How Important Is a Dad, Really?
Colleen, an artist, had her baby girl just shy of her fortieth birthday. The man who fathered her child was Colleen’s long-term lover. She never really thought about the implications of his involvement (or lack of involvement) with that child when she became pregnant, but she knew she didn’t want to be his wife. When he asked her to marry him, she said no. It is only after Colleen made the decision to reject him as a romantic partner that she grappled with how she wanted him involved in her child’s life.
I feel as if I should have made a better choice about who would be a father to her.
It’s nice for kids to have a father. It seems to be important. Daddy this, daddy
Colleen did not realize that she wanted a dad for her child, not a husband for herself, until after she had embarked upon this route to motherhood. However, Colleen’s long-term boyfriend, like many men in this chapter, did not want a paternal relationship with the child without a romantic relationship with the mother.
Some women who chance pregnancy think that they can craft families without fathers, and a few in this group successfully did. For others, their own deeply ingrained belief in the importance of the father surfaces, forcing them to redefine the place of their child’s father. Maeve, a thirty-year-old with an eight – year-old she had during the final weeks of her last year of college, described her thoughts on her son’s father: “I think Hunter has a right to know his dad. And I try to keep him safe from any harm that might come with the relationship while at the same time keeping a big enough crack open for a better relationship to grow.” While Maeve went so far as to move across the country so that her child’s immature father would not hurt her son, even she emphasized the importance of this man to her son. She sent him regular letters about his son’s growth, and, having returned to Boston, she still hoped Hunter’s father would be a “good” dad and visit more consistently. Maeve was maintaining the symbolic importance of her child’s father, hoping that a social relationship, a “dad,” might be a possibility in the future.
When men begin to pull away from their biological children, women are forced to decide how they want these men involved. While some simply cut them out of the mother-child family they have created, others try to keep these men on the periphery and connected to their children. Often they go back and forth between what they want when pregnant and what they want after the birth of their child.
Cara, thirty-two years old with a three-year-old, is an example of a woman who actively sought to become pregnant. She wanted a passionate moment, not a husband, she thought. She had already been married and divorced and was on the rebound from a marriage that fell apart over her aborted first pregnancy. Cara’s decision to become pregnant this time from a one-night stand represents a common scenario in a broader culture where women find that what they want and what they can reasonably expect diverge. A one-night stand, a place where most women never thought they would find the solution to creating a family, may at first seem irrational, but often it is an act that takes on a logical progression of its own.
Cara began to flirt with a handsome man while on vacation with her sister at an adult-oriented resort. That afternoon was more than just base sex. They aroused each another through talk of their respective striking features, painting a picture of a beautiful girl they were in the act of producing.
I came out of the room and my sister’s just like, “Where the heck have you been?”
And I said, “Linda, it’s a girl! I’m pregnant.” She goes, “You’re out of your mind.” I said, “I’m telling you, I know it happened. I can feel it.”
That afternoon when the two parted ways, Cara was exhilarated by believing the afternoon’s passionate lovemaking had rendered her pregnant, and that was enough to sate her. At the time, she never expected to see him again, though she took his phone number. It wasn’t until later that day when she bumped into him at dinner with his wife that Cara learned about his “open-marriage arrangement.” The father is not a known donor, but he consented to Cara’s lack of birth control and to the possibility that he might impregnate her. As her pregnancy progressed, Cara contacted this man under the guise of wanting information for medical purposes. Cara’s decision to get in touch with the father months after they parted contradicted her initial decision to become pregnant through a one – night stand with a stranger. This phone call opened the door to his continued contact with her.
Cara did an about-face. Her desire to provide her child with a father reversed her initial belief that the “Club Med man” was a momentary apparition with no potential for becoming a reality in her life. However, things changed dramatically with the birth of her daughter, and even knowing he had a wife did not deter Cara. She wanted to believe his wife accepted the situation because it made Cara’s own new desire to have this man become a dad for her child less painful and fraught with the complication of another woman:
He came out to visit when April was eight months old and that’s the last time he’s seen her. Aid he’ll probably come out this year. I send pictures. I call his mother. She needs a family. If you’re gonna make a decision such as this, you need to have an open mind because you cannot be selfish. She didn’t ask to be born. I would love to be selfish. Protecting her. But it’s not protecting her, it’s
protecting me, and that’s where I gotta draw the line. I can’t hurt her. I gotta be fair to her. It is her father. I don’t really care about the money. He pays me no child support. He sends some money but not often. I have to set a border for him: “This is what you need to do ifyou want to have a relationship. You need to give of yourself.”
While Cara expected nothing of this man for herself, she did not want to accept the no-strings-attached paternity that a one-night affair would afford her child. Caving to the idea that dads are necessary for healthy kids (“I can’t hurt her”), she attempted to pull this man (and his family) into her child’s life. Colleen, Ellen, Maeve, and Cara all wanted something from these men as dads, but did not always succeed in getting it for their children. They learned to cope in different ways with what they got.