Friday, June 16, 2017

"Deadbeat Dads"

David Brooks summarizes research by Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson on absent fatherhood among the poor folks of Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey:
Pregnancy is rarely planned among the populations they studied. Typically the parents are in a semi-relationship that is somewhere between a one-night stand and an actual boyfriend-girlfriend bond. The couple use contraception at the beginning, but when it becomes understood they are “together,” they stop. They don’t really talk about pregnancy, but they sort of make it possible.

When the men learn that their partner is pregnant, they don’t panic, or lament all the freedom they are going to miss. On the contrary, three-quarters of the men in Edin and Nelson’s research were joyous at the news. The men are less likely than the women to want to end the pregnancy with an abortion.

These guys 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 kid during infancy.

The key weakness 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. The fathers often retain a traditional and idealistic “Leave It to Beaver” view of marriage. They dream of the perfect soul mate. They know this woman isn’t it, so they are still looking.

Buried in the rigors of motherhood, the women, meanwhile, take a very practical view of what they need in a man: Will this guy 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 1, 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.
Is there a solution to this problem? A way to get  young people to be more serious about parenthood and pair-bonding? Actually we know of two: one is religion, and the other is going to college and entering the middle class. How to make either real for the people of Camden is a hard problem, and I can't think of anything else to try.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Vasectomies are cheaper and easier than they've ever been. Better still, the medicine has a reached a point where the procedure is reversible.

How about we offer substantial tax benefits to young men who get a vasectomy? Once they sort their lives out, get married, settle down, achieve financial and emotional security, and actually fully decide to raise a family, then they can go get the reversal procedure performed, becoming ineligible for the benefits in the process.

Heck, for extra security against potential complications which might render a reversal impossible, we've also got fully matured technology for freezing and storing viable sperm for periods of time spanning decades.

This really isn't a practical issue, in my mind. The biggest barriers seem to all be largely procedural. We could be doing so very much more to prevent unplanned pregnancies, at very little comparative cost, but we simply choose not to for what ultimately amount to cultural and religious religions.