It is common for presidents to celebrate strong fatherhood, particularly on Father's Day weekend. Obama is giving the matter extra attention, drawing media coverage the topic otherwise would not get at a time of war and economic crisis.
Obama spent most of his own life without a father around. His dad left home in Hawaii when Obama was 2 years old, and the future president saw him only one time after that. The president and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters, Sasha, 8, and Malia, 10.
"This is an issue that he takes very seriously both because he grew up without a father in his own life, but also because he's seen the impact that present fathers can have, and absent fathers can have, in our communities," DuBois said.
An estimated 24 million children are growing up with absent fathers, and a disproportionate number of them are African-American. Those children are at higher risk of falling into lives of poverty and crime and becoming parents themselves in their teenage years, statistics suggest.
Obama bemoaned those trends last Father's Day in an attention-grabbing speech in his hometown of Chicago. He said families need help - more police on the street, more job opportunities, more good teachers - but that responsibility starts at home.
The White House is not expected to unveil any new public policy. Part of this year's effort is designed to figure out how the federal government can support or adopt programs that help fathers and at-risk children succeed.