This article explores the “deadbeat dad” – fathers short on child support payments – as a contemporary figure originating in the Reagan era. It questions risks that were morally redirected in the 1980s, addressed towards particular groups of fathers and their relatives. After setting the question in relation to contemporary masculinity studies, the author brings “deadbeat dads” in line with the history of indebtedness and default. By scrutinizing how the claim to secure single mothers’ alimony was integrated into a neoconservative project and the state’s retreat from welfare in the United States, the paper analyses TV newscasts displaying the prosecution of delinquent fathers publicly. Adopting a discourse-analytical perspective, the author sketches out how the figure of the male breadwinner resonated in claims for economic and biological responsibility that were revived in the Reagan years. Exemplified by the context of the current case of Walter Scott, the contemporary history of child support debtors demonstrates how black fathers do not only face a higher risk of becoming victims of police violence, but also how ascribing default to African American fathers tied irresponsibility to black masculinity.