Washington (CNN) - One day after Father's Day, President Obama used his bully pulpit to stress the importance of fatherhood for the nation's youth. "Fathers are our first teachers and coaches…they're our mentors, our role models," the President told a gathering of local students, families and women's advocates.
But it was the President's message, in his official Father's Day Proclamation, that has generated controversy. In it the President openly acknowledges gay parents, noting that some children have two dads.
The proclamation states, "nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step-father, a grandfather, or caring guardian."
Tony Perkins, from the conservative Family Research Council, called the President out. In a pointed statement he said "…proving that nothing is sacred - not even fatherhood - the President couldn't resist a shout-out to his homosexual base, marring what should have been a powerful acknowledgment of the family's importance in American life."
While not directly responding to Perkin's comments, White House Deputy Spokesman Bill Burton said the President was "just trying to be inclusive of all sorts of families, just like he was on the Mother's Day proclamation."
For Maryland State Sen. Rich Madaleno, the President's message is a welcome change. Madaleno, an openly gay white father who married his partner in 2001, adopted two African-American boys at birth.
"I think it shows his [President Obama's] commitment to celebrating all of America's families...Families come in all, shapes and sizes, instead of your standard mom and dad," Madaleno said. He was invited to the president's afternoon Father's Day Mentoring barbeque at the White House, thrown for about 150 high school kids and a group of prominent mentors.
Madaleno said the change in attitude has really made a difference. "This feels great...This is a President who doesn't just tolerate us but welcomes us. This is an amazing transformation over a very short time."
John Sowers, who attended the President's Friday morning speech, applauded the President for his leadership on the importance of fatherhood. Sowers - who runs a Christian mentoring group out of Portland, Oregon, that trains Christian youth mentors – said he didn't object to the inclusive proclamation. "We pretty much work with Christian churches. We pretty much have a conservative base. We engage in faith based Christian training, based on love. We don't discriminate. We focus on the kids. We stay clear of all that. It's controversy we don't need."
Sowers' focus on training mentors for kids comes from his personal experience as a child. His parents split when he was two years old, and his father moved away. Sowers, who wrote a book "Fatherless Generation," said he relates to President Obama, who was abandoned by his father. "I had a father-shaped hole in my heart. The Bible says God is father to the fatherless. Psalm 68:5. One of the main ways God fathered me is through mentors. That's why I applaud Obama. I'm thrilled he would take time in this wild landscape of DC to focus on this. Oil spill, economy, wars. He takes time to say this matters. I'm pumped, I'm celebrating. I'll advocate for him all day long, advocating for the fatherless."
President Obama told the audience the one key message they should remember is that "our children don't need us to be superheroes. They don't need us to be perfect. They do need us to be present. They need us to show up and give it our best shot, no matter what else is going on in our lives."