It is love, not sperm, that makes a great dad.
In a medium-sized city in the Midwest, there’s a boy who will turn 13 next month. He lives with his parents, who were wed three months before he was born. He is tall, with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. His name is Alastair*, and he may – or may not – be my son. More on that in a moment.
No woman ever wonders if she’s a mother or not. (Egg donors are one possible exception.) But as the Casey Anthony trial vividly reminded us, it’s possible for a woman to be unsure about the identity of her baby’s father. And even more possible for a man to be entirely unaware that he’s a father – or to be unaware that the child he thinks is his is biologically another man’s.
No. Not that I know of, anyway.
That clichéd exchange has become a standard part of first-date conversation. When I was single, I got that question and gave that answer many times. I eventually stopped saying it, not because I had received hard evidence about my reproductive status, but because a woman I was dating called me out on it. “God”, she said, “you guys always say that. It’s such an obvious and cheesy way to show off that you’ve slept around. You think you’re being sly, but it’s just juvenile.”
That cured me of the habit, but to judge from what I hear from my friends, there are plenty of men of all ages still offering that same reply. And while for some it may indeed be a not-so-subtle way of hinting at a promiscuous past, for others it may reflect a sincere acknowledgment of the very real possibility that they’ve fathered a child. In my case, I have very real grounds for uncertainty.
Fourteen autumns ago, I was casually dating a woman I’ll call Jill*. We had unprotected intercourse a handful of times in late October and early November. And just before Thanksgiving, Jill discovered she was pregnant.
She didn’t tell me until after New Year’s Day. While Jill and I had been in a “friends with benefits” arrangement, she’d also been growing more serious about another man, Ted.* She’d first slept with him for the first time two nights before she had last slept with me. It was that week that Jill got pregnant, and as she would later tell me, there was no way to know for sure which one of us was the father.
But there was no question which one of us was a better bet as a romantic partner. Jill had broken things off with me as soon as she and Ted had decided on an exclusive relationship (just before she found out she was pregnant.) Ted was several years older than I was, professionally and emotionally stable, and clearly falling in love with Jill. I was drinking, partying, with some time to go before I’d hit my rock bottom. Jill wanted to be a mom. Ted wanted to be a dad. I wasn’t sure what I wanted. In her mind, these facts settled it: the baby was Ted’s. Or it needed to be Ted’s.
They got engaged at Christmas, and were married in May 1998. Their son was born in August, and a few months later, the new little family moved out of state. I haven’t seen her, or Ted, or Alastair in over a decade. Except for a half-dozen short emails in the past few years, Jill and I have had no contact.
Jill never told Ted that she’d been sleeping with someone else the week their son was conceived. Ted and I were both about the same height with the same fair skin and the same pale blue eyes; she knew that without a DNA test, there’d be no sure way to know which one of us was the biological father. But there was a sure way to know which one of us was “dad material”, and which one of us wasn’t. Jill was clear that she preferred everlasting uncertainty to the possibility of discovering that her Ted was not her son’s father. As the one who carried Alastair in her womb, it was her choice to make.
I made a promise to Jill before Alastair was born that I’d never ask for a paternity test, nor reveal to Ted the possibility that I might be the biological father of his son. I wasn’t in love with Jill and wasn’t ready to be a parent: Ted was both of those things. From what little I hear, he’s been a great husband and a doting father all these years. He and Jill have had two more sons together. With all that in mind, it would be an act of destructive narcissism on my part to ever break my promise and barge back into Jill’s life.
I won’t lie and say I don’t wonder sometimes about this boy who will become a teen next month. But I’ve wondered far less since becoming a father to my own daughter in 2009. My role in Heloise’s conception was brief (but, um, not that brief); my roles as a devoted husband to her mother and a doting papa to her are my most treasured and important tasks. If I were to discover that I was not my daughter’s biological dad, I’d be hurt by my wife’s deception – but Heloise would be no less my daughter. (I have no reason to suspect otherwise, of course.) Fathering has everything to do with being present after conception and after birth, and very little with providing the sperm to fertilize an egg. Regardless of what a paternity test would reveal, I am still my daughter’s dad – and in every meaningful sense, Ted is Alastair’s.
I only met this boy who might be my son once, when he was just eight weeks old. Ted and Jill were getting ready to move to the Midwest, and she and I met for coffee so that we could say goodbye. For a host of reasons I’m not sure I fully understand, she wanted me to meet Alastair, and I was eager to see him. I rocked him in my arms and smelled his baby smell. I studied his blue eyes and fine hair. Jill and I sipped our lattés and chatted; Alastair fell asleep in his baby carrier. After an hour, his mama kissed me on the cheek and I pressed my lips against his forehead. I said goodbye to my friend and her son and walked away with tears in my eyes. I’ve never seen so much as a photograph of Alastair since.
The specifics of human reproduction mean that men may have children of whose existence they are unaware, and they may unwittingly raise as their own children conceived with another man’s sperm. But women have it harder, and not only in terms of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. It is Jill, not I, who carries the burden of an unresolved question through her relationship with her husband and her first-born son. Perhaps that weight has become so light that she’s forgotten it altogether. I hope so.
I may or may not be Alastair’s biological father. I may or may not have other children “out there.” These uncertainties that I know many men share are part of the cost of a habit of unprotected heterosexual intercourse. But the solution to the problem isn’t suspicion or frantic demands for paternity tests, Jerry Springer style. The solution isn’t even the rigorous use of contraception (though that’s a very good idea.)
The solution is to remember that it is love, not sperm, that makes a great dad.
Being a brood parasite is way to go. You extend your lineage without commiting any of the resources to your offspring. And you even get to spouthow biology isn’t important to keep hosts in line to spend their resources on your offspring. Sounds like a way to live.
I agree with Hugo here. Just because you’re not the biological parent does not mean that you’re not the real parent. A woman who lies about paternity in order to secure the husband she wants is not “wrong”, because the husband she chooses, regardless if he is the father, can still learn to love the child. And it goes both ways. Say I have an affair with my secretary at work and get her pregnant. I ultimately wind up with custody of the child. What kind of wife, or woman, would divorce me or refuse to raise the child, just… Read more »
What ever happened to not screwing around? Chastity, FTW!
So you’re endorsing cuckolding? You sick man.
I firmly believe that, in order for Hugo to have deceived Ted the way he did, and to continue to believe that what he did was perfectly OK, there must be some serious physical brain damage present. Hugo’s brain has something physically, pathologically wrong with it such that much of Hugo’s dysfunctional attitude and behavior can exist in the first place. That said, I have absolutely no sympathy for him because he has hurt more people than the other way around. We can only hope that his life will be chronologically shortened as a result of this brain damage which… Read more »
Whatever happened to just calling someone an asshole or condemning their actions? Why must everything be some armchair diagnosis? He’s a sociopath, she’s mentally unstable, he has some damage to his brain. Oh really, is that your professional, medical opinion? I don’t know if and what is wrong with Hugo’s brain, because I’m not a neuroscientist, and I don’t have any information about Hugo’s brain. It’s also not required. I’m not going to judge a person’s moral character based on their schizophrenia or their psychopathy any more than I would judge them on their diabetes. I would also argue that… Read more »
Easy there, Al, I’m on YOUR side. I, too, think that Hugo is an asshole, and his behavior certainly reflects that. I just wanted to add the extra suggested stigma of brain damage as a further means of discrediting him from functional society. Your mileage may differ. Another point I’d like to bring up, is that back in 2006, I posted on one of his blogs about my (failed) attraction to younger women (which he criticizes to no end), and he had no sympathy for me. Another man came to my defense and called Hugo an asshole for showing no… Read more »
I don’t fault you for your intentions, after all it’s hard to fault someone for agreeing with you. But here is the problem: “I just wanted to add the extra suggested stigma of brain damage as a further means of discrediting him from functional society.” Now, I’de imagine your not in support of the stigmatization of the mentally ill, rather this was just your colorful way of calling Hugo an asshole. So what’s my problem with this? Well in discussions of morality and moral condemnation, emotions tend to run high, and people tend to make fast, reactionary moral condemnations and… Read more »
This entire article is nothing more than papering over a despicable act with Dr. Phil style nonsense. It is Ted who is raising this kid, it is Ted who is devoting his time, love and resources to this kid, not Hugo, and so it is Ted who deserves to know his biological relation to this kid. I happen to share Hugo’s opinion, I don’t think my lack of a biological relation to the children I may raise would be important to me. I also happen to understand that many men may feel differently about this myself. I understand that a… Read more »
This is soo evil article. I mean the woman was lying to Ted all the time — she was into serious relationship with him while at the same time sleeping with other guy. She lied to him probably, simply by not revealing that the child would not be his. If he will ever find out, it would probably destroy his life. The cuckoldry is one of the greatest fears males face. Pretending that it’s ok to lie to Ted is a female equivalent to saying that it is OK to rape drunken girls. It is NOT OK. I’m shocked that… Read more »
I feel really sorry for the guy. Revealing the truth would destroy him now, but this should never have happened in the first place. I don’t think that this is a “wonderful article” at all, it’s evil.
…. At eight weeks I’m betting she knew and now knows exactly who the father is/was and she gave you every opportunity to speak up and stand up…. And you blew it.
And she knew this, how? Divine guidance? If she was having sex with two different men of the week during conception, then she could very well have no idea which man is the biological father.
But would you say that it then is her ethical responsibility to find out whom of those two is the father? That knowledge is obtainable. It’s just wrong to arbitrarily choose one based on her personal preference of who she would prefer to be the father of the two candidates.
That is a tricky question. On the one hand, I am all for fathers having more legal rights in custody battles, and I’m all for men having some sort of opt out option (where they give up both their responsibility and rights) as a parent. If the author disagreed enough with her decision, he should have some form of legal recourse. Also, in an ideal world, people would be freaking responsible about this sort of thing, and they’d discuss what the plan will be if a woman becomes unintentionally pregnant…and they’d have this discussion before ever having sex. On the… Read more »
According to you, what was this woman’s responsibility to tell the truth to her child and to the man who she chose to be her child’s father? I think it would take about 2 seconds for a normal person to ask themselves this question after thinking about this conundrum and then see a problem with this woman’s actions. It’s really bizarre to me that you seem to be in favor of men having an opt-out, but you haven’t thought about the right that the other man had to learn that he might not even be the father and should definitely… Read more »
A problem, yes, but not quite the malicious act your comment seems to imply.
“That man has been raising a child for 20 years that might not be his.”
Except that now the kid is his. Biology does not make a child yours, or not yours. As I said, ideally everyone would be upfront and honest about this sort of thing before actually having sex. The responsible thing to do is to tell the truth, certainly. But 20 years later, it’s mute.
The child is his emotionally, but don’t you think it’s something of a breach of trust to have someone raise a kid that isn’t theirs?
When it happens (people ending up raising other people’s kids) due to mixups in IVF clinics and maternity wards theres hell to pay, its recognised as having an emotional impact. Shouldn’t the same be true of someone who is duped into thinking a child is biologically theirs when it isn’t?
I think it’s a breach of trust, certainly. I also think that it shouldn’t happen, and everyone should be honest about such things, yes. The difference, for my mind, between when it happens at an IVF clinic and when it happens between individuals, is that I think we should hold companies to a higher standard and that we should, as a society, perhaps be more forgiving of individuals who screw up. I’m all for very closely regulating companies…I’m not for closely regulating individuals. Keep in mind that I’m coming at this from the exact opposite direction of any straight/bi guy.… Read more »
Maybe it’s that lady-logic again. Rewind the tape back to 13-15 years and ago and yourself, what is the mother’s responsibility towards telling the truth to potential fathers of her child? Does it become less important the longer that she keeps lying about it? Or was it never important to tell the truth and let the man accused of being the father get a test and make up his own mind? You seem to have absolutely no problem with a woman lying to her man and her child for decades. How would you feel if the child found out later… Read more »
“Maybe it’s that lady-logic again.”
Woah. Way to shut the conversation down.
You had already shut it down a while ago, to be perfectly fair. The kind of blatant excuse-making is unnerving. Do you not realize that men read this? As in, people who have to in turn trust women to do the right thing? If a sizable portion of women think that it’s “no big deal” to lie to men about being a father, then women simply shouldn’t be trusted and their reasoning is faulted. This fits the term “lady-logic” perfectly, as it is only women who are able to get pregnant and lie to fathers about the baby.
It’s a great topic and would have been an even better story if you were raising this child. The notion someone else is paying your debt for perhaps your action or actions and the burden is on the mothers, is silly and naive. You may have been dreaming for the last thirteen years about a child that is not even yours. You made a promise you should have never made and here you are writing stories about it. I’m pretty sure the child got the better deal.
“Do you have any kids?
No. Not that I know of, anyway.”
I have always verified I have no children, just in case there was an “oops pregnancy” after a relationship I was in was ended. As for being tricked into paternity, get a DNA test. Bypass the mother’s consent if she’s being obstructive.
I don’t understand how you can justify tricking another man into believing that a child that may or may not be his is definitely his. You’re a bad person, any way you slice it.
Get over yourself!
You should get a “Father of the year” award. HAHA
Curiosity drove me to this site and was merely lurking, but this article stood out. This situation happens quite often actually, a woman has sex with two guys around the time of conception. One guy is older and well off, the other is enjoying life yet uncertain of his future. She gets pregnant and chooses the stable guy to raise “her” child. Now you can replace the enjoying life guy with another who’s unpopular/average joe/nerdy/low-pay/etc but it fits the mold. If I know I may of knocked a woman up, I’d like to know if the baby was mine and… Read more »
The notion that the woman is always going to choose the older, more stable partner is old-fashioned at this point. Modern women don’t behave much differently than men in this regard and if latching on to a younger man is possible, I’d argue that it’s just as likely she’ll swing in that direction. Hooking up with a younger man has exactly the same appeal as a younger woman does for us males and the State will support (literally) any choice that any woman makes these days.
Dude if Jill, Ted or Alastair (whatever their real names are) read this article, they’re gonna know, man…
This is not about fatherhood being born out of love, this is fatherhood being born out of lies. I Jill lied to Ted and, even worse, she is lying to her child. Doesn’t she knows that the most damaging thing you can do to a child is lying? and the big problem when relationships are built over lies is that sooner or later when the truth comes out, everything crumbles downs. This wasn’t a decision made thinking about the child’s benefit, this was a decision made to take advatage over one person and it is not right. Also, Hugo says… Read more »
Wonderful article, Hugo! You told a complex and difficult story in a very honest, humble and fascinating way. Your story is a brilliant example of how much “real life” (“Life as it is”) and “imaginary life” (“Life as it should be”) can be so dramatically different. And there’s no amount of “imaginary life” that can mend real life troubles. Sometimes there’s no “best choice”… sometimes you can just choose “the lesser evil”, and I think Jill did just that. Your article is very good food for thought, if one just suspends the urge to judge (and his/her own projections). Being… Read more »
Irregardless of how you feel about all of this (and most everyone seems to hate it), this struck me as kind of a modern problem. 100 years ago, Jill would have picked who would be the best husband/father for her and her baby, that would have been that, and life would have carried on. Without DNA, blood types, etc… to worry about, I wonder if she would have given it a second thought back then?
Just wondering, too… if Ted sees this, will he be suspicious? Or if Alistair, or Heloise sees it one day?
Notice how Jill has the least amount of culpability possible without eliminating the story altogether. 1. There was minimal overlap in the period when she was encouraging two men to inseminate her 2. She really didn’t/doesn’t know who the father is 3. She stopped boning two men once she agreed exclusivity with one of them 4. She agreed to take the relationship with Ted to the next level (by agreeing to exclusivity) before she found out she was pregnant. It wasn’t a coldly calculated move at all. Lol. All this from the woman who has shown herself capable of carrying… Read more »
So the general concept here is that because the guy never found out, even though finding out would probably horrify him owing to evolutionary and cultural programing, it’s all good.
With this kind of logic it would be acceptable to rape an unconscious woman, as long as you used a condom and made sure you didn’t have any transferrable venereal disease. I mean, as long as she doesn’t wake up she doesn’t know anything ever happened? So it’s ok right? No harm no foul?
This is a dreadful awful story, that this woman should deceive her husband this way and you are in cahoots with her shocks the conscience. The fact that this child might be yours and you care little about the truth boggles the mind. Either this article is an intentionally provocative piece to create discussion or simply an veiled attempt to tote the idea amongst men that fatherhood has nothing to do with genetics, an idea that would further the agenda of some politically motivated groups. The whole of human societal structure has been influenced fundamentally since prehistory to ensure certainty… Read more »
Hugo you never disappoint me. Your articles are always so full of the most insane man hating rationalizations that they are always entertaining. Your moral compass is so far off that you shared this appalling story thinking you would get sympathy. I wonder how does it feel to have the internet confirm to you that you are a complete douche-bag?
ps. In more civilized times, an admission like yours would get you rightfully castrated. Too bad.
One simple thing for any man worried about this sort of thing – get a paternity test. You can buy them for about $100-$200. It only requires a mouth swab from the father and child, post the swabs back and wait a few days for the results. At least it would put your mind at rest one way or the other.
Hurry though. The feminists will try and outlaw them and categorise seeking the truth as a form of abuse and affront to their ‘rights’.
Paternity tests. “The feminists will try and outlaw them and categorise seeking the truth as a form of abuse and affront to their ‘rights’.”
Too late. Already illegal in Great Britain unless court ordered.
Look for that legal concept to be coming soon to the state you live in.
Jesus… F__k that. We need to fight back.
Morrisfactor – not true. You can buy paternity testing kits in the UK, and UK law merely requires that you obtain consent before removing someone’s tissue for DNA analysis (for any purpose). If a child isn’t competent to give consent, only the consent of a person (not all people) with parental responsibility for them is required.
Oh, and e.g. http://www.boots.com/en/Assuredna-DNA-Test-for-Paternity_1154716/
Yeah, so all you have to do is get the permission of the person who knows, and who may stand to lose income from the answer. Nope, no incentive for her to refuse to allow it…and DEFINITELY no chance the man will be knowingly forced to pay for another man’s child.
After all, a cheek swab is SO invasive, and she wouldn’t want to put the children through all that!
…or lose the ‘support’ cash.
No, you have to get the permission of the person whose DNA it is i.e. the child. If they can’t give permission (e.g. too young to understand the idea), and you have parental responsibility for them (which is somewhat elaborately defined across various pieces of legislation, but if you are a “father” questioning the paternity of a child you’ve been told is yours, there’s a good chance you have it), you don’t need anyone else’s permission.
To clarify (note that IANAL), I’m referring the type of case originally discussed – where someone who has been raising a child as their own starts to have doubts about paternity. If instead you simply receive a maintenance claim for a child you have not been involved with then you probably won’t have the right to test their DNA if they are not competent to give permission as you don’t have the necessary parental responsibility. But you may well be able to have a test as part of the maintenance dispute process. In any case, this is somewhat peripheral to… Read more »
I think PQ clarifies things for the UK – If I’m a parent, I have a right to take a mouth swab of my child and get it tested – we’re not talking about a biopsy here! It’s less invasive than brushing their teeth.
This was a very important article. It and a rebuttal should be mandatory reading for every high school male.
Furthermore, it demonstrates the necessity of mandatory paternity testing laws on a State level.