Here’s a story that’s been sitting on my desktop for a long time. On some level, I’m just not sure what to make of it–what it tells us about the nature of fatherhood. It’s about an RV that tools around NYC with the words “Who’s Your Daddy” emblazoned on the side. It offers on the spot DNA testing to establish paternity.
Compare the two stories that are featured early on. Think about what this tells us about what it means to bea father.
In the first, a man who has clearly been deeply involved in a child’s life–who is clearly committed to the child–learns, to his horror, that he is not genetically related to the boy. It’s tragic that this knowledge would fundamentally alter his relationship to the child. Isn’t that relationship–five years in–based on something far more than strands of chromosomes? I cannot help but think (although I’ll grant you I know very little about the case) that he is truly the only father the boy has ever known.
It’s true that he has learned something that might seriously undermine his relationship with the boy’s mother–she was unfaithful to him, she lied to him. I get that he may feel betrayed. But should this information destroy his relationship with the boy? To be fair, I don’t know that it will. There’s nothing to tell us that. But I worry.
Then there’s the second story–a 20-year-old and a 44-year-old discovered that they were gentically father/daughter. She’d been looking for the man for a long time.
Now I think it is great that she found him. I think it wonderful that they can have contact and develop a relationship. Obviously this is something they both want and I wish them well. But when she says “you’re my father” what does that tell us about what it means to be a father? Is it really just strings of chromosomes.
It’s this underlying assumption–that DNA testing shows us some truth about who is the father of the child–that really disturbs me. Of course it does show you the truth about who is the genetic father. But people here aren’t using that modifier–they’re talking “this is the father.” I know that’s not a legal description–I think it is a social description.
And that bothers me. It suggests that being a social father isn’t about the time you spend, the love you give, the support you offer. It’s just about genes. It’s no particular effort. It’s a fact that exists and will continue to exist whether you invest in the relationship with the child or not.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all fathers are merely genetic relatives–plenty are involved and committed and deeply loving. But the many who has never before met his 20 year old daughter seems to count just as much as a father–maybe even more–as the man who has the boy’s face tattooed on his chest. And that, it seems to me, is wrong.
I’d like to see the category “father”–as used in a social sense–mean something more. I’d like to see it be about taking responsibility, investing, being there. I don’t think the “Who’s Your Daddy” truck brings out the best in us. “““““““““““““““““““““““““`