I was walking my dog in Virginia Avenue Park last week, when I struck up a conversation with one of the city workers. He’s a young man who was so happy and proud that he just landed a full-time position with the parks and recreation department. Now he could support his children better. He’s a young man with a couple of kids that he raises with his ex-girlfriend. Together they have worked out a system for childcare and sharing the responsibilities of parenting. It was a pleasant change from what I normally see.
In one day this week, I had two separate appointments with men who were trying to work out co-parenting problems with their exes, and were coming to me after the fact to learn the effects of what they had done.
One man was an older gentleman who’d raised his first son by himself. In this latest marriage, the child was conceived by in vitro fertilization after his wife had left him once and returned, because she wanted a baby and he thought that would fix their problems. As soon as she was definitely pregnant, she left him for good. It was 11 months into the marriage.
The second man was a youngster, who was in his early 30s and had just been informed by his non-live-in girlfriend that she was pregnant. She told him that she didn’t really want him to be an active father. She did expect him to pay child support, but didn’t think he should have much to do with the pregnancy or the child afterwards. Though she was fine with him paying for her pregnancy classes.
Neither of these men were stupid, teenagers or generally impulsive. Both seemed like genuinely decent guys who were just caught up in a relationship dynamic that caused them pain. Neither of them thought they had made a mistake, and both men genuinely wanted to be fathers. The younger one was actually quite excited to be a father, as it would be his first child.
I think I understand what drove these women to pick these men. Both were intelligent and good looking. One had a good history as a father and was a strong earner. The other was a good genetic catch in his physicality and emotional makeup.
Each of these men will eventually get to see their children every other weekend, and once or twice a week for dinners. They might get to share holidays and every other birthday.
If they pay their child support on time, they can avoid being on the latest Lifetime reality show, “Deadbeat Dads.” A show that is under fire from many quarters for its depiction of dads as uncaring and selfish.
From where I sit, these guys are getting the short end of the stick. They were used as sperm donors and are now being used as ATM’s. But they don’t see it that way. They see that they are being denied the opportunity to be an active participant in their children’s lives; that they are being denied the rights of fathers for millennia to raise their children. They are cut out of their role as father, and then blamed for not being there, which is a crying shame, because both of them would make great dads given half a chance for more interaction with their children.
It’s ironic that men like these are the ones who are called selfish and uncaring, because it strikes me that the mothers who deny these men the pleasures of fatherhood, also deny their children the benefits of having a devoted and loving father in their lives. It is those women who so desperately want a child that they will deceive a man into impregnating them, without thinking that he might actually want to be a father, that are the most selfish.
Which is not to say that there aren’t men who want nothing to do with their children. There are. But for those men who actually want to be a father, and there are a lot of them, when they are used as sperm donors, it’s really painful, and selfish. And the crime of it all, is that the child is the one who loses the most in that situation.
Addendum to last week’s column:
I’ve been asked by several people where they can see “Planet Money — The Economy, Explained,” which was sponsored by KCRW and Entrepreneurs Organization. It’s available on www.KCRW.com as a free download.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.