By James Wright, Special to the AFROjwright@afro.com

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen told a group of Prince George’s County men that fatherhood is one of the most important undertakings a man has during his lifetime. On June 16, Van Hollen was the keynote speaker at the 11th Annual Christopher G. Riley Breakfast sponsored by Pi Upsilon Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. The Maryland Democrat spoke before 75 people at the College Park Marriott & Conference Center in College Park, Maryland.

The event was to raise money for the chapter’s educational foundation’s programs and to promote positive Black fatherhood, through the event’s theme, “A Celebration of Fatherhood.”

Chris Van Hollen talks about the importance of fatherhood. (Courtesy Photo)

“I am a father and I often reflect on how important that job is,” the senator, father to three adult children, said. “Being a father can be joyful, exhilarating, and terrifying. You have to be the cheerleader and disciplinarian for your children and I made many mistakes during my life. There is no guidebook for being a father.”

Van Hollen was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 after serving 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing a district that once encompassed parts of Prince George’s County. He also served in the Maryland General Assembly before working on Capitol Hill.

During his remarks, Van Hollen emphasized three virtues of being a good father: being present, being a good role model and being sensitive to the community. “I tried to be at my children’s activities even as a member of Congress,” he said. “I was more fortunate than many of my colleagues because after being on the Hill for the workday, I could drive home and some of my colleagues’ families were in California.”

Van Hollen mentioned that he would pull over to the side of the road to change from his professional clothes to his soccer coaching outfit. He emphasized that children are watching their parents to see “whether we do what we say they should do.”

The senator said good fathers also participate in their community. “People should be involved in the larger community and the importance of the right to vote,” he said.

Van Hollen noted last year’s Virginia House of Delegates elections, where control of the chamber hinged on a tie, ultimately was decided by a coin toss. He said it should have never gotten that far and “some people have taken the right to vote for granted.”

He talked about traveling to Selma, Ala., to the Edmund Pettis Bridge where his colleague, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was severely beaten in 1965 for leading Black marchers on a voting rights procession. He noted the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the progress made by African Americans in winning political offices since then but emphasized that “this is a country that is a work in progress.”

In addition to Van Hollen, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III addressed the gathering. Baker said the chapter is an “example of what African-American males can achieve and do.”

“I hope you will invite me back next year to address you as your governor,” he said.