Fatherhood in the Inner City
Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson
University of California Press, $29.95, 294 pp.
Painfully conscientious, rule-bound, and motivated more by spiritual longings than by practical material concerns—these aren’t the terms in which most Americans think of low-income unmarried fathers. The men who tell their stories in Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City know that they don’t look much like Ward Cleaver or Cliff Huxtable. They’re candid about the drug and alcohol abuse that has wreaked havoc in their lives, the bad behavior and bad choices that make them hard to employ and, for many women, hard to love. Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson try hard to be empathetic, but they can’t help but point out the ways in which the men they study fail, again and again, to be the responsible partners and fathers they aspire to become.
Doing the Best I Can is essentially a sequel to 2005’s groundbreaking Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. For that book, Edin and coauthor Maria Kefalas lived in rough Philadelphia-area neighborhoods, alongside the single mothers they interviewed. By allowing mothers in this stigmatized community to speak in their own words, Edin and Kefalas...