Review: Accidental Dad by Joshua McDowell

★★★★½ Accidental Dad by Joshua McDowell

A deeply personal and thorough perspective on life as a single father.

Every established system has its persistent flaws, regardless of how often or eagerly they’re pointed out. In Accidental Dad, Joshua McDowell presents his case against the treatment of single fathers in a tangled system seemingly designed to make them fail. McDowell takes readers through his story from start to finish, where he successfully joined the small percentage (6-11%) of single fathers who fought for custody and actually won. He offers this unique perspective in an unadulterated form, revealing his intimate details of teenage fatherhood, the pain of accusations and doubts, the loss of innocence, the swelling of fatherly pride, and the deep-seated frustration with a system he claims is largely biased against paternal custody.

 From the heartfelt and brutally honest Acknowledgements section, we see McDowell laying himself bare, which prepares us for his vivid, sincere accounts of life as a teenager with a child of his own. The adult voice of the author, however, peppers in facts, statistics, and anecdotes that provide depth and context for the story of his youth, and the deeper we go into the book, the more we begin to understand both the author and the underlying societal issues he’s trying to explain. While this book is largely directed at the struggles of single fathers, it is also an indictment of a country plagued by broken homes, faulty welfare systems, and a general lack of support from authorities to ensure the safety and protection of individuals and families, regardless of age, marital status, or wealth.

The level of sentimentality between the chapters switches drastically at times, with some relying on the power of a contributor’s story, and others delving deeper into his personal struggles and successes as a young father. At times, there are moments of “Woe is me,” but the personal accounts that he and others share are powerful and undeniable. In other words, he puts his proof where his prose is. Whenever the narrative flow begins to lean towards opinions or personal diatribes, hard facts and statistics bring the reader back to center, and we realize that this is far more than a personal story, but a clarion call for change that could affect hundreds of thousands of people, both now and into the future.

The book shifts from personal memoir to proffered advice about halfway through, with great tips and strategies for handling courts and judges, financial obstacles, and “mothers’ dirty tricks”. This is far from a how-to guide though; it is a behind-the-scenes confessional, legal advice handbook, and a motivational speech all rolled into one, making it very hard to put down. Like binge-watching a new television show, every chapter brings us deeper into McDowell’s life, and more invested in how his story will eventually play out.

While the advice and insight McDowell provides might not be useful for every reader, this book is ultimately about belief: the belief that good men can change a broken system if they work together, that societal assumptions can be shifted, and that the love between a father and his child can overcome any obstacles. Overall, McDowell writes with compassion and engaging sincerity, while still delivering a useful and professionally-penned guide to life as a single father.


Accidental Dad

Review Overview