Within the past week, on consecutive days, there were two interesting articles in the New York Times sports section. They’re especially interesting if you take them together.
Both are about sports figures who are also parents. The first article is about Travis Henry, a professional football player, who has had nine children with nine different women. (There’s also an accompanying short bit about his lawyer, that notes some other similar situations with sports figures.) The second article is about Brynn Cameron, a female college basketball player who is the single mother of a two year old.
There’s a part of me that thinks I should just stop writing here and say “See?” I mean, isn’t there something pretty obvious here. This is gender compounded. First (and less importantly), because a female sports figure and a male sports figure typically exist in different worlds. Second, and for my purposes, far more importantly, because sex/gender matters when it comes to parenthood. Even the most sensationally successful female sports figure isn’t going to be the mother of nine children, each conceived with a different man.
That, I think, is just a reflection of biology. Giving birth to nine children means being pregnant for years and that’s got to cut into your sports career. By contrast, providing the sperm for nine children doesn’t require missing a single game.
But the differences go far beyond biology, which is why I want to talk about gender as well as sex. Consider the two stories told by these articles.
Cameron is a mother. Being a mother has shaped her life, changed her routines and her priorities. Her child lives with her. She is a present and active parent.
Now having nine children has also shaped Henry’s life, but primarily in ways that have to do with support obligations. It’s not clear what kind of actual relationship he has with these kids, apart from “blood.” Does he see them? Does he spend time with them? This, apparently, is not the point. The point is that he is obliged to support them all.
Their stories about how the ended up where they are now are also starkly different. Henry was, by his account, entrapped into parenthood. Women took advantage of him. Cameron’s tale is quite different–a typical story of young love, an unintended pregnancy, and then figuring out what do to next.
I’m not sure there’s a greater point here, and perhaps there does not need to be one. Gender matters so much on so many levels.
I do wonder if it is helpful to label Henry as the father of all these children. I’m not suggesting he should not bear financial responsibility–I’d take that as a separate question. And I do not mean that the kids shouldn’t know who he is and what his connection to them is. But I find it hard to imagine that he can effectively be a real parent to these children. Yet if he occupies the space of “father” then they are less likely to have some other truly effective parent. I realize that it saves these kids from being fatherless, but truly, is this kind of father so much better than that?