Dads Dead Broke, Not Dead Beat

by M. Chef

A Father’s Commentary

          According to the latest edition of Men’s Health Magazine, Cleveland now ranks ninth in their listing of the 25 fattest major cities. That’s an improvement from its sixth place ranking in 2003. Something to cheer about I guess, but with the city’s ranking as first in poverty last year, some might speculate that our health improvement may be more attributable to smaller household budgets rather than smarter exercise and nutrition choices.

            With regards to optimal community health, a stable family situation is perhaps the best preventive measure from one finding him/herself surviving under the federal poverty index. Unfortunately nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce, and 60% of divorcing couples have children. The National Fatherhood Institute reports that almost 18 million children live in single-parent homes and nearly 75% of American children living in single-parent families will experience poverty before they turn 11. In comparison, only 20% in two-parent families will experience poverty. (

            In the recent national elections, marriage was added to the public agenda, with pro-marriage funding proposals, tax breaks for married couples and congressional hearings on the subject. Even same-sex marriages were the topic of more debate than ever before.

            With the numbers of families living below the poverty index rising, many family experts are “talking up” the effects of non-traditional homes where the fathers are more likely to not be present.

            They assert that many of the causes behind the lack of parental input from fathers are not just due to the decline in traditional institutions like marriage and religion but rather are systemic in nature. Society often puts a spotlight on “dead-beat dads” as the perpetrator of this abnormality. In reality, living in a city such as Cleveland with an economy in decline “dead-broke dads” is more often the norm than not.

            Marriage aside, the loss or change of a non-custodial father’s employment is devastating. Currently, the system’s modification of his support order takes a long time to catch up with his predicament. God forbid Daddy finds trying to support his family and makes some bad decisions and winds up incarcerated for a long period of time. While in prison or while he is not paying child support, his support order never stops.

            Often this individual is faced with a substantial amount of backed payments he may never be able to catch up with now that he has a criminal record. His driving privileges are suspended, his children’s mother often begins to play the “yes you can, now you can’t” game of visitation privileges, his tax refunds (whenever he does find legitimate work) are taken, his take-home pay is so low that in many cases, he will be forced to live in substandard housing or become homeless. Many returning fathers are forced to enter the underground economy just to survive. Faced with these prospects, many men just give up and walk away, their soul being slowly eaten away by their inability to do the “right thing” in the current environment.

            As far as the children left behind are concerned, society says it’s the fault of the parents that their kids are dysfunctional. Instead of funding methods to re-unite families and promote marriage, our country for the past two decades has spent its time and money providing jobs to those building more prisons and thus the cycle repeats itself.

            So while the county leaders touts its “Fatherhood Initiative” as a method to loosen the grips of poverty in this region, I would ask those power brokers to pay heed to this father’s comment: This “Initiative” of getting fatherhood to assist families and future generations from falling beneath the poverty line will only work if the County, the State of Ohio, the Child Enforcement Support Agency and the members of the Fatherhood Collaborative of Cleveland work together, in order to penetrate those systemic barriers preventing fathers from participating and being more supportive of their children.

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #68, February 2005. All Rights Reserved