Fatimah Ali: 'Deadbeat Dads' an insult to reality


By Fatimah Ali
Philadelphia Daily News

Tuesday, May. 26, 2009



JUST WHEN I thought TV couldn't sink any lower with some of its toxic programming, yet another new reality show is poised to hit the lineup - "Deadbeat Dads" on Lifetime.


The show targets fathers who refuse to pay child support, and features businessman Jim Durham's collection agency, called National Child Support.


My first "primal thought" was darn, they got here 15 years too late to help me. But my more spiritually evolved side knows better, and I realize those evil thoughts are just wrong. Durham and the Lifetime producers who created the show are the ones who should be flogged - for using the woes of single mothers and their children to boost ratings.


Unfortunately, my evil twin rears her ugly head from time to time, and recaps the unpleasant memories of what it was like not getting child support from my ex-husband. When I was a single mother, he accrued more than $150,000 in unpaid court-ordered child support, which kept me in a tizzy for years.


He made enough money, yet he neglected his obligations because he was angry at me, not because he didn't love our kids.


Despite the fact that I worked two jobs, my children and I were always struggling without his contribution. But I was a wimp and never petitioned the courts to issue an arrest warrant for his blatant disregard of our children's needs. His sudden demise made the judge's order moot. It can be almost impossible to collect back support from a dead man with a tangled-up life.


While he was still alive, the reasons I didn't want him imprisoned were simple, as well as selfish. I didn't want to have to take our children to visit him in jail because I knew it would be traumatic. But mostly I realized that having him arrested would prevent him from working and put yet another stigma on our already challenged life.


Two decades later, I still feel just as strongly that throwing deadbeat parents in jail is a stupid idea. And it definitely shouldn't be televised. This only causes. more problems in a child's life. The residual effects that deadbeat parents have on kids are way deeper than the unpaid money and leave deep psychological scars.


While researching the effects absentee fathers have on their offspring, I came across a publication called "The One Hundred Billion Dollar Man, the Annual Public Costs of Father Absence." Written by professors Stephen Nock and Christopher Einolf, of the University of Virginia and St. Paul University, respectively, their research shows that fatherless households cost U.S. taxpayers $98.9 billion a year. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of the many problems that female-headed households face.


Their findings also show that children of single parents are more likely to do poorly in school and drop out of college and are at greater risk of being incarcerated or on drugs than children who have both parents in the home.

Just a year ago, President Obama caught flak for telling black fathers to take more responsibility for their children during a speech at a Chicago church. With Father's Day just around the corner, I anticipate that his message this year will have a much wider reach than just for African-Americans.


The issue of absentee fathers isn't just a black problem, it's now an American one. And it touches nearly every community and crosses all racial and socio-economic barriers. I also think many women must share some of the blame for deciding that we can go it alone. Ladies, we've screwed up royally and our children are suffering because of it.

Feminists will probably jump all over me, but here's the real deal.


Many of us joined the women's movement decades ago without looking ahead to see what repercussions our actions would have on both our families and the economy. Now, most of us have to work, which leaves our husbands and children angry because no one is at home tending the hearth.


Our choice to be independent of men financially and of the family structure creates a wide range of problems in our children. And many men feel displaced and angry now because women are competing with them at work.


Far too many women are willing to go it alone and risk poverty and instability for shallow reasons of "self-empowerment" rather than trying to work out their marital challenges. Families need both parents in the household - not just economically but also spiritually and morally.


The whole idea of a "Deadbeat Dads" show is ludicrous. The creators are using the program to exploit what is really a much larger social problem - America's broken families. *


Fatimah Ali is a journalist, media consultant and an associate member of the Daily News editorial board.