Many Children in America grow up, in the fight of a lifetime.
1 in 3 American children grow up withOUT their fathers.
So what does it take… To be a Good Father?
Personally, I was blessed in more ways than I can count to have my father’s presence in my life day in and day out, always there to sing me Happy Birthday, always there to blow me kisses goodnight, always there to support my wildest dreams… when I sat down to process the fact that 1 in 3 kids are growing up right here in America, without their Father, it shook me to the core. Who would I have been if this amazing man hadn’t been there to nudge my morality or hone my talents, and then suddenly the thought that maybe some are better off with just one parent present crosses my mind, but that double duty of playing mom AND dad is eternally grueling on parents in America. I began to wonder how our Millennial Generation could turn the page on this epidemic, how can we be different, how can we take responsibility for our actions and make peace with our past to bring forth a better future for one third of American kids, how can we be better?
Named one of Variety Magazine’s ‘Top 10 Directors to Watch’, award-winning filmmaker Emily Abt does it again, with her documentary ‘Daddy Don’t Go’, where she brings awareness to a topic rarely touched.
Known for her honest approach, while honing in on projects with social themes not being addressed on the pubic sphere, her work has been hailed by publications such as The New York Times, for her undeniable passion and persistence, all the while gaining unprecedented access into worlds hidden to most.
This weekend Abt premiers a Documentary she flawlessly Directed over 2 years.
This beautiful tale of ‘Storge Love’ follows the story of 4 young men, who happen to be disadvantaged dads, trying to raise families in the boroughs of New York City. The love that she captures flows from parents towards their children, it is naturally unconditional in nature, it accepts flaws and faults, and is driven by the human scope of emotion towards forgiveness, as it is endlessly committed to the sacrifices one makes to protect those they love.
“Daddy Don’t Go” is a feature length documentary produced by Omar Epps and Malik Yoba about the struggle many Americans face everyday to beat the odds and defy the deadbeat dad stereotype, which has been hailed an epidemic. Fathers facing years of regrets, battling the stigmas attached to prison and gang culture, struggling to provide for their families, and yet going to extraordinary lengths to prevent their kids from entering the Foster Care System…
The Y Life knew this was an issue that not only faced Millennials growing up, but is being faced by Millennial parents across the nation today, who are discovering what it takes to be a parent. So we sat down with the Film’s Director Emily Abt to discover what drove her to the pursuance of sharing this story.
Emily, your directing has always maintained themes invoking social issues in our country at helm. These are vitally important issues, not being brought to light as much as many of us would like them to be… What was so important to you about the content in ‘Daddy Don’t Go’, for which you knew it was your responsibility to bring it into the public sphere?
“That is a good question. Well, there is a personal element for me, in that my own father, who was an incredible father didn’t have a father. So I always saw the parallels between a lot of guys that I was interacting with in urban communities and my own dad in that, they were basically trying really, really hard to be the fathers that they never had. And I always had such deep admiration for them, because how do you figure out how to be a great father, when you never had that role model yourself?
So that was part of the inspiration for me… The other thing is that I am definitely a feminist filmmaker, and my films in the past have featured female protagonists, so a lot of time people were confused, they are like ‘why now these dads’? Why are you as a feminist filmmaker, making a film about dads? But to me, this is actually the MOST feminist film I have ever made! I don’t feel that women can truly advance in the professional arena, unless men truly advance in the domestic one. In that, the more men embrace their role as parents and homemakers, to a certain extent, the more women can embrace their roles in the professional world.
Ultimately, that is really what I am trying to inspire, I am trying to inspire all dads, not just disadvantaged dads, but all dads, to really step-up in their parenting. And that’s not hard to do because there is this movement under way, where millions of dads out there, are so proud and outspoken about being fathers and I feel like for a long time our judicial system, our court system, has been really escalated in how it treats men.
Because I have always heard so many stories of men fighting for custody for their kids and feeling really sort of mistreated and disregarded by the court system and there is also this enduring situation where men are kind of primarily valued for their role as breadwinners in the family and that to me is also just a huge mistake. Just because a man doesn’t have stage income or just because he is really struggling to pay child support, it doesn’t mean that he can’t be an amazing father.”
During our interview Abt projects a sense of will in each and every syllable she speaks, while wholly translating that same testament into her film ‘Daddy Don’t Go’.. from the moment the nearly 2-hour documentary begins, you are immersed into the lives of these four men.. Alex, Omar, Nelson and Roy. Now they may find themselves disadvantaged at this moment in their lives, but all have one outstanding quality in common, they have stepped up to the plate when it comes to raising their children.
“We all know that currency of love and that is what kids really need, they need time with their parents and so why on earth would we cut out all of these disadvantaged parents from the equation, just because they don’t have financial resources? They can still be amazing fathers and that’s also what I was really trying to show with ‘Daddy Don’t Go’ was like, we chose men with huge problems, and huge obstacles in their lives… but, no matter what they’re consistently dedicated to their role as fathers.”
In truth that was one of the most interesting facets of the film, to me, because… everyone seems to have some relation to this issue in their lives. Many people are playing both roles in the lives of their children and you see that in this film, these men are playing the roles of MOM too because they are the care taking for these children. Then comes into play how vital other women in the lives of these men and children are, like the grandmothers, because they are always there for them. It was so interesting to see that play out on screen, in such a raw and unscripted forum.. It is an epidemic in America, where you are seeing children growing up fatherless, or motherless where the father is now the primary caretaker… I thought it was so important that you brought absent parenting to light…
“I love hearing the stories, because this film was not easy to make, we got such little funding and it took four years to make. None of the main producers or directors have been paid at all, we all had other jobs the whole time and it has really been a labor of love.
Like you saw the things that the guys go through, we went through a lot to make the film and I was always hoping that it would resonate with other people as much as it did with me, while we were making it. But honestly you never know, and so now when I hear these stories, it’s really validating for me, because yes, I feel like every family has a dad, every extended family has men in it that are kind of under appreciated and under recognized by society.
I feel like the film is really a part of this broader fatherhood movement, when we did our Kickstarter Campaign, we had 600 backers and these were all people, that we didn’t know at all… But, when people share their personal stories with me, that is when I am like, yes okay, we did something right.”
Emily, I was wondering… How did you find these particular fathers?
“We basically found dads through this amazing attorney in the Bronx, who works with a lot of disadvantaged dads; He convinced us that we should really root the film in the Bronx. He felt that he had access to a lot of the type of guys that we were looking for, but honestly casting, and I call it casting, because just like you cast a narrative film, you also have to cast a documentary and the sort of strength of your film lies with who is in it.
So we spent 6 Months trying to find these guys, and it was also very important to us that the demographics of our subjects would serve an accurate reflection of the issue itself… So for example to find, Roy a caucasian father, because we definitely didn’t want people to watch the film and say, this is just a problem that African American and Latinos deal with, we actually spent the longest time looking for Roy. We wanted to also tell the story of an ex-offender, so when we met Roy he was both white and an ex-offender, and we said perfect.”
I was just going to ask you about Roy, because it was interesting to me that he was an ex-offender, and as we followed his journey on how hard it was for him to get a job the film takes us in another little direction, adding an additional little spice to the Documentary… How hard is it for these men who have been jailed, to find jobs and support of family or a child, when they get out? Y is it so important of us to speak openly about this issue?
“It’s part of a larger issue in the film that we tried to highlight, a bunch of different ways, which is the issue of unemployment. Basically in New York City, you can’t tell the story of disadvantaged dads, without also touching on employment, because the two just go hand in hand. In New York City 50% of African American men are unemployed and it’s a huge problem in this country. I am personally an advocate for work programs, because if you get a guy, who is usually a father, a decent stable job, then a lot of other problems go away!
Unemployment is certainly linked to incarceration, you know lack of opportunity, etc. As Nelson [one of the men featured in the film] says himself, I can go out and get easy money, you know he is referring to drug dealing and that kind of stuff, that is a constant temptation for these guys, when they can’t find decent work.
I think the going sentiment among many Americans is like, well you know anybody can get a job, you just have to try hard, they say ‘you know McDonalds is always hiring’. I have NOT found that to be true. I have met so many men in New York City, that would love any kind of job… I am not talking a fancy job, I am talking shipping/ receiving work, mail room stuff, janitorial… they would do whatever and they can’t get those jobs. Because MCDonalds doesn’t want to hire you, if you don’t have teeth or if you don’t have your GED. That’s another thing, because our public school system is so terrible and there isn’t a lot of accountability, a lot of the guys don’t have GED’s. For many jobs even service jobs that’s a minimum.
So it’s hard for some of these guys to get jobs, and then if they have any kind of criminal background, then its like a fatal blow; Ex-offenders really struggle to find employment. That is just such a sad thing, because it’s like if you’ve done your time and you are returning back to society, I feel like we should let these guys actually rejoin society and part of that, is being part of the workforce.”
I followed, by wondering if anything is being done about the unemployment issue…
“I am very happy because in New York, there is a recent thing that happened, where there is a sort of movement called, ‘Ban The Box’, and when you apply for a job, there is this little box on the job application that says, “Have you ever committed a felony?” and believe me, if you check that box, you are not getting called back. Luckily that has gone away in New York, so I am hoping that, that helps these guys find employment.”
Before we wrapped up our conversation with Emily, I just had to know… She captured these stories over two years, filming these men and their families day in and day out, and it was a very tough journey, where there were highs and lows documented in the art of parenting itself, aside from just in their lives, just in their journey as being parents, and being single parents at that, in a lot of the cases…
Yet, FAMILY was an ideological continuum strewn throughout Abt’s story, it was strung along as part of her un- scripted Documentary script… Y was Family and the value of Family, so important to you, to make sure you incorporated it into the Documentary?
Was it because these men value family almost more than anything else…
“I think FAMILY is everything, you know? And I don’t mean family in a traditional sense, like we all define it differently, some people call their neighbor and their best friend family, and that social family is more of a family than the biological one they were raised with.
People define family differently, but an individual’s family, whatever that may be to them specifically, whether it is their children, their spouse or their neighbor and their best friend.. THAT is an individuals support network. And THAT is our main source of LOVE, and everybody needs that, everybody needs THAT! It was really moving, because THAT was something that I witnessed throughout the production of ‘Daddy Don’t Go’.”
And perspective is precisely what you will gain after watching this film, Love is exactly THAT which will grow in your hearts for these fathers and their children, and it is absolutely a MUST watch Documentary Film. “Daddy Don’t Go” premieres at the DOC NYC Film Festival this weekend… CLICK Here to Purchase Tickets or visit “Daddy Don’t Go” on Facebook
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14
SVA THEATRE – 333 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17
BOW TIE CHELSEA THEATRE – 260 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011