When will fathers start getting some respect? Women may still struggle with the old madonna/whore dichotomy, but men -- as dads, anyway -- often get to choose between paycheck and pervert.
Paycheck: You pay the bills and profess an inability to handle the most basic childcare issues, like changing diapers or knowing not to feed pizza to a six-week-old. Pervert: You're just a guy who really loves kids. WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU? Are you a pervert or just a wuss?
The latest guy to struggle with the pervert label is a Japanese doctor whose wife was infertile. So his sperm was used to fertilize a donor egg, and a woman who lives in India was hired as a gestational carrier (aka surrogate). The Japanese couple split up before their baby girl was born on July 25th. The ex-wife, who, like the surrogate, has no biological ties to the girl, doesn't want her anymore. But the father, who is -- how can I put this clearly? -- THE CHILD'S FATHER, socially, biologically, however you want to slice it, he's the freaking DAD, does want her. Yet as of now, he can't have her. Under Indian law, the baby's all about the mom, so the dad can't get her a passport. He has looked into adopting her (adopting his own biological child!), but can't do that either -- legally speaking, he's being considered a single-man pervert who wants to adopt a baby girl for god knows what unsavory reason. Single men shouldn't be parents, of course! What's a man doing being interested in children, anyhow?
This week's CNN article about the case garnered a lot of comments about crazy sexist Indian laws. But are things really so radically different here in the U.S.? Isn't parenting all about, as Parenting magazine states in its tagline, "What Matters to Moms"? Don't moms still get favored in custody hearings, because of their sex? I've already written a book about women choosing to be single moms. Now I'd love to hear from men who are single dads -- whether by choice or by circumstance. What's your parenting experience been like? Do people think you're weird? Assume you're incompetent as a parent? As a male hands-on parent, in charge of buying diapers, evaluating preschools and selecting the right infant pain reliever, do you feel parenting culture shuts you out? Or am I being hypersensitive on your behalf? (Drop me a line: knockyourselfup[at]gmail.com.)
As a mom myself, I'm all for me getting special rights -- except for the part where it's totally unfair. I look at my nephew, who is so much more parental and nurturing than either of his two sisters. I think about how loving my son is, and how I just know he'll grow up to be a great dad. I look at two women I know from two different generations, both of whom grew up with a crappy stay-at-home mom and a nurturing dad who always had to be at work, hamstrung by traditional gender roles. And then I think about a guy I know of who loves kids and wants kids of his own, but who in the meantime teaches Sunday school and coaches sports and just generally spends as much time with kids as he can. If he were female, he'd be praised for this. Instead, dark questions are raised behind his back.
Our world is still plenty unfair to women, it goes without saying. But in this arena where moms rule, when will dads rate?
Louise Sloan is the author of Knock Yourself Up, a cross between memoir and reporting about the trend of women choosing to become single mothers.