Seminar - Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Innercity
Doing the Best I Can represents a breakthrough in our understanding of inner-city men often dismissed as “deadbeat dads.” Based on eight years of fieldwork with 110 white and African-American fathers in Philadelphia and Camden’s inner core, the authors examine how young people in challenging straits come together and get pregnant so quickly—without planning. It chronicles astonishingly high hopes for forging lasting family bonds that pregnancy inspires, but pinpoints the fatal flaw that often leads to the relationship’s calamitous demise. It offers keen insight into how men conceive of the relationship they are forming—a radical redefinition of family life where the father-child bond is central and the parental tie is peripheral. Here, traditional notions of fatherhood have been turned on their head--instead of breadwinning, these men aspire to be their kids’ best friends. And even marginal men can often satisfy their father thirst via serial fatherhood, but while many lay claim to the “whole fatherhood experience,” investing their time and resources in one child, they leave others behind. Nelson and Edin argue that mammoth economic and cultural changes that have affected all Americans—and not deviant values—have transformed the meaning of fatherhood among the urban poor.
About the Presenter
Kathryn Edin is Professor of Public Policy and Management at Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School. Her research focuses on urban poverty and family life, social welfare, housing, child support, and nonmarital childbearing. Her forthcoming book with Timothy J. Nelson, Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the City (2013), is an multi-year ethnographic study of 110 black and white low income unmarried fathers in inner-city Philadelphia and Camden, NJ. Current projects include in-depth qualitative interviews with young adults whose parents participated in the Moving to Opportunity housing mobility experiment in the 1990s and a four-city study of how low-to-moderate income families make housing tradeoffs. Edin received her PhD in sociology from Northwestern University in 1991 and has also taught at Rutgers University, Northwestern University, and the University of Pennsylvania.