Thoughts on fatherhood

I was interested to see this take on whether men should be required to financially support their biological children, even though they don’t have the same choice women have about ending a pregnancy or placing a child for adoption.  Legally, their decision-making ends with insemination.

I worry that this policy creates bad outcomes not only for fathers, but for mothers and children.  I can’t find data, but folk wisdom among domestic violence workers is that domestic violence often increases during pregnancy.  I’ve worked with multiple women who say they lost pregnancies to partners’ violence.  One of them said that after her injuries, she can never bear another child.

I have no way of knowing what was going through those men’s minds, but I wonder if it had to do with 18 years of child support payments. I wonder if some legal way of shrugging off responsibility would have prevented them taking matters into their own hands.

On the non-violent side, I’ve seen a couple of fathers come in for refusing to pay child support.  Both of them said they had the money, but preferred to spend a month in jail.  One of them explained, “I know she’d just spend it on cigarettes.”  (For his own safety, it’s good he said that to me and not to any of my colleagues who are single mothers.)

I’ve also seen paternal behavior that was heartwarming rather than horrifying.  The two men who I’ve heard question the paternity of their children did not want this to change their relationship to the child.  One of them described his routine with his daughter: getting her ready in the morning, taking her to school.  “I’m not even on the birth certificate,” he said sadly.  “She might not even be mine.  But she’s still my daughter.”

Yes, it’s a small sample, and maybe a biased one.  Men who go into a murderous rage or daytime-television-style celebration upon learning their babies aren’t their babies are unlikely to talk to me about it.  But it still makes me question claims by people like Robin Hanson that paternity tests should be required.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on fatherhood

  1. robinhanson

    I agree that if we suspect that if we require too much payment from biological fathers, without giving them enough control, that questions the wisdom of requiring paternity tests.

    1. Julia Post author

      I’m also not sure whether it would serve the men who didn’t want to know that their socially acknowledged children weren’t biologically theirs. If they want to be fathers, and their partners get pregnant, it may be a convenient fiction for everyone involved.



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