Poor fathers like John are largely forgotten, written off as a subset of the unworthy poor. These fathers struggle with poverty – often with near hopelessness – within multiple systems in which they are either entangled or overlooked, such as child-support and welfare programs, family courts, the criminal justice system, housing programs, and the healthcare, education, and foster-care systems. For these impoverished fathers, the “end of men” is often not simply a question for purposes of discussion but a fact that is all too real. In the instances in which poor fathers are not forgotten, they are targeted as causes of poverty rather than as possible victims themselves – or more accurately they fall somewhere along the false dichotomy between pure blame and pure sympathy. The poor fathers are lumped together in monolithic descriptions that become constants in equations attempting to understand and solve societal ills.
This Essay seeks to step back, to de-simplify the incorrect math and begin drawing the interconnections between the legal and policy systems impacting low-income fathers, including the linkages to impoverished women and families. The contexts of race, gender, and class are engaged within the numerous systems and legal structures that impoverished fathers encounter. These systems and their impact must each be considered individually while simultaneously understanding the broader view of the system interactions. The appropriate discussion point for fathers like John is not found in the narrative of the “end of men” and the purported competition between men and women as struggling for the mantel of the dominant sex. Nor is the issue best illustrated by a Super Bowl commercial for a Dodge Charger muscle car “vrooming toward the camera punctuated by bold all caps: MAN’S LAST STAND,” with the lingering question of who should be “steering the beast.” John does not even have a driver’s license. Rather, the discussion for impoverished fathers should be directed toward whether there is an opportunity to turn back from their gradual acquiescence to failure, and whether at-risk boys can veer away from a seemingly pre- determined path.
Forgotten Fathers, 93 B.U. L. Rev. 897 (2013)