Doing the Best I Can

Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City

KATHRYN EDIN
TIMOTHY J. NELSON
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 294
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt2855jp
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  • Book Info
    Doing the Best I Can
    Book Description:

    Across the political spectrum, unwed fatherhood is denounced as one of the leading social problems of today.Doing the Best I Canis a strikingly rich, paradigm-shifting look at fatherhood among inner-city men often dismissed as "deadbeat dads." Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson examine how couples in challenging straits come together and get pregnant so quickly-without planning. The authors chronicle the high hopes for forging lasting family bonds that pregnancy inspires, and pinpoint the fatal flaws that often lead to the relationship's demise. They offer keen insight into a radical redefinition of family life where the father-child bond is central and parental ties are peripheral.Drawing on years of fieldwork,Doing the Best I Canshows how mammoth economic and cultural changes have transformed the meaning of fatherhood among the urban poor. Intimate interviews with more than 100 fathers make real the significant obstacles faced by low-income men at every step in the familial process: from the difficulties of romantic relationships, to decision-making dilemmas at conception, to the often celebratory moment of birth, and finally to the hardships that accompany the early years of the child's life, and beyond.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95513-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    “It is unmarried fathers who are missing in record numbers, who impregnate women and selfishly flee,” raged conservative former U.S. secretary of education William Bennett in his 2001 book,The Broken Hearth.“And it is these absent men, above all, who deserve our censure and disesteem. Abandoning alike those who they have taken as sexual partners, and whose lives they have created, they strike at the heart of the marital ideal, traduce generations yet to come, and disgrace their very manhood.”¹ “No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of...

  5. ONE One Thing Leads to Another
    (pp. 19-45)

    While witches and goblins lug candy-laden pillowcases and orange, plastic pumpkin-shaped buckets up and down the streets of Philadelphia, black thirty-one-year-old Amin Jenkins is experiencing the best moment of his life. It’s October 31 and he’s in the delivery room of the University of Pennsylvania hospital welcoming his baby Antoine into the world—a boy who he says “looks exactly like me.” Though he admits the child was far from planned, Amin is proud that he “never said I wasn’t responsible, that I had nothing to do with it”—“it” being Antoinette Hargrove’s pregnancy. Far from it. “From the time...

  6. TWO Thank You, Jesus
    (pp. 46-69)

    “Guess what?” Charlene called to her young nephew Andre as he burst through the front door and bounded up the stairs to his room. Fifteen-year-old Andre and his older brother, as well as his two younger half sisters, mother, and stepfather, were all living with his Aunt Charlene, the seven-member extended family jam-packed into one of the fourteen-foot-wide, shotgun-style row homes that populate much of Camden. In 1970 the Green family had followed the path of so many other African American families in the migration up the coast from their home in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Ever since, Andre’s mother...

  7. THREE The Stupid Shit
    (pp. 70-102)

    Robert aka “Bear” Mallory earned his nickname in childhood. While on an errand for their father, he and his brother were jumped by three older boys. In self-defense Bear started “biting and biting” one of his opponents and held on with his teeth—“like a bear,” according to the police officer called to the scene—until he tore off the other boy’s nipple. Bear revels in the retelling of this story and admires those who exhibit their toughness with violent exploits.

    Despite the origins of his nickname, Bear reports an amazingly conventional adolescence for a white boy from Kensington. Surrounded...

  8. FOUR Ward Cleaver
    (pp. 103-129)

    It is just after 8:00 on a clear and bright July morning, but despite the early hour and promising weather, Will Donnelly is getting angrier with each passing minute. “Why does Lorialwayspull this shit?” he mutters to himself as he grips the phone receiver. He listens one more time as his ex-girlfriend’s recorded voice informs him that she is not available at the moment and to please leave a message. He knows that his kids, five-year-old Will Jr. and the toddlers, Destiny and Tom, are awake already, though the baby might still be asleep. The kids live with...

  9. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  10. FIVE Sesame Street Mornings
    (pp. 130-154)

    As the Schuylkill River winds south from the leafy green preserves of Fairmount Park and enters the traffic, clamor, and concrete of Center City Philadelphia, it takes one last, brief look at nature in Bartram’s Garden before flowing into the barren industrial landscape of Southwest Philadelphia and meeting its end at the Delaware River. Founded almost three hundred years ago by John Bartram, this botanical oasis is the nation’s oldest surviving public garden. Seen from the air it is a defiant wedge of green lodged in the surrounding gray of the Kingsessing neighborhood, which presses in on three sides. Originally...

  11. SIX Fight or Flight
    (pp. 155-178)

    Knowing what inner-city men think fatherhood ought to look like doesn’t tell us much about how they live it day to day, or why they don’t live it in exactly the way they think they should. This is especially so for those whose lives have taken extraordinarily difficult turns. More than most, Ritchie Weber knows what it is like to hit rock bottom. Just two years ago he was spending nights huddled on the slide in Tacony Park on Torresdale Avenue, a small city park with a playground attached to a baseball diamond, or, when it rained or turned cold,...

  12. SEVEN Try, Try Again
    (pp. 179-201)

    Ray Picardi is a thirty-six-year-old clean-shaven Irish American of average weight and height. He lives in Fishtown, next door to his mother in a small row home filled with carefully preserved furnishings he inherited from his grandmother. The neighborhood has been solidly white and working class since the American Revolution, but its residents’ fortunes have changed quite dramatically over time.

    Ray is the son of a machinist who pulled down quite a decent family wage when Ray was a boy. But by the time Ray came of age, only a trickle of young Fishtown males could follow their fathers into...

  13. EIGHT The New Package Deal
    (pp. 202-228)

    In repeated conversations with 110 low-income inner-city men parenting outside of marriage, our goal was to understand why so many ultimately fail to be the fathers they aspire to be. Is it that they simply don’t care, as Moyers’s portrait of Timothy McSeed might suggest? We began by asking how these young urban men—whom observers may deem completely unprepared for parenthood—become fathers in the first place. We introduced Amin Jenkins, from North Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, who is no paragon of moral virtue but who also can’t simply be cast in the role of the stereotypical Casanova who...

  14. APPENDIX
    (pp. 229-240)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 241-262)
  16. REFERENCES
    (pp. 263-278)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 279-284)