Atlantic Cities

A Documentary That Puts a Human Face to America's Fatherlessness 'Crisis'

One-third of American children — over 24 million — grow up in homes without their biological fathers. These children are more likely to grow up in poverty, go to jail, become teenage parents, and struggle academically.

In 2010, President Obama started the Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative to tackle this "crisis," as he called it.

A forthcoming documentary, Daddy Don’t Go, puts real faces to this important national conversation. The film follows four young fathers in New York City, where the stats on children with absentee fathers are even worse: 51 percent of African-American children and 46 percent Latino children in New York are growing up without fathers.

The film looks beyond the "deadbeat dad" stereotype, exploring why it's so hard for so many dads to be present in their childrens' lives. It does this by following fathers who struggle to keep up with their kids in the face of homelessness, poverty, and jail time.

A common reason men give for walking away from their kids is a feeling that they're not "perfect" fathers. Yet the men in Daddy Don’t Go fight to hang on despite major deficiencies. Nelson, for example, is a former gang member who struggles to resist returning to crime as his source of income.

"It's real hard out here to get a job. It does make me feel like going back to my old ways, but I choose not to ... because it's not just me no more. I have a family," he says in the film.

"Time is the true currency of love," says Emily Abt, co-director of the film. "We're really trying to redefine and change the image of the urban father and in doing that, I hope that there would be more support services available to them." Access to permanent housing, for example, is of utmost importance to Alex, a father in the film who raises his son in a Harlem shelter.  


Alex, 26, is a single father who lives with his toddler son in a Harlem shelter. He’s previously fought to keep his son out of foster care but is now facing possible jail time for an incident that happened before he became a father. (Courtesy 'Daddy Don't Go')


Nelson, 26, is a former Latin King gang member and has a toddler son, as well as two girls from his partner’s previous relationships. Financial hardship threatens the family’s stability. (Courtesy 'Daddy Don't Go')


Roy, 28, is an ex-offender who after a construction accident left him permanently disabled, moves in with his parents and gets a second chance at raising his son. (Courtesy 'Daddy Don't Go')


Omar, 36, is a single father who rescued his children from their abusive mother. He now has to fight in court to maintain custody of his kids. (Courtesy 'Daddy Don't Go')

Filming for Daddy Don’t Go began this past January. A big challenge has been responding to the men's stories as they unfold, doing what's necessary to tell the complete story. At one point, this meant getting lawyers to secure rare access to court hearings when one father faced potential jail time.

Now, the crew has hit another wall: funding to sustain production. Last Tuesday, Abt and co-director Andrew Osborne launched a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise at least $80,000 to cover production and equipment costs for a few more months. Abt says they need to at least cross the one-year mark of filming. 

Jenny Xie is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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