MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 22nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Commentator Kim Henderson now on the cultural trend of glorifying deadbeat dads.
KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: I recently heard about this raid. Seems the officers got a tip about a party involving underage drinkers and overage enablers. The result was a crazy cocktail of a mess that used to be called debauchery, but I’m not sure what folks call it these days.
And while the IDs were being checked and proper arrests were being made, one guy motioned to a young girl across the room. “That’s my baby mama over there.”
Those words grabbed my attention. The trendy “baby mama” label and its partner, “baby daddy,” have been tossed around for a while. Let me provide you with an internet definition (since my 1828 Noah Webster dictionary cannot):
“A baby mama is a woman who has a child out of wedlock. She may or may not be in a relationship with the child’s father, but most of the time, she’s not. She may think she has some sort of position or leverage in the man’s life because she had a child with him.”
The writer goes on to describe another cultural phenomenon, “baby mama drama.” That’s what happens when a baby mama uses the child as a pawn to get attention from the child’s father.
Sound complicated? So is the baby daddy phenomenon.
To research their book, the authors of Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City, studied the lives of more than 100 “baby daddies.” They discovered the men enjoyed their children, but failed to fulfill other parenting responsibilities. One reviewer summarized the findings like this: “Fatherhood becomes less about fulfilling a set of responsibilities—breadwinning, protecting the kids from harm, serving as a moral guide, providing discipline—and more about subjective feeling. As the authors note, these men act more like kindly uncles than real fathers.”
The book also reported that the dads were most likely to shower attention on the child in his or her first five years and withdraw it afterward. Thus, the coined phrase “baby daddy” becomes a true moniker. Baby mama, not so much. Someone must parent beyond preschool.
So who can we thank for the rise of the disposable dad? We could start with famous athletes like Tom Brady and rappers like Future—who has fathered at least six children with six women. They’ve helped normalize and glamorize baby daddying.
But the truth is, conjugal trysts and the resulting deadbeat dads are nothing new. There’s just a lot more of them now—more than 40 percent of births in the United States are to unwed mothers. In my state, lawmakers are concerned enough to offer funding incentives to counties that can lower those rates.
And while the reasons for the baby mama/baby daddy dilemma are many, the solution is singular: marriage. Children need mamas and daddies (minus the trendy adjectives), and they need communities (and tax codes and a welfare system) that reinforce the notion that marriage comes first, then all its privileges.
Until something changes, we will reap the whirlwind.
I’m Kim Henderson.