He grew up without a dad. Now this man is on a mission to help men be present fathers.

Charles Daniels didn’t grow up with a father in his household. As a child, he wasn't given an explanation, and that experience fueled his life’s mission.

“I too was once that kid who blamed myself for my father’s absence. He wasn’t absent because he didn’t care about me. He was absent because he needed help,” Daniels tells Yahoo Life. “We wanted to make sure that we have created an organization to give dads like my own father the help that they willingly deserve.”

According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 18.3 million children in the United States live without a biological, step or adoptive father in the home. With his organization, Fathers' Uplift, Daniels provides mental health counseling, coaching and advocacy to assist fathers with overcoming the barriers that prevent them from remaining engaged in their children's lives.

In his 20s, Daniels discovered that his father made a mistake that resulted in having two families — Daniels and his mother were the outside family. His father was absent because he didn’t have the resources or tools to navigate the obstacles he was facing.

“We have to be open to understanding why fathers are absent instead of judging them for being absent. Because the reason matters,” says Daniels. “A lot of our fathers have issues with child welfare cases where they’ve not been able to see their kids. A lot of our dads have child support issues. Homelessness, housing issues, incarceration. I mean, you know how hard it is to get a job after you’re released from incarceration? Our dads need help."

Battling the systemic issues that keep fathers from their children can feel daunting. Daniels warns that hitting roadblock after roadblock can impact mental health and create even more barriers to a father being present in their child's life.

“That leads to ongoing depression, that leads to sustained anxiety, and to be honest with you, there are men who would give up because they just can’t deal with it. Depression will take hold of them,” Daniels explains.

“We can’t change these systems by ourselves, but we can support you with how you respond to them."

Dr. Charles Daniels and members of Father's Uplift
Dr. Charles Daniels and members of Father's Uplift

One way that Fathers' Uplift provides support is by creating community. Many of the coaches and mentors are also fathers who had to overcome their own obstacles. The men tell each other they are loved, they call each other on their birthdays, and they share their wins and losses. Daniel's says the ability to be vulnerable can take time, but is an important step to healing.

“Can you imagine a bunch of men of color, sitting in a group with you, who most likely don’t have their kids either, telling you that we’re going to get through this together? Our population is all about trust, you gain the trust of a Black man and he will show you how vulnerable he can be,” says Daniels.

Taking a page from the teachings of Brené Brown, Daniels routinely asks men in the program one question, “Who's the author of your story?” He wants to remind them of the progress they've made, and their ability to write their own ending. “You’re a man and you can make mistakes. You can also be imperfect and be the best father you can be,” says Daniels.

At home, Daniels is a husband and father of two, whose wife Samantha Fils-Daniels is the co-founder of Fathers' Uplift. When he thinks about his own children, his parenting philosophy is pretty simple.

“I really want them to know it’s OK to fail. I don’t want my kids to be perfect, I want them to embrace their imperfections. And I want them to know they are loved despite the color of their skin — by their family, and also by people in the world," says Daniels.

As Father’s Day approaches, Daniels realizes that the day can be tough for men who are separated from their children, for whatever reason. He encourages those men to hold on, and to focus on what matters most. “Dads out there, if your kid is your goal, keep fighting,” says Daniels. “There are millions of other dads out there who are fighting with you to be the dads they’ve always wanted to be."

Produced by Jacquie Cosgrove

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