One might ask why women settle for this. Romance, intimacy, and pregnancy follow an older sequence that once resulted in quick marriages before women showed signs of pregnancy. The women described in this chapter followed this traditional sequencing to a substantial extent, deviating from it only in their failure to marry the fathers of their children. Whereas in the past women who became pregnant outside of marriage suffered harsh penalties, today the social sanctions of “scarlet letters” and labels of illegitimacy are in the past. Aliddle – class fatherhood in the absence of marriage is unknown territory. DNA testing – may force men to acknowledge paternity, but it does not compel them to undertake social fatherhood. Women may wish to keep genetic and social fatherhood coupled, but they come to realize that they cannot make biological fathers into
social dads if the men are not interested and willing. Women who leave the door open for fathers to become socially involved with their children are willing to live with the burden of constant patrol. However, women do not have the answer of how to make men show up at their child’s school play or cheer them on at a soccer game; there seems to be no formula for social fatherhood.
On the other hand, proven paternity has replaced marriage as the basis for inclusion in the paternal kin network. Mothers can now call upon the help of science as they attempt to make the child a member of the paternal social circle. As a by-product of applied science, mothers also gain access to these circles, which may provide them with help caring for their children and afford them some of the rights and privileges of an in-law even if the father marries another woman.
The disparity between biological and social fathers is increasingly common in the United States. This is in part because economically self-sufficient women often choose not to make financial demands of the fathers: the amount of child support courts order tends to be so little that women do not see it as worth risking the alienation of a father who might become a social dad at some point.16 These women are not initially unraveling the biological and social aspects of fatherhood, which they see as intrinsically coupled. Instead, they believe that dads bring something special to their children. To pin down in words what these men bring to these children is difficult. At the very least they hope for emotional closeness, though few really have it. It is for this reason that the women in this chapter settle for varying degrees of father involvement.
Women know these men can walk out of their children’s lives at any moment, and some men do. Women’s talk of men’s stability in their child’s lives is reduced to consistent contact (e. g., showing up when they say they will, so as not to let their child down). Put differently, dads become a luxury whose main purpose is little more than being a playmate to their children. They have been absolved of their historical responsibilities as breadwinners and authority figures. Grappling with the meaning of fatherhood in a time of incredible flux, women struggle with “good dads” and “bad dads,” vacillating between their roles as kin keeper and gatekeeper. Chancing pregnancy may give a simple answer to one of the questions prompted by single motherhood, namely, who the father is, but it brings up many questions about the place of fathers overall.