In some curious coincidence two recent posts have featured the similar scenarios. And so, of course, I’ve been thinking.
There’s that Maryland case where one man—William Corbett–was willing to acknowledge a child and be the child’s father–as long as the DNA tests came out that way. At the same time another man–Thomas Mulligan–was happy to accept the role as father even though it was nearly certain that he was genetically unrelated to the child.
There’s a somewhat similar set of facts in the article about pre-natal paternity testing. Courtney Herndon was pregnant and there were two different men who might have been responsible for the pregnancy–her ex-boyfriend and a friend she’d had some sort of fling with. The friend wanted to know if he was the genetic father and indeed, it turned out he was. But Herndon ended up marrying her ex-boyfriend and he’s the one actually raising the child (while the genetic father pays child support.)
So here’s what I’ve been thinking about–suppose you have two potential candidates for legal father of a child. One man says “I will be the father of the child (by which he means I will take on the myriad of responsibilities) if and only if the DNA shows that I am genetically related to that child.” The other man says “I’ll be the father of the child (same meaning) no matter what the DNA shows. I don’t care.” Should we prefer one or the other of these men? Do we need to do the DNA test?
I know it will make many of you quite unhappy, but I’m strongly inclined to go with the second man–the one who will be there no matter what. He’s offering an unconditional undertaking. He’s sufficiently invested in the relationship with the mother and in the project of raising the child so that the detail of DNA isn’t all that important any more.
By contrast, the other man’s offer is conditional–he’s not that committed to the project, he’s not that committed to the relationship with the mother. He’s quite willing to walk, depending on the outcome of the DNA test. It’s possible that if the DNA test matches up with him he’ll be all in, but we don’t know that. And suppose–just suppose–that a year later it turns out the DNA test was done improperly and he’s not really genetically related? Does he walk then? There’s reason to think he might. But this possiblity suggests to me he’s not really in it to be a father–in the social/pscyhological sense of the word.
You all know I’m not a huge fan of DNA and there’s something here that ties into why. Either the DNA is there or it is not. And so either you’re a father or not. There’s no need to work at it–and indeed, working at it cannot change the outcome. It makes parentage too simple, too easy. It’s not about commitment and dedication–it’s just about genetics.
I have only just started to think about this and I don’t have it properly formulated yet–but I wanted to get a start. I need to stop and head for the airport soon–but on a long flight there’s lots of time to think.