Father Figure

“Advocating for kids and dads has become a calling,” says David Hirsch, founder of the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative. (Image courtesy of David Hirsch)
David Hirsch seeks to strengthen bonds between dads and their kids

Like nearly 24 million children living in the U.S., David Hirsch, ’82 BUS, grew up in a home without a father. “I was 6 years old when my parents divorced,” said Hirsch in his 2015 TED Talk, Why We Need To Break the Cycle of Fatherhood Absence. “I didn’t understand why my dad moved out, remarried and became a father to someone else’s kids.” Hirsch describes the years following his father’s departure as “somewhat traumatic,” punctuated by “child support and custody issues” and “domestic disputes.” Hirsch and his younger brother were raised primarily by their mother, a Chicago public school teacher.

Motivated by his experience of fatherlessness, Hirsch founded the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, a volunteer-operated charitable organization that partners with private, non-profit and governmental organizations to bring children and fathers together by actively engaging fathers in their children’s education. “Advocating for kids and dads has become a calling,” Hirsch explains. At its inception in 1997, IFI was the first organization of its kind in the nation.

Hirsch also is founder of the 21st Century Dads Foundation, an organization that sponsors fundraising events such as the Cycle to End Father Absence, an annual bicycle race. A cyclist himself, Hirsch rode more than 2,300 miles in 21 days in 2015 as part of the Dads Honor Ride, another CDF-sponsored bicycle event. “I’m not sure what gave me the confidence to launch out and ride … but I’m glad I took the chance,” Hirsch says. “One of my life’s mantras is ‘If you don’t try, you’ll never know.’”

Following his graduation from Illinois, Hirsch attended Northwestern University, where he earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. In 1982, Hirsch went to work as a tax accountant for Price Waterhouse in Chicago and later joined Smith Barney in 1985, where he was a senior vice president and a member of the firm’s Chairman’s Council. Selected as a Kellogg National Fellow by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 1993, Hirsch received a $36,000 grant, which he used to study “what motivates people to be philanthropic.”

Hirsch is currently director of the Barrington (Ill.) Area Community Foundation and a member of several organizations and programs, including the University of Illinois Foundation President’s Council. In 2016, he published the book, 21st Century Dads: A Father’s Journey to Break the Cycle of Father Absence. A father of five, Hirsch says, “Dads need to be present—physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually.”