Omar Epps, actor and poet, is shining a bright light on a critical issue that he believes is responsible for increased child poverty and high incarceration rates: fatherless children.
I’m glad Epps is addressing this topic in such a profound way.
Epps is the Executive Producer of a bold new documentary called Daddy Don’t Go, which follows the lives of four young fathers – Alex, Nelson, Roy and Omar – as they struggle to navigate parenthood. The documentary will be screened in New York this week.
For disadvantaged men, parenting is a daily decision. Filmed over the course of two years by acclaimed filmmaker Emily Abt, Daddy Don’t Go highlights the various socioeconomic pressures low-income fathers face and provides compelling portraits of men who persevere, according to the film’s website.
The film is based in New York City where more than half of African American children and more than 40 percent of Latino children are growing up without fathers.
Nationally, 1 in 3 children are fatherless – 24 million children in America live in homes without their biological fathers present.
Fatherless children are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school and nine times more likely to break the law than their peers raised in two-parent homes.
“Being the product of a fatherless household, Daddy Don’t Go, delves into an issue that’s close to my heart,” Epps said on the website. “The media inundates us with the notion that men from impoverished areas are absent fathers but meanwhile there are millions of fathers who are fighting to be active in their children’s lives.”
Daddy Don’t Go chronicles the journeys of four such men and their respective battles to parent their children,” he said. “It’s time men like Ales, Omar, Nelson and Roy have a platform to challenge the deadbeat dad stereotype.”
Epps was born in Brooklyn, New York. His parents divorced during his childhood and he was raised by his mother, Bonnie Maria Epps, an elementary school principal. So Epps not only knows these statistics from an intellectual perspective, he lived it.
According to the filmmakers these are the stories behind the fathers chosen for the film: Alex hopes to avoid jail time while raising his son in a shelter; Latin King Nelson tries to raise three kids in the face of financial difficulty; Roy, an ex-offender, lives with his parents after being disabled in a construction accident; and Omar, a single dad, struggles for custody after saving his kids from their abusive mom.
“I told myself I’m not gonna be no deadbeat father,” one of the fathers, Alex, says in the roughly 3-minute trailer video. “For me to be a deadbeat father, I gotta be dead and somebody gotta beat me up.”
I don’t know if President Barack Obama has seen Epps’ film, but I do know the president embraces the concept.
Epps’ film comes several years after Obama announced the White House Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative, a nationwide effort to support responsible fatherhood and to help re-engage absentee fathers in the lives of their children.
“But we also know that what too many fathers being absent means — too many fathers missing from too many homes, missing from too many lives,” Obama said of Father’s Day several years ago.
“We know that when fathers abandon their responsibilities, there’s harm done to those kids. We know that children who grow up without a father are more likely to live in poverty. They’re more likely to drop out of school. They’re more likely to wind up in prison. They’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They’re more likely to run away from home. They’re more likely to become teenage parents themselves.”
“And I say all this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life. He left my family when I was two years old. And while I was lucky to have a wonderful mother and loving grandparents who poured everything they had into me and my sister, I still felt the weight of that absence,” the president said. “It’s something that leaves a hole in a child’s life that no government can fill.”
I hope Epps’ documentary educates Americans and helps to dispel long-held stereotypes that men of color who happened to struggle financially are not responsible fathers.
While there are many men in America who refuse to provide for their children, which is a serious problem, there are countless men who want to step up but have not been able to make enough money to provide for their kids.
That’s not a crime, it’s just an unfortunate situation. And many men are now trying to provide something intangible for their children in lieu of money: Time, patience and love.
I’m glad Epps is bringing this issue to the national forefront – and to the screen.
What do you think?