As is so often the case, today’s New York Times Style section has an interesting article about trends in parenthood. You can read it here. The main point (though really, it is worth reading the whole article) is that increasing numbers of men are becoming single fathers by choice. These are men who are and expect to remain single, or at least, have no immediate plans to couple-up. They are also men who have taken affirmative steps to become parents–not men who become fathers via unintended pregnancies. Thus, these men have either employed surrogates or are adopting kids.
The article interests me for several reasons. First and probably most obvious, the very existence of the topic is a tribute to the gendered nature of parenting . The whole point is that this is about unmarried men deciding to raise children. For years there have been vast numbers of stories about unmarried women raising children–a la Murphy Brown. And of course, there’s been accompanying debate about the social and psychological consequences of unmarried motherhood.
In many ways, the standard story presented in the paper parallels that told about unmarried women who choose to become married. These men want to become parents, they have not found the right partner, but they are otherwise ready and able. But it is also very different.
The strong desire for parenthood is a well known and well-accepted attribute of the publicly- imagined female psyche. Girls playing with dolls, the ticking biological clock and all that. It’s not so prominent a part of the male psyche. Of course most people would acknowledge that many men want to have children. But having children–being a parent–is a much bigger part of what we think women should be are or preoccupied with. So the very fact that men are coming forward and professing such a strong desire for parenthood is striking.
Then there is the fact (twice noted, I think) that a disproportionate number of the single fathers by choice are gay. In some way that hardly seems surprising. Gay men, after all, are often thought to be insufficiently masculine. So you could see the (feminine) desire for children as entirely consistent with the blurry gender identity of gay men. Or perhaps with gay men’s greater willingness to step outside the ordinary gender roles.
at least one other explanation also occurs to me, though. Gay men who want to become parents are already familiar with avenues like adoption and surrogacy. Information and support for these options is widely available in gay male communities. And these paths are not entirely dependent on being with someone. Thus, gay men may more readily come to think about going it alone. By contrast, heterosexual men may think of parenthood as something they were always planning to do with the right woman and may be less quick to think that they can actually manage it without one.
Overall, the story leads me to think about what it will mean in the world if there are a significant number of men choosing single parenthood. That’s something I suppose I can ponder another day.