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Marcel Lopez jokes that he has it easy being a dad.
He and his wife have only girls.
"I'm kind of glad I had girls because my neighborhood has a bunch of gangbangers," said Lopez, a former loan office who resides in Hermosa. "I think if I had boys, one of them would have been a gangbanger."
Lopez is also planning a career change - he wants to be a barber. So the setting last Saturday at Austin's His & Hers Barber College was perfect for Lopez to share his dad story. Similar conversations took place at other neighborhood barbershops, part of national day for dads to talk about what it means to be a good father.
Barbershops in eight states, including Illinois, took part in The Fatherhood Buzz, a program sponsored by President Obama's Fatherhood & Mentoring Initiative and the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. Along with good conversation, the barbershops provided dads with local resources as well as tips and activities to help them be better fathers. A hundred barbershops participated on June 16, including His & Hers Barber College, 5355 W. Madison.
"This is the men's hub," said Rev. Walter Jones, executive director for Fathers Who Cares, the lead local agency for the president's fatherhood initiative. "This is where we come together. It's like we come together to watch a basketball or football game. But this time, we are coming together talking about responsible fatherhood.
Jones contends Obama created this initiative because he understands the importance of fatherhood, because he too is a dad, even though the president's own father was not involved in his life. Having the initiative in a barbershop, Jones explained, allows men to talk openly about the hurdles of fatherhood, including "baby momma drama."
Among the buzz of hair clippers, the men at His & Hers chatted about what makes good fathers. But Lopez is boastful of his daughters with good reasons. His eldest just graduated from DePaul University with a masters in child psychology and his two youngest are enrolled in Wright College.
Lopez said he can't take all the credit. His wife, he added, played an integral part in raising their daughters.
"We eat together. We go on family trips together," said Lopez, a student barber. "We study together. We go shopping together. Family is important."
Fellow classmate Alejandro Romero is determined not to follow in his father's footsteps. Romero, of Garfield Ridge, grew up without his dad. When Romero's 2-year-old daughter was born, he vowed to be in her life.
"I want to be the father I didn't have when I was younger," Romero said. "My real dad was locked up most of my life, and I just met him. I don't want to be like that. I want to be in her life."
As a single father Romero, who one day wants to open his own barber shop, knows men are not stepping up to be involved in their children's lives. He said many just don't care - and that eventually hurts the children. Romero, the youngest of 19 siblings, said his father's absence affected his family. He lost one brother to gang violence. "Try to be there as much as possible, if you can, because later on you will regret it."