'Daddy Don't Go': DOC NYC Review

Daddy Dont Go still 1 - H 2015
Courtesy of DOCNYC.net
Sympathetic doc offers real-world insight into absent-father epidemic.

Four young fathers try to buck a devastating trend.

An effective response to media conversations that too often make the epidemic of absent fathers seem like a simple case of individual choice, Emily Abt's Daddy Don't Go follows four young New Yorkers who very much want to be there for their children. Apathy and weakness of will don't figure into these case studies, where the biggest obstacle to keeping a father in the picture sometimes seems to be the court system. Adding the kind of human perspective that is essential in statistics-based policy debates about, for example, America's incarceration rate, the affecting doc will be welcome on TV after its fest run.

Abt's four subjects live in the Bronx, Harlem and Long Island, and in three cases are caring for kids whose mothers are out of the picture. The fourth man, Nelson Serrano, has become involved with a woman who already had children, and cheerfully takes them on as his own responsibility. "It takes a real man to raise another man's kids," he says.

Alex Charles shares that kind of insistence on being a dad — "for me to be a deadbeat father," he insists, "I'd have to be dead." But of the four, he has the biggest trouble with the law: He's accused of committing a robbery before his child was born, and the case has stretched out in ways that threaten to orphan the boy. One tradeoff involved in Abt's focus on four subjects is that we can't see enough to be sure what we think of this case: When a judge yells at Alex in court and treats him like a child, is her exasperation justified, or does she represent a system that treats the poor as less than human?

Viewers who have a hard time identifying with the poor may be shocked when Nelson has such a hard time finding employment he's willing to move his family to Florida at the prospect of a $9-an-hour job. Low-income families move 55 percent more often than those in the middle class, we're told, and as we follow this one south we see how big a hurdle the pursuit of a subsistence-level income is to parenting.

Abt's other narratives involve learning disabilities and the legacy of abusive fathering, and even as we cheer on present-tense efforts to do the right thing, it's not hard to imagine how these relationships may also run into trouble through no fault of the fathers. The world has plenty of stories in which men get women pregnant and then vanish without a trace. But Daddy Don't Go shows it would be a mistake to think of the threat to two-parent households solely, or even mostly, in those terms.

Production company: Pureland Pictures
Director: Emily Abt
Producers: Emily Abt, Keryn Thompson, Andrew Osborne, Suzette Burton
Executive producers: Omar Epps, Jennifer Fox, Tiffani Holland, Malik Yoba
Director of photography: Andrew Osborne
Editor: Jeff Marcello
Music: Eric Holland

No rating, 87 minutes