06/16/2010 07:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Saluting Dr. Huxtable

As Father's Day approaches, I wanted to sing the praises of all the great dads in our nation -- biological, step, foster and adoptive. Shaping a young life takes a nurturing family and community. Fathers are a critical part of the family equation, providing emotional and financial supports that prepare children for adulthood.

One of the most notable dads was fictitious, but he imparted many life lessons. Dr. Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby, was part of the '80s television hit "The Cosby Show," and remains today a dad to emulate. After all, he was a doting father of four children and a supportive husband to his successful wife. He really stood out, revealing how listening and giving quality time can improve a child's life. I often remember scenes from their kitchen where important subjects were discussed over the making of a meal. With a quick joke or quip, he always had a way of bringing levity to serious subjects while sharing wisdom. As a mother, I would often find myself watching, laughing and even learning from the sitcom. Cliff Huxtable always struck a chord for me, reminding me of my own dear dad who recently passed.

However, the "dad data" suggests a different reality for many children. Not all children are lucky enough to live with their fathers. The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 24 million children -- or 33 percent -- live apart from their fathers. The percentage is closer to 64 percent for African American children. Even though they don't live together, many of these fathers, to their credit, remain involved in their children's lives. However, growing up without a father's guidance and support can make children more vulnerable to poor outcomes.

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, children who live without their fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive), parents.

This is especially disturbing news for the half million children in the foster care system, for whom a stable family life with a mother or father can be elusive.

The good news is that thousands of foster parents -- including foster dads -- around the nation rise to the occasion to help stabilize, love, and care for these children. Many of these unsung heroes are foster dads -- men willing to guide and nurture a child after their families were unable to do so. Of course, there's always a need for more.

Increasingly, another source of stability and love for foster children are grandparents, who take in their grandchildren when parents aren't able to adequately care for them. In fact, more than 2.6 million grandparents are doing so today. Many of these are granddads, who share their life experiences and provide a structured, caring home for their kin.

Most foster children eventually go home -- which is often good news. For others, that's not a reality. Many of these children have been adopted by loving, forever families, with fathers who coach their teams and help them with homework. Another 120,000 foster children are still waiting, hoping that a father and mother will come their way too.

That's why this weekend, we celebrate the great fathers everywhere. Many Dr. Huxtables live among us, serving as role models and helping raise another generation of good fathers and good mothers. For all the "bad" dads we hear about, there are many more great men who are contributing to the health and welfare of children. Tonight, as they tuck in their children and give them a goodnight hug, I know that more kids will grow up to just like them. Happy Father's Day! I miss you Dad.

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