06/11/2012 08:21 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2012

Thanks to All the Dads and Near-Dads

Look for online facts about fatherhood, and you'll find most of the statistics are about the absence of fathers in their children's lives. Search the internet for fatherhood projects and you'll find several, including the National Fatherhood Initiative, the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, Project Fatherhood, Golden Dada, and the President's Fatherhood Pledge.

All worthwhile projects, I am sure. Parenthood is the most important life's work for which most of us get no education or training at all. Yet it has always bothered me that fatherhood projects seem designed to fix men so they can be decent fathers. I was very excited last year when research at Northwestern University showed that men are biologically wired to be nurturing fathers.

I never really doubted that this was the case, but it was nice to have it confirmed.

As far as I'm concerned, my best fatherhood education has come from my own sons. There was that day in August, 1983, when a stranger placed a baby in my wife's arms, and she looked up at me and said "what do you think of your new son?" Though we had been anticipating his arrival for four months, it seemed as if the world had changed in an instant.

And change it did, definitely for the better. As an adoptive father, I felt a huge responsibility to work to be the father my sons needed me to be. Not to be perfect, but to be theirs. In the 29 years since my oldest son came onto the scene, he, his brother, his mom and I have been on a constant and wonderful learning trajectory. All four of us becoming more of who we were meant to be.

That to me is the secret of fatherhood; helping your children become themselves. The wonder and honor of being a father comes from fatherhood, not adoptive fatherhood. Doing things together, making memories together, and growing together -- these happen to all fathers who have a meaningful relationship with their children. And yet, adopting sons has brought me cross-cultural experiences I might never have had otherwise, and research suggests that being an adoptive father differs somewhat from biological fatherhood. (For example, more involvement and less child-rearing stress for adoptive dads).

Over 29 years, I have seen how important it has been for my sons to have healthy and positive relationships with other responsible men. Whether they have been their friends' fathers, or teachers or coaches, these good men have helped form my sons into responsible adults. As an adoptive father, I don't think I ever suffered from the belief that I would be everything to "the boys."

I am particularly thrilled when I speak with men who have volunteered to advocate for abused and neglected children. They don't need to sign the President's pledge; they are living the commitment every day. As the CEO of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association, I hear many positive stories from men who volunteer. Although these court appointed advocates are not father substitutes, they provide a stable influence and a strong male role model for the children they serve.

So in thinking about fatherhood on Fathers Day, I thank all those men, biological or adoptive dads or father figures, who through their involvement and example, have been lifting up new generations of young people so they can grow into the kind of responsible and interesting adults I see in my sons. If you don't yet find yourself involved in this rewarding kind of work, this father's day is a great time to take the leap and get involved.