Fatherlessness is a heated topic in America today. Some observers worry that fatherless families could lead to a generation of children with behavioral prob­lems, to juvenile violence in schools, to adolescent childbearing, and to future economic malaise.1 The executive branch of the U. S. government has proposed marriage incentives in the belief that female-headed households might be retrofitted with provider dads.2 Conservatives contend that single mothers have purposely shut men out of their lives and those of their children as part of a feminist, anti-male statement. з Their unstated worries are nonetheless clear: What will become of men left without the comfort of families? And if men are no longer needed, will families disappear altogether?

In this chapter, I suggest that die crisis is exaggerated. Single mothers are deeply concerned about having men in their children’s lives. Many would prefer to have dads as integral parts of the family. However, the interviews also reveal an intense and deepening confusion about what exactly fathers bring to families.4 Indeed, as women seek to create children without gender stereotypes, they find themselves grappling to explain to their children what is special about men.5