March 22, 2006

"Any Kids?" "Not That I Know Of."

When they're considered at all, it turns out fathers are little more than speed bumps to be driven over and ignored on the way to a smooth and uncontestable adoption.

That's more or less my takeaway from the NY Times' front page article on Sunday about unwed fathers who try--and almost always fail--to contest or stop the mother-instigated adoption of their biological children. There's plenty to get riled up about, and the cases the NYT cites are particularly infuriating. From top to bottom, almost the whole system--states, courts, adoption agencies, and the [usually estranged, obviously] mothers--is arrayed against the otherwise supposedly sacred and inherent rights of a parent vis a vis his child. And yet until this weekend, I'd never heard--or, I must admit, really thought about--this phenomenon. The inherent assumtion is that dads are either irresponsible or are potential threats to the mother, the child, or the adoption process.

Looking around, it seems that even online, very few people took note of the article (there are only around 15-20 mentions on blogs, for example). One of the key problems mentioned in the story is that what limited remedies men do have are egregiously underpublicized. I don't know the scope of the problem, but I don't have too many doubts about the clarity of the discrimination and the unequal treatment one parent is receiving at the hands of the system. The least I can do is mention it and hope that more light, cameras, and action go into this issue. [and yes, even on such a stern-faced topic, I could not resist a Wiggles reference. Whatryagonnado?]

Unwed Fathers Fight for Babies Placed for Adoption by Mothers [nyt]


You know this is a very plexing situation. While I feel for these fathers is the NYT article a whole host of questions remain unanswered.

If you impregnate a prostitute do you retain the same rights as with someone with whom you have an established relationship?
A one night stand?
How about the poor man who ended up having the winning sperm in the sperm lottery that is the Maury Povich show, " 12 men tested, will the 13th be the one"? (Actual quote from show)

How much of an established relationship does a person have to have before they can impose a birth or withhold an adoption.

Kinda like the question of how famous do you have to be before your death changes from a murder to an assassination.

At this point I am beginning to sound like the SATC voiceover and must go.

All absolutely irrelevant. Unless you sign your rights away specifically as a sperm donor, you have rights to any biological child you sire.

The relationship to the biological mother has absolutely no bearing on the relationship to the child.

[that's what you think, Anon, and you're absolutely wrong. check back in after you read the article. -ed.]

While I feel for the men in this case (I really do, wrote a long bit on my own blog about a related issue), at the same time, there's been a basic inequity for hundreds of years.

A male and a female have sex. The female becomes pregnant. The male only has a burden if he chooses to take it on. The female carries ALL the risks of pregnancy, the emotional suffering inherent in the choice to abort/adopt/keep, the financial upheaval of medical care, etc.

That is the risk every woman ever born takes on when she chooses to have sex. That's the last painless choice she gets to make. The male takes on risk and pain only as an option - nothing exists to make him do so.

So in answer to the query "must I register every time I have sex" - well, yes, if you want to be involved. It's the only way to involve yourself in a process from which biology excludes you. And if you don't like that (and I'll be the last woman on earth to say that you should like it), you might want to put yourself in the shoes of every unwed pregnant woman who is told "well, you should have thought about that before you had sex" when she protests some aspect of her situation that strikes her as dehumanizing.

The thing that's wrong here is that men don't know about the registries, and that most of the registries seem to be actively hidden. The registry itself is not the problem.

[good points. It's not like there's male sexual responsibility breaking out all over the country. and some kind of registration of documentation of intent doesn't sound like too much to ask of a guy who wants to be conscientious about the possibility of becoming a dad. But the "system" [sic] isn't set up to facilitate that, just the opposite. -ed.]

I agree that the registries do not seem to be the problem. Perhaps in a perfect world they wouldn't be necessary, but they do seem like the best possible option.

But it's totally wrong and unfair that these registries are not publicized. Did I ever hear about something like this before reading this post? Granted, I'm not a man, but I don't think they were discussing this when they separated boys and girls in our 5th grade sex ed class.

I know my husband loves our son just as much as I do, and even if I'm the one who carried him and delivered him, I believe that my husband has just as much a right AND a responsibility to him that I do.

I disagree entirely. If a woman chooses to carry her pregnancy and wants to adopt, she has a responsibility to that child to find out if the father wants to be a part of that child's life. I think the responsibility for contacting the father should lie with the mother providing the adoption agency with information about the biological father. The biological father must be allowed to put the child up for adoption as well.

In cases where the mother of the infant refuses to give information about the father, I think that the adoption agency should acknowledge to the adoptive parents that there is a distinct possibility that they could lose custody.

I agree that pregnancy brings in all kinds of inequities between men and women, but children don't. A child belongs to both it's biological mother and father. And both have a say in adoption.

This registry business is utter nonsense. Do women have to register for each man they have sex with? No. And neither men nor women should have to.

As an adoptive father, simply telling me "gee, you could lose this child down the road because the birth father might show up" isn't a very useful solution. And what about the child? Removing them from the only home (and parents) they ever knew is a good idea?

I agree that the "registry" concept isn't particularly sensible, but this is a clear example where the large number of men who don't want to take responsibility for their actions are ruining it for the few that might in these sorts of situations. Our children's birth father was apparently aware of the birth mother's pregnancy, and rather than sign anything (one way or the other), he made us go through all sorts of legal hoops because he couldn't be bothered.

[Thanks, I think this is an important point. In family court, the overriding principle is seeking the "best interests of the child." And while biological dads do have some rights and the system should be designed to protect them--or even acknowledge them--the best interests of the child have to be preserved. The real unknown here is scale; given the circumstances that lead to most adoptions, I would guess the % of dads who 1) know, and 2) want to keep the kid and 3) are able to do so is going to be pretty small. -ed.]

Oh I was going to blog about it, but it was a busy week.

The one appalling thing about it is that this set of "registries" is so hard to find, even by whole groups of people looking for information about it. How's a oat-sowing boy/man supposed to declare his paternity?

I suggest that a system be set up for boys/men to voluntarily submit DNA (all CSI-like) so any kid born to an apparently unwed mother can be tested to see if his dad is in the database. That way the paternity ID can be opt-out (not submitting DNA) rather than opt-in (must make a declaration for each and every kid he doesn't want adopted).

The relationship to the biological mother has absolutely no bearing on the relationship to the child.

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