Barack Obama celebrated Father's Day by calling on fathers, who he said were "missing from too many lives and too many homes," to become active in raising their children.
"They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it," the Democratic presidential candidate said Sunday at a largely black church in his hometown.
Reminding the congregation of his firsthand experience growing up without a father, Obama said he was lucky to have loving grandparents who helped his mother.
He got support, second chances and scholarships that helped him get an education. Obama's father left when he was 2.
"A lot of children don't get those chances. There is no margin for error in their lives," said Obama, an Illinois senator.
"I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle -- that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls," added Obama, whose daughters, Sasha and Malia, and his wife, Michelle, were in the audience.
Obama's appearance at the Apostolic Church of God was his first address to a church since he ended his membership at Trinity United Church of Christ, where he had worshiped for 20 years, after inflammatory remarks there by his longtime pastor and others.
Obama frequently emphasized the importance of God in his life and ended the speech by asking the congregation: "Pray for me. Pray for Michelle."
Obama often speaks about the importance of parental involvement. In Washington, he's sponsoring legislation to get more child support money to children by offering a tax credit for fathers who pay support, more efficient collection and penalties for fathers who don't meet their obligations.
Obama urged parents to demand the best from themselves and their children.
"Any fool can have a child. That doesn't make you a father," he said. "It's the courage to raise a child that makes you a father."
He compared helping children succeed to his presidential campaign and early comments from black voters who said they liked him but didn't think a black man could be elected president. He said they were admitting defeat before the competition had even begun.
"We can't simply write these problems off to past injustices," Obama said to applause Sunday. "Those injustices are real. There's a reason our families are in disrepair, and some of it has to do with a tragic history, but we can't keep using that as an excuse."
Although he was speaking to a predominantly African American audience, a campaign spokesman said that Obama was directing his comments at all fathers.
He said parents who proudly tell him their child gets great grades, all Bs, should encourage them even more.
"All Bs? Is that the highest grade?" Obama said. "It's great that you can get a B, but you can get a better grade. It's great that you've got a job, but you can get a better job."