Dads want to succeed as fathers but parent relationship needs to be strong
There has been a lot of research on single parent families and we hear a narrative of absent fathers who had multiple children with different women and abandoned them all. There is an assumption of disinterest, of deadbeat dads. However, research on those fathers dismantles that narrative and offers another, more uplifting one.
Kathryn Edin, Professor, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University and Timothy Nelson, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University spent seven years meeting young men in inner city areas in the USA and lived with the people they profile in Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City, a book which gives deep insight into the lives of families struggling to survive under punishing socio-economic circumstances.
Kathryn comments, “We thought the dads would respond to a pregnancy by cutting and running, which was sort of the conventional wisdom of the time, 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.”
They met men who desperately did not want to leave their children, who maintain they have tried to be with them, who may feel unworthy of fatherhood but who don’t want to be the missing dad their own father was. When fathers abandon their own children, it’s not a momentary decision; it’s a long, tragic process.
Pregnancy was rarely planned among the populations they studied. When the men learned that their partner is pregnant, they didn’t panic, or lamented all the freedom they are going to miss. On the contrary, three-quarters of the men in the research were joyous at the news. The men were less likely than the women to want to end the pregnancy with an abortion.
These men have often had a lot of negativity in their lives. The child is a chance to turn things around and live a disciplined life. The child is a chance to have a respected role, to find love and purpose. The men at this stage are filled with earnest resolve. They begin to take the relationship more seriously and commit to the child during infancy.
The key weakness however, is not the father’s bond to the child; it’s the parents’ bond with each other. They usually went into this without much love or sense of commitment. They dream of the perfect soul mate. They know this woman isn’t it, so they are still looking. The women, meanwhile, take a very practical view of what they need in a man, "Will this man provide the financial stability I need, and if not, can I trade up to someone who will?".
The father begins to perceive the mother as bossy, just another authority figure to be skirted. Run-ins with drugs, the law and other women begin to make him look even more disreputable in her eyes.
By the time the child is one, half these couples have split up, and many of the rest will part ways soon after. Suddenly there’s a new guy living in the house, a man who resents the old one. The father redefines his role. He no longer aims to be the provider and caregiver, just the occasional “best friend” who can drop by and provide a little love. This is a role he has a shot at fulfilling, but it destroys parental responsibility.
He believes in fatherhood however and tries it again with other women, with the same high hopes, but he’s really only taking care of the child he happens to be living with at any given moment. The rest are abandoned.
The good news one can perceive is that the dads want to succeed as fathers. The issues to work on seem to be the quality of relationships with couples and the romantic worldview of such men. I'll take this up in another blog.
Watch a 6 min interview with Kathryn Edin here:
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