[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/18/art.parade.cnn.jpg caption="‘If I could be anything, I’d be a good father,” says Obama in this week’s Parade."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama has a Father's Day message to dads across America: "Step up."
Obama, whose own father abandoned his family when he was a toddler, writes in an essay in this weekend's edition of Parade magazine that he learned about the importance of fatherhood "through its absence."
"I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill," Obama writes. "We need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."
Obama praises his two young daughters for showing "poise, humor, and patience" in dealing with their changing, unconventional lives. He said he has been an "imperfect father" and lamented that political life has meant missing out on moments of their lives.
"There were many days out on the campaign trail when I felt like my family was a million miles away, and I knew I was missing moments of my daughters' lives that I'd never get back," Obama writes. "It is a loss I will never fully accept."
The president also recalls a promise he made to his daughter, Malia, the day she was born.
"I think about the pledge I made to her that day: that I would give her what I never had - that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father," he writes.