Imagine coming across an article headlined “Who’s Your Mommy? Don’t Ask a DNA Test.” As you read it, it slowly dawns on you that the writer is suggesting decoupling the concept of motherhood from a woman’s biological relationship to her child. After all, the article explains, plenty of kids have adoptive mothers, not biological ones; plenty have stepmothers too. Some women go to prison or lose their parental rights due to drug or child abuse and often their kids go to foster parents. And historically, countless mothers died, either in childbirth or long before their kids reached maturity. So someone else had to mother them.
The point being that, since there are so many different ways in which children can come to be raised by women who have no biological connection to them, surely we should ignore that connection altogether.
You’d be astonished to read such a piece and of course you never have. You’d be even more astonished to read it if it had been published just four days before Mother’s Day.
But, four days before Father’s Day, we have exactly such a piece about fathers that concludes,
Who’s your daddy? Perhaps science isn’t best positioned to answer, because this question arises from society, not nature. (The Telegraph, 6/13/19)Which of course is a load of, er, nonsense. Since hunter-gatherer times at least, the biological connection between adults and their children has been all-important when the question of who raises the kids comes up. Of course for almost all of human history, a man’s biological connection to a child was a matter of guesswork. Only with the advent of, first, blood-typing (that could disprove but not prove paternity) and, later, genetic testing have we been able to know for sure who a child’s father is.
So the article’s author, Nara Milanich, reaches back into history for examples of non-fathers raising children. She does so to assert that, since for millennia we never relied on science to determine biological paternity, well, why start now?
The obvious answer to that question is that we should start now because, for the first time in history, we can. Up to the mid-80s, we had no way to ascertain for certain the identity of the father. Now we do. Ergo, why not use the technology we have to get the matter right?
Tellingly, Milanich offers no good reason. Her piece is filled with largely irrelevant cases, such as the two gay men who used a surrogate to produce a child, presumably fathered by one of them. The surrogate was not a U.S. citizen, so the question of the child’s citizenship arose. The State Department ruled that it cannot be considered a citizen of this country.
To which I can only wonder, “so what?” The matter is terribly important for the child and the two men, but scarcely constitutes a compelling argument for abandoning the biological connection in fatherhood.
More importantly, Milanich simply doesn’t know her facts. Those include tidbits like the biological attachments between parents and their children. During pregnancy, that biological attachment comes into being and the same happens with the father then and shortly after birth. The baby likewise forms attachments to its parents that are neurobiological in nature. Those aren’t societal attachments, they’re biological ones. Without them we wouldn’t exist as a species. Indeed, no social mammal would. The notion that we can simply declare someone a child’s “social” parent and dispense with the others is absurd and proves itself to be such with every passing day.
Is Milanich aware of the quite impressive science showing that children on average do better in the care of their biological parents than anyone else’s? You’d think she might have consulted an expert or at least read a study or two on what is, after all, the core of her article. But no.
Hey, it’s Father’s Day, and what better time to cast doubt on the importance of fathers to children? Needless to say, neither Milanich nor anyone else would ever do such a thing just before Mother’s Day, but dads seem to be a different matter. While so many others are learning about and rejoicing over the increased share of parenting now done by fathers and the huge importance of fathers to children, a few still fight a rearguard action in an effort to, once and for all, separate fathers from children.