Thursday, October 23, 2008

Opting out of fatherhood

A friend of mine brought up an interesting conversation in her own blog: Should a man be able to opt out of parenthood in a situation where he made it clear that he did not want to be a father, took reasonable steps to avoid doing so, but a child is conceived.

This is an issue close to my heart because my niece is one of those babies. Sure, perhaps a little more accountability should rest on my brother’s shoulders for having unprotected sex with a girl he barely knew, regardless of whether she said she was on birth control or not. But the fact is, she said she was on Depo. She was not. She got pregnant. She bailed. Now my niece is 9 years old and living without a mom and while I wouldn’t change that she’s in my life, the circumstances surrounding her existence give me pause.

Take the example of my friend’s boyfriend, who had a lengthy discussion with his former “friend with benefits” about not wanting another child before agreeing to take their friendship to a sexual level. She assured him she was taking birth control and they continued to mess around when one or the other was single, over the course of a couple years. And then she turned up pregnant.

It would be one thing if this was just an accident. But when a mutual friend came to him with what babymama had confided in him, this is where it gets sketchy. What she confided was this:

I just kept seeing him with his son (from his previous marriage) and thought what a great father he was, and I couldn’t stop thinking of us as a family, so I stopped taking the Pills and if I got pregnant, then clearly it was meant to be.

Additionally, she had “been in love with him for-like-EVER” and this was the only way she thought she could get him to consider having a serious relationship with her. She never confided in him about this, never said that her feelings had changed. She continued to maintain the f***buddy relationship because “that’s what she thought he wanted”. And now there’s a baby, there’s child support that he can’t afford, and he not only had no say in the matter. He was deceived into this situation.

What recourse does he have? NONE. The baby tied him inextricably to this woman, like a contract he never signed. How is this fair?

The problem is that it’s not fair. That said, I don’t think there’s a fair solution. Because as much as I’d like to say screw the babymama, the manipulative psycho who roped a good man, a good father, into something he wasn’t prepared for and something he didn’t sign up for, it’s just not that simple. Her manipulation amounted to a breach of contract—their agreement that their relationship was just about sex and that if anyone developed any deeper feelings they should come to each other and talk it out—and he shouldn’t be liable.

But then there’s this kid, who didn’t have anything to do with it. Should the baby be punished for his mother’s lack ethical vacancy? Or did babymama sign on to be a single mother when she intentionally manipulated a situation to bring about a pregnancy?

I lean toward the latter and don’t believe that single parenthood is necessarily “punishing” a child. But should a father in such a situation “opt out” of fatherhood society will eventually tell this child that he was rejected by his father, which, regardless of whether this was an oversimplification of the facts, can be extremely damaging.

Here’s the thing: there are so many ways to screw up a kid. Single parents can raise awesome kids, grandparents can raise awesome kids, “traditional” families can raise disastrous children. As I’ve said many times, it’s a crapshoot.

But while in principle I think men should be able to opt out of fatherhood in situations like my friend’s, it’s far more complicated than just that. Once you get another human being involved, situations need to be looked at beyond just considering them “in principle.” I have no good answers for how to resolve this.

All that leads to me being really glad I’m not a single guy. As if navigating the dating world isn’t scary enough, I can’t imagine the added possibility of being unwillingly or, worse, unwittingly roped into parenthood. The moral of the story: men need to take responsibility for their own birth control—period—because that’s clearly the only way that men can “opt out” of parenthood without the moral and ethical dilemmas that ensue AFTER an accidental child is born.


feministblogproject said...

I really don't think there is any fair solution, unfortunately.

Basically, I believe that because a woman is the one who houses the fetus, she has the ultimate right to do whatever she damn well pleases if she becomes pregnant. Her partner cannot tell her what to do, and her desires override his if they have conflicting opinions. And that has to be true of all choices. I don't think a man should be able to force a woman to have an abortion, and I don't think he should force her to carry to term. So a man has no right to decide whether or not an unwanted child is born.

No, it's not fair. Oh well.

I do have to say, however, that I would not be able to respect any woman who brought an unwanted child into the world, even if just the man didn't want it. I know, I know, it sounds hypocritical. I'm for a woman's ultimate choice, but I'd judge her for making one I disagreed with. But I'm not trying to take away another woman's rights. She can do what she wants. I'm just going to think it's selfish of her to raise a child that is going to wonder why its father doesn't love it.

I wrote a blog post a couple of months back, saying that pro-choice and anti-choice people should just not have sex together. Birth control can fail. Why take a risk when your partner isn't going to agree with you about what to do?

If I were a man, I would probably be celibate. Seriously. I would be too paranoid about someone tricking me into parenthood. I don't think I could ever enjoy sex.

Ken said...

You did a great job describing a moral dilemma. There is no clear answer on any rational grounds.

What is needed is a well-considered personal decision.

I know what I would do (I think).

We must teach people, not how to parrot moral dogmas, but how to push their thinkings through to make impossible life decisions. And then commit.

A world that encourages creative and courageous thinking and action will be a better place - for both the vulnerable kids and the foolish adults who begat them.

Thanks for sharing.

Margaret said...

The best advice I have for men who are sexually active is to insist on using a condom, even if the woman is on birth control. It sounds overly simplistic, but, if I were a guy, I would insist on it!

Britgirl said...

A man has no right to decide whether a child that HE helped make is born? But I gather he would be forced to pay for the upkeep for the rest of it's (and his)life. It's funny but i always thought that with rights come responsibility. Responsibility seems to go out of the window. As much as I feel that the child shouldn't suffer, maybe men should have the "right" to opt out of parenthood if they've been deceived into having kids. Except that they can't be fully absolved if they don't protect themselves.

Condom, condom, condom. In an uncommitted relationship there really is no excuse for men not to. Wear a condom. Or get the male contraception (is it available yet?). Men should insist on wearing a condom and not have sex unless they do. Why take the risk?

But, as we know contraceptives can fail. So if the man really doesn't want kidd, a vascectomy is a real consideration. And a good way to sift the potenial "oopsers."

BrooklynChick said...

If a man truly doesn't want a child, he shouldn't put complete trust in the woman he's having sex with (especially if he barely knows her) to take care of birth control. He should be wearing a condom. That, to me, is taking "reasonable steps" to prevent conception. Blindly trusting in the word of a virtual stranger is not.

The Red Hare said...

I really have a hard time in this day and age when a man says he is 'duped' into having a child. If you absolutely don't want kids - absolutely wear a condom. You play, you pay. Hell, it is a risk sometimes even if you do. That said, I have absolutely no respect for a woman who would demean herself and more importantly, a child who never asked to be in that situation. If a woman makes the choice to conceive, raise it yourself. She deceived her partner and herself when she made more of it than it was and now three lives are bound together forever. I hope the child is loved for itself and not resented.

Anonymous said...

It would seem like Men should have this right if and only if giving them this right will serve as a negative deterrent to women who would otherwise oops them.

msfullroller said...

I would tell any male who does not want to have children to really know who you are dealing with and if there is ANY doubt, keep it out.

Anonymous said...

Yeah dudes got to wear a condom no matter what. If a jail-bait-looking girl says she's legal, you're going to check her license, right? Same principle here. These dudes in your story are not "victims". They were happy to f*** w/o protection I suppose only for the little bit better it (apparently) feels w/o a condom. What if a lady was FBuddy-ing with a man who said "baby my sperm count is low, no worries!"? LOL! Huh, hope our society's raised women who are smarter than that.

Anonymous said...

I have unfortunately found myself in exactly this situation and at the age of 58 no less. I cannot begin to describe the mix of conflicted feelings. When, at 4 months pregnant i did find out (had to ask babymama directly)I was furious with her but she refused to abort. I remain emotionally distant from her but she brings him by 2-3 times/week. The little 1 year old boy is an innocent here and should not be victimized. Nonetheless, though I see him 2-3 times/week I continue to hold a well of resentment which i am not proud of. He is in fact a happy wonderful little boy but my compromise with myself is to raise him more like "a grandpa". I have told her that I will not be changing other life plans that i have for either her or the child and have no intention of working until I'm 80 to support either her or this child. This is a thoroughly humiliating and vile situation and i don't believe that a man can come to a good answer that satisfies both himself and the needs of the child.

Anonymous said...

Although men absolultely need to wear a condom to be sure that they are doing all they can in order to prevent pregnancy; I know MANY women who have been shady enough to try and trap a man with a baby. Unfortunatley the children suffer because of this. Sometimes they are bargaining chips for the mothers and sometimes they are used as a paycheck (of course they can also just be beloved children too).
I think we need to make it clear to the women who do intentionally get pregnant in order to trap a man for one reason or another, that this is unacceptable. I refuse to hang with my former girlfriends who have confided in me that they have done this. They start out be saying that it was an accidental pregnancy--we live in the age of great birth control, and all of us are well educated--this is not an accident. They eventually will confide the truth and expect me to agree with their behavior because I'm a woman who has had relationship problems in the past too. I guess these ladies are not as smart as I had thought.

No need to surround myself with people who can be so deceptive; I let my actions let them know how I feel about using a child to control someone.

TheMightySquirrel said...

Hallo there Stasha - just found your blog via Google and am enjoying it very much, although we differ slightly as, although I am the same age as you, I am what is referred to in CF circles as an 'early affirmer': I really don't like children or being around them and have never experienced any 'twangs' or fence sitting. Hey ho, though, it takes all sorts and it's always refreshing to find that the CF community is not some bizarre homogenous clump!

I wanted to add to this comment, as a friend of mine experienced 'forced fatherhood' (I use that term loosely) some years ago. He was seeing a girl who, unbeknownst to him, wasn't actually on the Pill, although told him she was. The upshot? He now has a three-year-old son.

This man is an old friend of mine, however that doesn't stop me thinking he is a bit of an a*se (pardon my French!) - for one thing, he didn't use contraception and secondly, he is less than emotionally committed to his son, although he does provide financial support.

In my eyes, he is almost at much as fault as the child's mother and my thinking is this - if you don't want children, either abstain from sexual contact until you are 100% sure both parties are 'on the same page' and always, ALWAYS take responsibility for your own contraception (kids aside, I really cannot understand why somebody would choose to put their own health and possibly their life in danger by not using barrier protection). If you are completely committed to being CF, get 'done'.

While I admit I am quite judgemental about women who 'oops' men into fatherhood, I genuinely believe it takes two to tango and if a man is in ANY way leery of potential fatherhood, then take responsibility and cover up! I am also a feminist and I do not believe that ANYBODY, save the woman involved, should have any say on what happens to her body, be that pregnancy or abortion - no, it's not necessarily fair, but women DO give birth - that's biology for you and messing with somebody else's reproductive choices is just not on, IMO.

As such, the simple and easy way to get around this issue is to prevent pregnancy in the first place! If you have sex without contraception or without having first had the 'pro-choice' discussion, then you are intentionally opening up a whole can of worms.

I think this should be extended to sex education - young men should be made aware that they have both choices and responsibilities - after all, women do not immaculately conceive!

'Rights' is a word we hear bandied about a lot, but with rights come responsibilities, on BOTH sides.

Phew, that was long! Anyway, many thanks for your blog again and I wish you much happiness. :)

Anonymous said...

How is that tricking a guy into parenthood?

Ever hear of CONDOM and SPERMICIDE?

Its not even expensive! Jeez!