Melissa Harris Perry
updated 6/19/2013 6:19:15 AM ET 2013-06-19T10:19:15

A new book challenges our assumptions about inner-city fathers.

The cultural narrative around fathers in urban areas is still one that assumes they are absent and uninterested. A new book based on years of in-depth reporting dismantles that narrative and offers another, more uplifting one.

Authors Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson spent seven years meeting young men in urban areas and lived with the people they profile in Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City, an approach that gives the book much deeper insight into the lives of families struggling to survive under punishing socioeconomic circumstances.

“We thought the dads would respond to a pregnancy by cutting and running, which was sort of the conventional wisdom of the time,” Edin told guest host Ari Melber on Sunday’s Melissa Harris-Perry, “but instead, we found that even though most of the births were unplanned, fathers were really excited. They greeted the opportunity to father with a great deal of enthusiasm.”

Watch the whole conversation above, and watch “Melissa Harris-Perry” every Saturday and Sunday at 10 ET.

Video: The Dads doing the best they can

  1. Closed captioning of: The Dads doing the best they can

    >>> it's father's day so we want to take time to say happy father's day to all the dads in nerdland and introduce you to a new book called "doing the best i can, fatherhood." written by kathryn and nelson, it challenges inner city dads are deadbeat dads . spent years in communities camden, philadelphia, interviewing 110 specifically unwed fathers. some of the results surprised the authors like the fact most of the men they interviewed welcomed being a dad. i'm pleased to welcome kathy and tim to the table. why is it it was a surprise to you even young fathers, i hear one as young as 15 was excited for what sounded like an unplanned parenthood.

    >> prior to this research i spent years researching single moms. colleagues said you've got to talk to the dads. so finally we did. they thought dads would respond to a pregnancy by cutting and running. that was sort of the conventional wisdom at the time. instead we found even though most of the births were unplanned, fathers were really excited. they greeted the opportunity to father with a great deal of enthusiasm.

    >> tim, we know and you write about how birth rates do vary greatly by socioeconomic class and by race in different communities. 50% are the birth rates for unmarried women among african-americans, for example, as opposed to 20% for white americans . how does that play spot story and research you're explaining.

    >> we did interview african-american and white fathers . i think things started out more as a race story back maybe a couple decades ago but now it's becoming more of a class story. really the dividing line is whether you have a college degree or not in terms of the rates of unmarried parenthood.

    >> yeah. you say in looking at that research actually for noncohabitation people without high school diploma or ged noncome happnon cohabitation and falls with education. most people think they know why that is but why is that?

    >> well, the men we interviewed were low in come men, struggling to get by in pretty bad neighborhoods. often did not have a high school diploma as you say. the employment situation was really bad. and there's a lot of relational issues as well.

    >> kathy, people read "doing the best i can" will find stories while anonymize individuals are incredibly intimate. how did you get people to open up about things some weren't happy about.

    >> we moved to one of the poorest cities, camden, new jersey and hung out. did our laundry with everybody else. you know, now, we, too, found the maytag repairman wouldn't come. our kids played with the kids of these men. they played together. i think willingness to be parents hurt.

    >> that's frowned upon in social scientists , journalists don't do it because they don't have time, energy or interest. you file a story over a few days, maybe a couple weeks for a long magazine piece but you don't live with people and you're not supposed to. do you think -- is that a competitive edge for what you're finding here.

    >> the spread of single parenthood is the biggest demographic mystery in the last half of the century so we figured extraordinary measures were required. doing this goes way back to margaret mead .

    >> final word.

    >> these guys really want to be parents. it's not about the status of parenthood, it's about the role. they really want to do this.

    >> the book "doing the best i can, fatherhood in the inner city ." and appropriate book to look at for the different kinds of fatherhood on father's day. thank you for being here.

    >> thanks.

    >> i want you to stay with us. in my closing comment today i want to tell you why dna is a civil rights issue. [


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