A few months ago I took part in a mock debate whose annual tradition it is to task stand-up comics manqués with raising optimal laughs around a deeply trivial theme.
The proposed resolution was “The short man is the better man.” I argued this was a wince-inducing subject for the height-challenged male, equivalent to “The fat woman is the better woman,” and furthermore a natural temptation to witless ribaldry. My objections falling on deaf ears, including some attached to short men, I manned up for the job as best I could.
Googling desperately, I came upon an informational tidbit that proved excellent (and only slightly ribald) fodder for debate laughs, but also seems an apt take-off point for my yearly Fatherless Day column, namely: Most sperm banks will not accept donations from men who stand under 5’ 11” in height.
The sperm-seekers whose demand has produced this height restriction aren’t giggly teenagers or desperate housewives addicted to Harlequin romances. They are strong, autonomous, educated, middle class, not-so-young women of ambition with support systems and resources sufficient to the logistical demands of child-rearing.
Whether childless because of sexual orientation, a ticking biological clock aligned with bad luck in the marriage market, or principled misandry, they view their future child’s fatherlessness with sanguine confidence and a clear conscience.
Amongst such committed egalitarians in all other gender-related matters, then, logic would suggest a willingness to accept height parity, or at least diversity. So why are these father-cleansing feminists choosing to “mate” with a stereotypically patriarchal symbol of physical dominance?
Because deep inside, they aren’t buying the utopian theories they’ve superficially endorsed. Freed from the hassle of meeting Mr. Right, and at liberty to conjure up Mr. Right DNA, even women mate-free by choice want to perpetuate via their future child’s hologram sire the same symbols of male strength and protectiveness women have prized since time immemorial. Their decision to ”disappear” their child’s father says manliness isn’t important; their atavistically-driven entries on the sperm bank checklist say it is.
We now take for granted the technology of alternate reproductive initiatives that marginalize men’s contribution to the family, and by extension to society. But we shouldn’t. Every child born with only half an identity — the mother’s — is a reproach to our decision, which began with the advent of the birth control pill in 1959, to privilege the sexual and reproductive rights of adults over the rights of children. For “adults,” read “women.”
Men took their cues from women. They soon internalized the feminist message that they had many responsibilities as fathers, but unlike mothers no natural rights, a rubric borne out in higher court judgments and countless custody narratives. Men’s biological and social value, and their relationship to their issue, has for some time been contingent on women’s wishes and perceived needs.
And yet countless studies confirm the opposite of what the very existence of sperm banks imply. Biological fathership matters. Fatherlessness figures disproportionately in every anti-social behaviour from school dropout to sexual pathology to hard criminality. A non-biological father figure in the home is the greatest indicator for child abuse.
There’s no secret to healthy communities. Marriage is the key. It takes the same boring, bourgeois values and domestic strategies today, often referred to amongst cultural observers as “the plan” — education first, then a job, then marriage and only then children — as it did in 1950 to produce (on the whole, no personal anecdotes, please) secure, successful children.
Poverty is not the issue, as ideologues continue to insist. The same bourgeois values send many poor, but culturally traditional immigrants’ children soaring to peaks of achievement.
The irony is that the theorists doling out the Kool-Aid aren’t drinking it themselves. Marriage rates are going up amongst the educated middle class, and down amongst the uneducated, unskilled and unmotivated — those least equipped to compensate for the negative effects of fatherlessness on children.
The commodification of sperm is a particularly hypocritical blot on the social landscape. Donor recipients cheat their children with society’s blessing by mimicking the plan. They get their education and job first, but skip the crucial marriage part. Finally they parachute their “family” into stable, aspirational environments sustained by two-parent families. Sperm-donor mothers thus effectively freeload from the harvest sown by the very bourgeois constraints they exempted themselves from in their children’s creation.
Sperm banks opened a Pandora’s box. The inevitable coming debate: “The cloned child is the better child.” Comedians may raise laughter from this not-so-trivial subject, but fathers – not so much.