The Cycle   |  June 17, 2013

Rethinking what it means to be a deadbeat dad

Co-author of “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City,” Kathryn Edin joins The Cycle to re-formulate the definition of a dead beat dad.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> here. some business came up, i got to handle. so we're going to have to put our trip on hold. you understand.

>> that's cool. that's cool.

>> just for a couple of weeks.

>> i understand.

>> maybe a little longer.

>> whatever, whatever.

>> look. i'll call you next week and we'll iron out the details, okay?

>> yeah.

>> it was great seeing you son.

>> you, too, lou.

>> will smith getting serious, with ben vereen , it makes you want to cry. father's day was yesterday and many of you spent it with your dad. there's me and my kids. for many people, that relationship is fraught because dad wasn't around or let them do. our next guest and her husband spent seven years in 23 communities in both camden, nmg nj and philadelphia, interviewing 110 unwed fathers. their mission to challenge the notion that young, poor, inner city fathers are dead billion beat dads. with us now, harvard professor kathy eden. author of "doing the best i can." kathy , i have a sense that i don't have data to back it up. let me know what you found.

>> in my generation, more men are staying with their family than in the previous generation. are young men telling each other, you got to stay at home , you can't just fly the coop?

>> absolutely. it's not perfect. it's still tough to stay involved in you're an inner city dad and you don't make a lot of money and you're not married to the mom of your child . men are overwhelmingly saying hey, it's not okay to step off your responsibilities, he want to not just have the status of father. but i want to embrace the role and fatherhood is something they value, it's something they want to do. it's something they find meaning from and it's snl to their identity.

>> among the men you've spoken to. when they do leave, why do they leave?

>> it's complicated. sometimes it has to do with conflict with the mother. that's the most common reason. oftentimes, she'll take on a new partner and give that man the title of dad. sometimes that will push the bio dad out. that's fairly common. sometimes he's in jail. he has a substance abuse problem. he simply too ashamed to come around. most men don't give up, this father thirst that we describe in the book is often satisfied with subsequent child baring and men try again in a new relationship with a new child .

>> kathy , this gets to something, toor me doesn't jibe here. here's a quote from your book. one man welcomed the news of his son's conception only to deny patternty once the child was done. by the time the boy's mother had relented and let him see his son. it was too late. by then the boy seemed unwilling to bond. but we might wonder how hard amin tried, given the potent distraction of another son, antoine, the baby boy he had just with a co-worker. could it be a new baby with a new woman crowds out men's sense of obligation to the child he already has. can you truly be a good father, an attentive father if you're splitting your time going from house to house to house to house, being a dad to all of these children?

>> right, that's the irony of the book, right? men find it hard to be good fathers to all of their kids. they engage in serial selective parenting. rather than spread their efforts out across children they'll typically invest in one child and invest fairly intensely in that child . so when you ask dads, are you a good father, they'll say yeah, i'm doing the best i can. i'm a good dad, but that obscures are the kids that have been left behind. so i'll say yes and no.

>> is being a good dad to one or two of his kids, but not necessarily to all of them.

>> that's right. we talked about how some young relatively young kids, teenagers as young as 15, will have these kids, they may feel proud about it and that can be wonderful. and on the other hand some research might suggest it would be better for the kid to be raised by an older parent. where does the cultural leadership fit in here? is there a way that pressure would even be effective at trying to have kids sometimes wait?

>> i agree with that. here's the problem. when you talk to a man in the iner city, they'll say when is a good time now a days? i know when the ideal is. i may never get to the ideal. here's an opportunity. usually these pregnancies are unplanned for me to embrace something positive. my world is full of negativity, one young man in the book, his brother was killed, his mother had cocaine habit he, at 15 found out he was going to become a father. his response, thank you, jesus, was an emblem of his desire to embrace something positive. and to do something good. so it's a complex story. and --

>> the title refers to an interesting. doing the best i can, refers to an interesting adaptation, surprising but i think positive that lot of these working-class men are not saying, i have to provide because they can't. they're doing the best they can. they respond emotionally. zeroing in on the child spending that time when they don't have the money to spend on them. which is a surprising adaptation, so much of the fatherhood is about providing, if you don't have that, then it's a positive adaptation, isn't it?

>> since the '70s, american men have gotten more and more engaged in with their kids. they spend more time on housework, they change diapers, so the softer side of fatherhood is a cultural wide phenomenon. but poor men, inner city men seem to have attached to the idea in spades, they really elevate the softer side of fatherhood. they say i'm not just a paycheck and i probably can't be a pay clek, i'm a parent. in some ways the dads want to be more like moms, but the problem is it forces the mom to take on the hard jobs.

>> breaking down the stereotypes there, i like that. thank you very much, kathy .