Barrington dad seeks to raise bar

'What my father means to me' is theme of essay contest

BARRINGTON — David Hirsch has many roles in his life, but one of the most important for the Barrington man is being a father to his five children.

The founder of the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative and TEAMDAD, LLC knows every child needs a father to count on. An estimated one out of every three children born in Illinois does not have a father listed on his or her birth certificate. Nationally, an estimated four out of 10 children live in a father-absent home, Hirsch said.

Hirsch founded the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative in 1997. Using a number of resources, the initiative has implemented a variety of programs and events that promote responsible fathering. In 2012, he founded TEAMDAD, aimed to reach fathers throughout the country by providing a self-assessment tool and resources from each state.

A father needs to be there for his children financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually, Hirsch said. His groups aim to “raise the bar” by encouraging fathers to be there for their children.

“Know your kids’ dreams, aspirations, fears,” he added.

On April 5, Hirsch and about 70 volunteers in Barrington spent their lunch hour reading essays from children throughout the Chicago metropolitan area for the 2013 Chicago White Sox Illinois Fatherhood Essay Contest, which had a theme of “What My Father Means to Me.” The contest is sponsored by the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative.

“What I’m impressed with is the kids’ writing,” volunteer Ron Hamelberg said. “Sometimes, it can be very emotional.”

The readings in Barrington were one of 25 locations featuring about 800 volunteers reading essays to narrow down finalists. A total of 156 essayists and their dads will be recognized in May at a Chicago White Sox baseball game.

“The emphasis of this project ... is to emphasize the importance of having a father figure in every family,” Hamelberg said.

The culmination of the essay contest will occur June 11 when 12 essayists and their fathers will be recognized at the 16th Annual IFI Fatherhood Dinner Celebration. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune and Charles Tillman of the Chicago Bears are two of this year’s honorary dads.

Hirsch and his wife, Peggy, have been married for nearly 30 years and have five children: Dave, 23, Amanda, 22, Emily, 19, Charlie, 17, and Addie, 16.

“It’s a privilege,” Hirsch said of fatherhood. “It’s been very rewarding and it’s certainly been a challenge over the years.

“One of the most important things is to make sure to keep a good balance between family and work,” he said.

“It’s not a work-family dynamic,” Hirsch added. “It’s a family-work commitment.”

The goal of both the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative and TEAMDAD is to engage people, affect behavioral change and help men really become better dads. One of the latest ways TEAMDAD is trying to do this is with Great Dads Starter Kits. The kits, sold for $100 each, include five TEAMDAD Great Dad Coins, five TEAMDAD Self-Assessment Tool worksheets, five copies of the book “Be a Better Dad Today,” and five “What My Father Means to Me” essay booklets.

“The goal and the mission is to get these kits in the hands of dads,” Hirsch said, adding they can be used as a resource to create a community of great dads.

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