A memoir offers a case for altering how U.S. courts view single fathers.
The latest book from McDowell (The Tools You Need to Be Successful, 2010), a mixture of personal anecdotes and social study, examines the world of single fathers in American society and in the U.S. legal system. Both are heavily freighted in favor of mothers in any kind of custody disagreement. The author takes up the cause of the “accidental dad,” single fathers caught up in a legal bureaucracy that seldom looks on them with sympathy and, in an overwhelming number of cases, ignores their claims for caregiving or even simple access to their own children. McDowell, himself the child of a fatherless home after the death of his dad, spent seven years battling in court to gain custody of his son, and his book recounts his turmoil and triumphs with a great deal of pathos. He buttresses his account with some statistics about the legal system’s bias against fathers, but he’s also willing to indulge in melodrama to heighten his point, portraying Missy, the mother of his son, as the manipulative and vengeful villain of the story. The purpose of his book, he writes, is to help fathers who are seeking to “gain or improve” their custody arrangements. He admits that many aspects of his tale aren’t encouraging; his own situation, filled equally with good intentions and a criminal record, often functions as a worst-case scenario. The powerful book is unsentimentally straightforward (“When my son was younger, I refused to marry his mom, so she automatically got custody,” he writes at one point. “What’s wrong with this picture?”). But it’s simultaneously very successful in engaging the reader’s emotions as the narrative follows McDowell through the dramatic twists and turns in his quest to gain full custody of his son. This heartfelt emotional content is supplemented by hard-won practical advice on navigating the U.S. court system.
A sobering and ultimately effective personal manifesto for changing American child custody procedures.