In 1960, 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers. Today, that figure has jumped to more than 40 percent. And in poor, urban areas, the numbers are even higher. Studies show that kids who grow up without fathers are more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems and to remain poor. The public widely believes these fathers are “deadbeat dads” who just don’t care. But new research reveals men who are truly devoted to fatherhood and want to give their children better lives. Critics say these men may be more involved with their kids now but still aren’t shouldering enough of the financial burden. Diane and guests discuss new research on inner city fathers and what it could mean for social policy.


  • Kathryn Edin Professor, public policy and management, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; author of "Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City" and "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage"
  • Lawrence Mead Professor, politics and policy at New York University; author of "Expanding Work Programs for Poor Men" (2011)
  • Wes Moore Youth advocate, Army combat veteran, entrpreneur; author of "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates" (2011)
  • Joe White Father of four, graduate of Urban Promise, Camden, NJ


  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. One in three American children lives in a home without a father. For the urban poor, that figure is much higher. New research reveals for the first time who these absent fathers are and the complex causes of their behavior.

  • 11:07:17

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about a comprehensive new study of inner city fathers and what it means for social policy, Kathryn Edin of Harvard University and author and social entrepreneur, Wes Moore. Joining me from a studio in NPR's New York City bureau is Lawrence Mead of New York University.

  • 11:07:45

    MS. DIANE REHMI do invite your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning and welcome to all of you.

  • 11:08:03

    MS. KATHRYN EDINThank you.

  • 11:08:05

    MR. LAWRENCE MEADGood to be here.

  • 11:08:06

    REHMGood to have you with us. Kathy, let me start with you. You're known for your research on women. How come you've now turned to look at what's happening to fathers?

  • 11:08:21

    EDINThat's right. I have spent most of my career talking with low-income single moms and a couple of colleagues were really pressing me on this issue. They kept saying, you've got to talk to the men. You've got to talk to the men. I said I don't want to talk to the men. I know the story about the men and I think all Americans think they know the story about these guys.

  • 11:08:42

    REHMWhat did you think the story was?

  • 11:08:44

    EDINI thought that the guys were in it for sex and that the moment the woman turned up pregnant, they would cut and run. And I basically, almost everything that I thought I knew was wrong.

  • 11:08:59

    REHMSo what did you find?

  • 11:09:01

    EDINWell, what we found is a complex reality, but I think the basic finding is that these dads really love their kids and, in fact, there's nothing that motivates them more than trying to be good dads. And they are, you know, rather than cut and run when presented with a less than perfectly planned pregnancy, they try to engage. And in that struggle to engage, I think there's a real moment and opportunity for social policy that we didn't know was there before.

  • 11:09:38

    REHMHow then do you account for the extraordinary increase in the numbers of children living in homes without fathers?

  • 11:09:52

    EDINThat's a really striking story. And it's even more striking when you get into the details, even though now fully 40 percent of all kids, things are changing faster. Our (word?) married parents, in the typical situation, the couple greets what is typically an accidental pregnancy with a determination to get it together for the sake of the baby. You could almost call these shotgun relationships.

  • 11:10:19

    EDINAt the moment of birth, a survey showed that 80 percent or more of these dads are at the hospital and telling survey researchers they're with the mother of the baby. And the mothers are saying, yes, we're together. Most of them think they're going to get married and are making efforts to that end. In fact, half of them have started living together in a family-like relationship. But one year later, half have broken up. So it's that arc that the book tries to explore. Why is it that high expectations end up in ways that separate dads from kids?

  • 11:10:55

    REHMAnd you actually lived the story. How did you go about doing that?

  • 11:11:03

    EDINWell, my husband and I, who is my co-author, decided that this was a tough problem and, you know, on -- we're going to hear from a lot of other people here in the studio about that. And if, you know, we're both -- we did study Whites and Blacks, but if we were really going to understand this problem, especially as white, middleclass folks, we needed to get some serious exposure.

  • 11:11:26

    EDINSo we did move to Camden, N.J. with our two daughters and we lived in East Camden. We shopped. We did our, you know, did our laundry at the Laundromat. We got food from the local Chinese carryout and just tried to really figure out what to ask because oftentimes social scientists jump right in and ask questions before they really know what the questions ought to be.

  • 11:11:51

    REHMSo that was your way of finding out really by living the story. Larry Mead, professor of politics and public policy at New York University, tell us how you see this increasing number of fatherless homes and why you believe it has increased so dramatically.

  • 11:12:19

    MEADRight. Let me first say that I'm delighted by the book. I think it's a very important study. We have very little that's in depth about unwed fathers and therefore this book really fills a gigantic hole in our understanding of how they react to their situation. I never believed the stereotype that the men were just in it for sex. I always thought they had intentions for their families and the great question was why they were unable to live those out fully.

  • 11:12:49

    MEADI don't think we know from this or any other research exactly why do fathers fail to follow through. The part of this that I've studied the most closely is the employment question. Why it is that the men seem not to be able to be employed regularly? And that is a major reason, although not the only reason, why they fail to follow through with their intentions.

  • 11:13:11

    MEADSo at most, it seems to me that somehow the men have lost the capacity for what one might call self-command, to follow through their own intentions. I don't know why that has happened. I think this is profoundly mysterious, but that is the fundamental problem. And if we're going to turn it around, we have to find some way to restore order to these men's lives and from that will follow more successful fathering.

  • 11:13:39

    REHMLarry Mead, he is professor of politics and public policy at New York University, author of the book titled "Expanding Work Programs for Poor Men." And I do want to mention the title of Kathryn Edin's book written with her husband, Timothy Nelson. It's titled "Doing the Best I Can." And now turning to you, Wes Moore, tell us about your best-selling memoir, "The Other Wes Moore." What was that about and how does it relate to today's discussion?

  • 11:14:23

    MR. WES MOOREThank you. And, yeah, the story was part autobiographical about myself. At around the time that I realized that, I just received a Rhodes Scholarship and The Baltimore Sun, which is my hometown paper, I'm from Baltimore, wrote this article about this local kid who had just received this scholarship to go overseas.

  • 11:14:39

    MR. WES MOOREAnd at the same time, they were writing a whole series of articles about four guys who one day walked into a jewelry store and in the process of trying to rob the jewelry store, it was a botched robbery and an off-duty police officer was tragically murdered during this robbery.

  • 11:14:54

    MR. WES MOOREAnd there was a 12-day national manhunt for these four guys. And finally after 12 days and all four were caught, I found out that one of the people that the police were looking for and was eventually captured and tried and convicted, was a guy whose name was also Wes Moore.

  • 11:15:06

    MR. WES MOOREAnd the more I learned about this story, the more I learned how much more we had in common than just our names. We were living in the same area. We were around the same age. We both had academic and disciplinary troubles growing up. And we both grew up in single-parent households.

  • 11:15:20

    MR. WES MOOREAnd the more that I learned about these stories and the tragedy that happened, the people that were responsible, the more I wanted to learn more. And so one day I just reached out to Wes and I wrote him a note. And a month later, he wrote me a note back from Jessup. He received life without the possibility of parole...

  • 11:15:33


  • 11:15:32

    MOORE...for the crime.

  • 11:15:34


  • 11:15:34

    MOOREAnd that one letter turned into dozens of letters which turned into dozens of visits and now I've known Wes for close to a decade. And one of the things that consistently comes up in our conversations, particularly because now we're both fathers -- in fact, Wes when he was 32 years old he became a grandfather.

  • 11:15:54

    MOOREBut one of the things that consistently comes up is this conversation about fathers and about what it means. And, you know, for the fact that when he first became a father at 15 years old, what that dynamic was like for him. And, again, I even think that the title of the book is so appropriate, "Doing the Best I Can," because you find that that was the situation where you -- and what I wanted to do with this book with the other Wes Moore was kind of un-layer this to show people that it's not as simple as we sometimes think it is.

  • 11:16:22

    MOOREHe was, in many ways, doing the best that he could with what he had with the information that he had. But when you're compounding these types of dynamics for the situation for so many people, which are the employment challenges, incarceration challenges and reentry challenges and then the basic understanding of what does it mean to be a father when you never had one coming up...

  • 11:16:43


  • 11:16:44

    MOORE...all those dynamics become very layered in this conversation. That's why I think it's really important that we just not simplify it in a way that...

  • 11:16:51

    REHMTell me at what age you became a father.

  • 11:16:53

    MOOREI became a father at 31 years old and it is amazing, Diane, because, you know, we have a wonderful two-year-old daughter and she is our world and my wife is actually expecting again. And I think about what it's like right now.

  • 11:17:11

    MOOREWe have our daughter. She's two years old. She has, you know, a wonderful mother. She has two grandmothers who love her dearly. She's got aunts, uncles and cousins. She's got all the stuff and I'm still scared to death about what it means now to be a father and to have that type of responsibility.

  • 11:17:26


  • 11:17:27

    MOOREBecause, well, partially because, you know, even though I had some wonderful male role -- I had my grandfather and my uncles. They were all very present, you know, and around in my life. That hole, regardless of the reason that it's from, it could be from, you know...

  • 11:17:43

    REHMThat hole being you did not have a father?

  • 11:17:44

    MOOREOf not having your father in that home and, you know, and Wes and I talk about it all the time because he says to me, he says, you know, your father wasn't there. My father died. My father was killed in front of me. When my father died in front of me when I was three and half years old and Wes'...

  • 11:17:59

    REHMIn front of you..?

  • 11:17:59

    MOOREYeah, so he actually, he died of something called acute (sounds like) epiglottises which is -- he was prematurely released from a hospital and literally one day came home and collapsed down the stairs and died in front of us.

  • 11:18:08

    REHMWas he married to your mother?

  • 11:18:12

    MOOREHe was married to my mother and in many ways, you know, what that did also to the fabric of the entire family because my mother, you know, out of nowhere she's married, she has three children and out of nowhere in her late 20s she becomes a widow with three children she is going to raise on her own. And in no way was this the life that she had expected or prepared for.

  • 11:18:31

    REHMWes Moore, he's a youth advocate, Army combat veteran, social entrepreneur and the author of "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates." Short break here and right back.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, here in the studio Kathryn Edin, professor of public policy and management at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. She's the author of "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage." And her most recent book titled "Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City," which she co-authored with her husband Timothy Nelson. Wes Moore is here. He's the author of "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates."

  • 11:20:54

    REHMAnd joining us by ISDN from NPR in New York City, Lawrence (Larry) Mead, professor of politics and public policy at New York University and author of "Expanding Work Progress for Poor Men." It sounds to me as though you're all talking about two issues. One, a sense of responsibility and forethought as it comes to fatherhood, and the economics of fatherhood. Can you really separate the two, Larry Mead, if a 15-year-old becomes a father? How in the world is he going to think about fatherhood, especially if he has not had his own father model in the home?

  • 11:22:04

    MEADYeah, I don't have a complete answer to that but I do think employment is central to the problem. And much of the mystery is why men, which in previous ages worked more steadily, why we don't see that today. We see many men who work sporadically. Episodically they have lots of short jobs. They don't ever really get established in the labor force. And I don't find that easy to explain. There really is no way to account for that that I can think of.

  • 11:22:40

    MEADThere have been a lot of changes in the economy in the last several decades, but these changes have not reduced the number of jobs. On the contrary, employment has expanded and there are many low-skilled people like immigrants who are working in these jobs and surviving in a way better than is true for many of the men we're talking about.

  • 11:23:01

    MEADAlso in the research in this book, there's actually very little discussion of the labor market. We don't hear the mothers and the fathers talking much about that. It's not as if that's their main problem. It's much more to do with living out the commitments that they have to the family. At one point a son who's been abandoned by his father is quoted as saying, losers make promises, winners make commitments. And I think that sums it up really quite well.

  • 11:23:29

    MEADThe mysterious problem here is why men who previously were able to be fathers now find that commitment too much for them. So the intention is there. The value is there. They care about their kids. All of that is clear. What's not clear is why they find it so difficult actually to do the things that that requires.

  • 11:23:48

    REHMAnd Kathy, I turn to you for that question.

  • 11:23:53

    EDINSo, you know, when you go out into these neighborhoods and you hang out with these families, one thing you learn is that the BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics -- statistics don't work very well for this population. Most of these guys would register as formally employed but almost all of them are working. Often in the informal economy necessarily the underground economy, they're working at jobs you and I would never even conceive of doing, washing plate glass windows.

  • 11:24:21

    EDINOne guy who did that went by the name of bucket because that was kind of his identity. He also had customers whose windows he washed. These guys are often very engaged in work and they're often using that side work to facilitate any kind of contributions to their kids. We counted all the contributions that men made to children. And if you could in-kind contributions, you double the number of fathers who are paying. And often it is these fathers that are very, very marginal. So they want to work but frankly the good jobs are not there. We all know that and it's silly to ignore.

  • 11:24:58

    REHMBut what about Larry's point, that you've got immigrants taking many of these jobs that other populations refuse to take? Aren't you talking about a very special population that maybe has tried but then there's a whole group out there who say, I won't do that kind of job?

  • 11:25:29

    EDINYou know, in the largest study that this book is drawn from, we have 400 noncustodial fathers from four cities across the United States. I think there's very little evidence that it's -- that these men are refusing jobs that immigrants are eager to take. In many cases we don't know employers' motivations. We know employers sometimes prefer to take immigrants over native-born whites. That's a whole other topic.

  • 11:25:53

    EDINBut these men want to work and they are working. They have substance abuse problems. That's kind of the elephant in the room that we seldom talk about. And it's somebody policy has to address. But they're working.

  • 11:26:04

    REHMBut isn't that substance abuse likely to inhibit an individual, not only getting but even seeking employment?

  • 11:26:18

    EDINYes. And it's something we absolutely need to address and we don't know how to do it very well right now. Many times these guys work day labor. So if you're sober that day, you can show up and get a job. And maybe that's a model for moving forward.

  • 11:26:32

    REHMWes Moore.

  • 11:26:33

    MOOREAnd I think also substance abuse and the topic of substance abuse also shades into, I think, something I think is another crucial issue, is the incarceration issue, particularly upon the reentry for so many people, who many of whom are fathers, as they're coming back in. The challenges of finding employment, once you already have a criminal record, are significant. I mean, there are certain jobs you literally cannot even apply for.

  • 11:26:55

    MOOREAnd then for all jobs you apply for, every application and always filled out, they had that little thing at the bottom that says have you ever been convicted of a crime or a felony. And if you check yes, you know your application goes in a very special part of the application pile. So where employment and where substance abuse also starts blending is when we're talking about incarceration and reentry for so many people.

  • 11:27:17

    MOOREAnd when you look at the prison population that we have in this country, in fact is of our entire prison population, 95 percent of people in prison are coming out. Only 5 percent are there for life or long, long sentences. Ninety-five percent are reentering. And when we have a recidivism rate inside of this country of 70 percent -- so 70 percent of people in prison will be rearrested...

  • 11:27:40

    REHM...back again.

  • 11:27:41

    MOORE...back again, and most of which in the first three years, we're seeing how that compounded effect also has very real shades on the single-parent home issue and single-parent home topic as well.

  • 11:27:52

    REHMLarry Mead.

  • 11:27:53

    MEADThat's right. And currently I'm sitting on a commission at the National Academy of Sciences on the question of over-incarceration. We're trying to find ways in which incarceration might be reduced. And this is clearly an important question. But it isn't enough simply to cut back the number of people we've put in prison. We also have to have an alternative for those men outside prison. And the argument I developed in my book is that we should expand work programs for people on parole, also men who owe child support.

  • 11:28:23

    MEADAnd we should be prepared to require and also guarantee that they work, that is provide jobs that are assured. And at the same time provide some wage subsidies so they can make it more easily so that whatever job they get they're going to make enough to be able to pay their child support. Now that isn't their whole problem. I think the problems with the families go in different directions and they're not all about employment. But this is probably the most direct thing we can do to improve the position of these men and their lives generally. And that will also make them more effective as fathers.

  • 11:28:54

    REHMHere is an email from the drshow website from Ernest. He says, "Why do we have this large portion of males who cannot commit to monogamy with one female? The answer is selfishness. In essence, the male can do whatever he wants without the commitment that is tantamount to irresponsibility. The first priority of any father and mother is the wellbeing of the child. End of discussion. A small percentage may find themselves in a situation beyond their control, but the vast percentage just wanted a good time with no strings attached."

  • 11:29:51

    REHMAnd that view was one that was certainly put forward in Bill Moyer's 1986 CBS special titled "The Vanishing Family." How do you counter that perception that is still quite widespread, but begin to focus and support those who are trying to do the best they can?

  • 11:30:23

    EDINOne of the most surprising things that we learned in living in Camden and then, you know, operating in neighborhoods across Philadelphia was the reverence with which people, including people who are not married, hold marriage. If you talk to guys about the stories of how they and their girlfriends got pregnant, you'll hear very little love language. In fact, the model stories that I just wasn't thinking at the time, I didn't know the woman very well and boom, a pregnancy occurred. And then we tried to sort of forge a relationship, you know, out of an unplanned pregnancy.

  • 11:31:03

    EDINHowever, when you talk to these guys about marriage you get amazing stories. Ernest, one of our fathers said, you know what I'm looking for is a soul mate. You know, someone you can -- that you love so much and you trust so much you can -- you'd stand out in a window under the -- in the rain until the light comes on. You know, almost a Romeo and Juliet sort of vision of love and of marriage.

  • 11:31:29

    EDINAnd given the changes in the economy and substance abuse and the incarceration, this tangle of problems that have really gripped low-income communities, men are finding it harder and harder to find that dream. But they're still articulating it.

  • 11:31:46

    REHMSo the difference between minority communities and nonminority communities in terms of fathers in the home is what?

  • 11:32:01

    EDINWe see less about race and more about class all of the time. So it used to be that this was mostly an African-American phenomena. It is not anymore. If you look at working class whites, if you look at non-college-educated whites under the age of 25, this is what's happening. So it's more and more becoming a story of two Americas in America that has very stable marriages. I mean, college-educated marriages are more stable than they've been since the '60s.

  • 11:32:30

    EDINWe've really learned how to have sort of super marriages in the upper middle class. In another America where marriage is aspired to, seldom achieved and the same America in that everybody's aspiring to the same thing. But the realities are very different.

  • 11:32:49

    REHMSo from your perspective, Larry Mead, it's mostly about economics?

  • 11:32:57

    MEADNo. I agree with what Kathryn says about the change in marriage. And it's true that the bottom end of the working class, including many white people, are also involved in these same patterns. No. I think the central mystery about poverty is always why the poor have orthodox values. They want to do the same things the middle class does, including getting married in conventional ways and stay married, obey the law, get through school. Do all the things that I call in one of my books the common obligations that we associate with belonging to this society.

  • 11:33:30

    MEADThey want to do all that but for some reason they find it much more difficult actually to live by those values than the middle class. And there's a much larger gap between the intention and the actual life than we see for the middle class.

  • 11:33:44


  • 11:33:44

    MEADAnd we find it very hard to explain.

  • 11:33:46're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Kathryn, tell us about Andrew whom you profiled in your book.

  • 11:33:56

    EDINAndre Green. So Andre Green is actually the first father we meet when we arrive in Camden. And we ask him to tell the story of how he became a father to his little two-year-old Jalissa (sp?). And he describes the following scene. And this totally blew us away. He said, "I was coming home from choir tour and I went into my aunt's house where I was staying. And my aunt greeted me with kind of a sly smile and said, do you remember that girlfriend you were dating way back when?" And Andre says, yeah, yeah, what about her, what about her?

  • 11:34:29

    REHMAnd how old is Andre?

  • 11:34:31

    EDINAndre's 17 years old...

  • 11:34:33


  • 11:34:34

    EDIN...right. And so finally his aunt bursts out with the words, she pregnant. Andre stomps around the kitchen as if he's angry, stomps up to his bedroom on the second floor, closes the door, pauses and then says -- in fact, shouts, Thank you, Jesus. And we said, Andre, what could that possibly mean? And he said, well, when I heard the words she pregnant, the first thing that went through my mind is, I don't want to be like my dad who deserted me. I'm going to be there and I'm proclaiming to myself right now that I'm going to do that.

  • 11:35:16

    EDINThe second thing he said is, well you know, my brother was just murdered. My mother is a drug addict. Here's a chance to do something positive. You know, an essay winner in Camden, a young woman by the name of Laconde Cetlett (sic) ended her essay about the violence in Camden with the following words, "Let's pick up the guns -- or put down the guns and pick up the babies," you know. And Andre said, that's what I was doing. I was putting down the guns and picking up a baby. I was embracing a chance to do something good.

  • 11:35:53

    REHMSo what follows?

  • 11:35:56

    EDINWhat follows for Andre is a very successful fatherhood career after some real bumps in the road. He's still very invested in his daughter, but not for all men. There's so much in the way, the path is so steep.

  • 11:36:09

    REHMInvested in the daughter. What about the mother?

  • 11:36:15

    EDINHe's not invested in the mother and that's one of the central themes of the book that these fathers are trying to re-craft, to reinvent fatherhood in a sense. You might think of it as a fatherhood ala-carte. Parenthood used to be part of a package deal, mom, dad and baby. Now fathers are saying, I'm not sure I can be a spouse. I'm not sure I can afford that. I'm not sure I'm going to find that but I can be a dad.

  • 11:36:41

    REHMSo what does being a dad mean to Andre?

  • 11:36:45

    EDINBeing a dad to Andre can be summarized in two words, being there.

  • 11:36:50

    REHMBeing there when he chooses or being there all the time?

  • 11:36:57

    EDINSo this is a good question. Ideally he'd like to be there all the time but what Andre is really saying is more about an attitude, an orientation that he's going to be committed to the child. He doesn't think of himself so much as a paycheck and I think this is what makes the children's mothers so mad. You know, they -- in fact, these guys are saying, I don't want to be that paycheck dad. My dad was a paycheck and I never saw him or he beat my mother every Friday night. I want to be a parent.

  • 11:37:26

    REHMKathryn Edin. She's professor of public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, co-author of "Doing the Best I Can." Short break and right back.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd as we talk about fatherhood, its responsibilities, its choices, joining us now from Camden, N.J. is Joe White. He's a father of four and a member of an organization called Urban Promise. Good morning to you, Joe.

  • 11:40:25

    MR. JOE WHITEGood morning. How are you this morning?

  • 11:40:27

    REHMI'm fine, thank you. Tell us a little bit about growing up in Camden, N.J. Your mother, I gather, was a single mom.

  • 11:40:39

    WHITEYeah, she was a single mother. Growing in a city of Camden with a single mother is rough. You know, the woman shoulders a lot of responsibility to provide for the family. And growing up where we particularly grew up, which was Westfield Acres, it was extremely rough due to, like, you know, the poverty and the drugs and things like that. So to have a strong woman in your corner or a strong woman showing you that things can be done, you know, that's a plus.

  • 11:41:16

    REHMTell me about the organization Urban Promise and how old you were when you first came to that organization.

  • 11:41:26

    WHITEI was 12 years old when I first encountered Urban Promise. It was a great organization. It takes kids from the inner city, basically, and gives them life skills, you know. You get to see things outside of the normal realm that you would have to deal with everyday. I was able to travel into Canada various times and across different states in the United States and see different types of different classes of people that I normally probably wouldn't have been able to see if it wasn't for this organization.

  • 11:42:01

    REHMAnd --

  • 11:42:01

    WHITEI'm --

  • 11:42:02

    REHMI'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt. Tell us how old you were when you first became a father.

  • 11:42:12

    WHITEI was 19 years old, my senior year in high school.

  • 11:42:17

    REHMAnd you and your childhood sweetheart had a baby.

  • 11:42:23

    WHITEYeah, me and my childhood sweetheart had our first boy at 12, I mean, yeah, I was in 12th grade.

  • 11:42:33

    REHMYou were in 12th grade. And did you stay with your childhood sweetheart?

  • 11:42:42

    WHITEWe stayed together for maybe about three or four years after he was born. Then we had split.

  • 11:42:52

    REHMBut you had a few more children?

  • 11:42:55

    WHITEYes. I had a few more children later on. In 2000 I had my first daughter and with whom now I'm married to, my wife. We went on to have three kids, two girls and a boy.

  • 11:43:12

    REHMI see. So you had three children with your high school sweetheart and you have three now with your wife. So --

  • 11:43:23

    WHITENo. I have one with my high school sweetheart and I have three with my wife.

  • 11:43:28

    REHMOh, I see. Forgive me. Tell me how you have behaved differently with your wife as opposed to your childhood sweetheart.

  • 11:43:46

    WHITEBasically, it was just I felt that with the relationship with my wife that, you know, you learn from your mistakes. So, you know, I felt that all the things that went wrong in my first relationship with my son's mother that I'd try not to repeat those into this relationship with whom the woman I knew I was going to marry. So I went in with a different mindset. And I was just at a different place in my life in each relationship, you know. The first relationship was a little bit more sense of urgency, new fatherhood, where when I got in with my wife it was more like, okay, I've got to hang on this father thing. So now it's time for me to be the husband and be a father to all my children.

  • 11:44:38

    REHMAnd does that include the young child you had with your high school sweetheart?

  • 11:44:44

    WHITEOh, yes, yes. We've maintained a relationship where, you know, that my son spent almost, you know, three to four days out of the week with me, even though we wasn't together. Like, I made it my business to stay a part of his life. Just because our relationship didn't work out, I didn't feel that my child had to suffer like, you know, my mom grew up without, you know, with three kids and really no support from either of her kids' fathers. And I just didn't want to repeat that.

  • 11:45:19

    REHMI understand, I think, correctly, that a few years ago you were sentenced to a drug treatment program; is that correct?

  • 11:45:30


  • 11:45:32

    REHMAnd you said it's probably the best thing that ever happened to you.

  • 11:45:38

    WHITEYes, it was. It was. Back in 2002 I was sentenced to a Camden County Drug Corp program, which basically, it helps out residents in the city of Camden who might get in trouble for lesser drug charges fueled by their addiction. So it's a program that's geared to turn people's lives around and also to make that person, you know, a better productive member of society. And like, me personally, I’m one of the guys whose like, yeah, I took full advantage of that situation and appreciated.

  • 11:46:17

    REHMAnd how are you paying the bills these days?

  • 11:46:22

    WHITEI'm currently working over at Camden Print Works, which initially it was a program designed to help employ people in the inner city. So I've been working there for about a little over 10 years now. And I also work at night at Urban Promise Ministries, where that particular job helps me pay for my kids' tuition because all my children go to Urban Promise Academy or Camden Forward School.

  • 11:46:59

    REHMAnd you're making it. You really are making it, aren't you?

  • 11:47:07

    WHITEYes. I'm trying. Like, you know, every day I get up and it's basically, you know, for my children. You know, it's to give them an education that I didn't receive. You know, I was educated in the Camden Public School system, you know, it was okay, but if I've got the opportunity to give my kids better than what I had, why not.

  • 11:47:27

    REHMJoe White, I congratulate you and thank you for joining us this morning.

  • 11:47:34

    WHITEOh, thank you for having me join you.

  • 11:47:37

    REHMJoe White is the father of four and a member of Urban Promise. We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Let's go now to Houston, Texas. Good morning, Chris.

  • 11:48:05

    CHRISGood morning. How are you?

  • 11:48:06

    REHMFine, thank you, sir. Go right ahead.

  • 11:48:08

    CHRISBasically I was calling because this was an interesting topic. I was calling as a father. I’m a father of two and sometimes as fathers we have to make choices, you know, as far as being there with our kids. I mean, I have two children. They're in Louisiana. And being that the job market really isn't that great in Southern Louisiana, I had to make a choice to either move and be able to provide for my children or stay there and be there physically, but not be able to provide financially.

  • 11:48:44

    CHRISAnd I mean with child support and everything else, you know, if you're not paying child support, that stacks up against you and can be criminal, you know.

  • 11:48:51

    REHMThat's a tough choice, Wes.

  • 11:48:53

    MOOREIt's a very tough choice. And, unfortunately, you have a lot of people who find themselves in that exact scenario, in that exact situation where they feel like I can either go out for a sense of employment, go out and follow, you know, follow a passion or something I know that can bring some consistent income in or be there for my child. And it comes back to the dynamic. And actually I'd be curious to hear at what age Chris had his two kids. But there's another dynamic that I think plays into it as well, and it's the age dynamic.

  • 11:49:27

    MOOREBecause we talk about race and we can talk about class and its impact, but it's also the age dynamic because what ends up happening is -- and, you know, we do a lot of work with kids all around the country and, you know, with a real focus on this exact issue, but the ones who are having kids so much earlier, the options that then play into that become so much more minimal. And so all those dynamics, I think, also have to be explored with that, too.

  • 11:49:52

    REHMWes, talk a little about your own background.

  • 11:49:57


  • 11:49:57

    REHMYou said you had a fair amount of income with that other Wes Moore, getting in trouble, finding your own way through. Talk about that.

  • 11:50:10

    MOOREWell, I think in so many, you know, when my father first died, I mean, I remember literally, you know, I have two memories of him. One was a memory when my mother got mad at me for fighting with my older sister and my father came in and explained to me why I shouldn't hit my sister and why I need to protect women and not to hit them and protect my family, and not to go after them. And the only other memory that I have of him was six months later when I watched him die.

  • 11:50:33

    MOOREAnd literally when it happened I didn't understand what was going on. I mean I remember my Uncle Vinnie, he told me that at his funeral, when we went up to go do the final viewing, I actually looked inside the casket and asked my father if he was gonna come with us because I didn't understand why he was sleeping in the front of the church. I didn't fully get it. When I got older and I began to understand that he wasn't coming back, that that was a void that was now just permanent in my life, it turned into confusion, it turned into anger, it turned into fear, literally to the point when, you know, by the time I was 9, 10 years old, I was picking and choosing which days were worthwhile for me to go to school.

  • 11:51:11

    MOOREBy the time I was 11 was the first time that I got arrested. And so you see how this dynamic plays itself out in so many kids where we try to fill that void with things that in many cases are counterproductive and in many cases dangerous.

  • 11:51:25


  • 11:51:26

    MOOREGangs? Absolutely. Gangs. You start learning the definition of manhood from a whole bunch of people who, quite honestly, have no business teaching you anything. And you start hurting the people that genuinely love you, to try to impress people that could care less about you. And you don't understand that. And you're still so young that, you know, your brain isn't (unintelligible) . Your prefrontal cortex still isn't fully developed yet.

  • 11:51:52

    REHMWhat turned you around?

  • 11:51:54

    MOOREYou know, I think what happened was, was that, you know, well, first I ended up getting sent away to a military school when I was 13 that my mother kept on threatening me to. But I always tell people that, you know, that wasn't it. You know, it wasn't the fact that I was physically transported. You know, moving me from one section of Baltimore or to the Bronx or to military school, that didn't change my way of thinking. You know, what changed was that I found myself surrounded by people who taught me that the world is much bigger than what's directly in front of me.

  • 11:52:22

    MOOREYou know, people who helped me to understand there was never going to be a single accident of birth, not being black, not being poor, not being from Baltimore or the Bronx or fatherless, that was ever going to define me or that was every going to limit me. People who helped me to understand that, you know, that I'm not going to be held responsible for something that I have no responsibility for. That just because this happened to be my situation, doesn't mean that I now have to walk this journey by myself. And so I had a lot of people who -- no one ever tried to replace my father.

  • 11:52:51

    MOOREAnyone would embarrass themselves in trying to do so. But there were certain things that I needed a man to help show me. And there were men who stepped up and helped to do that.

  • 11:53:00

    REHMLarry Mead?

  • 11:53:02

    MEADI think Wes was fortunate in that he wasn't truly fatherless. That is, his father was on the scene fully functional for several years and then he died tragically, but Wes looks back on him as an exemplar, quite correctly. And then he went away to these schools that were quite demanding. And one of the ironies about American society is it's the better-off who send their kids to the more demanding schools, where they're surrounded by teachers and other people who are authoritative, effective male authority figures. And they get more direction, actually, than the poor get.

  • 11:53:34

    MEADAnd the more effective programs we have for the poor, tend to be the more directive, those that try to bring in that same structure for kids who really are fatherless.

  • 11:53:42

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Susan.

  • 11:53:54

    SUSANGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:53:56


  • 11:53:56

    SUSANI love your show.

  • 11:53:57

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:53:59

    SUSANI wanted to address something that Professor Mead said early on in the program. I was a single parent. I was married at 19, had a child, divorced by 23. And I feel that the professor made a statement about how fathers have a tough time self committing. And I wondered, first of all, do you feel that it is difficult for these young dads to suddenly be in a situation where they don't have the same control that they have had prior in their life? And second, is there a way that we could possibly address this by doing some type of paternity counseling at OB/GYN appointments, where the young me can become empowered and learn how they can better address the commitment both to the mother and to the child?

  • 11:54:54


  • 11:54:55

    MEADThe problem with commitment is actually central. The hard thing is to be able to live out an intention. And in the case of the men we're talking about, the lack of that capacity appears to be deeply rooted. It goes back into their own childhood. The programs that are most effective in helping them are programs that are fairly directive, which tell people pretty clearly what they should be doing. And they often provide case managers, other people who interact with the clients and try to keep them on the straight and narrow. So that's what works best.

  • 11:55:27

    MEADNow, counseling programs that are less directive, and the government has been testing some of those recently, are less effective. They haven't shown much real impact on the capacity of men to enter into a relationship and stay related or get married or whatever. That hasn't proven possible. So I think we really have to focus on the men personally. We need to do and provide for them the kind of thing that Wes got in his early training after he got away from Baltimore and went to these schools, which provided that structure and that encouragement. That's actually the way forward.

  • 11:55:55

    REHMNow, having done the research, Kathy, what do you think are the best ways forward?

  • 11:56:03

    EDINI remember Joe White when he was 18 and he was expecting his child. And I saw him in front of Rosedale Baptist Church on Westfield Avenue, just up from Westfield Acres and he was the kid we thought was going to make it, right. But he was standing in the shadow and Joe was half in the shadow and half in the light and there are these things just weighing on him, dragging him down, the kinds of things that Wes talked about. There are also the structural barriers that have been mentioned throughout. There are also the intergenerational pressures that Larry's been talking about.

  • 11:56:39

    EDINSo to get a young man out of the shadows and into the light we need to do a lot, right. We need to work on the incarceration piece. We need interventions that do provide structure. They do tend to work better than counseling interventions. We need to focus on the substance abuse piece. We need to do all of it and we need to do urgently because when dads don't make it with mom number one they move on to mom number two.

  • 11:57:08

    REHMKathryn Edin, her new book written with her husband Timothy Nelson is titled, "Doing the Best I Can." Wes Moore is a youth advocate, Army combat veteran and author of, "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates." And Lawrence Mead, professor of politics, public policy at New York University, author of, "Expanding Work Progress For Poor Men." Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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