My older brother has gotten around over the years. His life reads like a billboard for unintended consequences and pervasive irresponsibility.
A few months back, he got what has become for him a familiar letter: a court ordered paternity test. I should mention that he’s gotten about ten of these over the years, but only two of them turned out to be his. I’ve always wondered about the other eight. Did they ever find that child’s biological father? How many other guys had to offer up their DNA for those children at the same time my brother was forced to?
He’s in prison, 1,700 miles away, and finds out he has a one year-old daughter. In this reprehensible culture, a woman can apparently go through an entire pregnancy, delivery, and early motherhood without ever having to cop to who the father of her child is, assuming she has a reasonable guesstimate. I can’t attest to the veracity of those talk shows where there’s one mother, one child, and nine or ten different possibles for the father, but seeing what my brother’s been through over the years, it wouldn’t surprise me. I would imagine the most difficult part about rounding up names for the Attorney General’s office would be remembering them.
It almost makes me feel sorry for these ladies. I mean, how many one-night-stands is a girl supposed to be able to keep track of over the short window of time that she can become pregnant? Five? Ten? Getting the first and last names, not to mention contact information, for every Tom, Dick, and Harry you drunkenly stumble home from the club with is asking entirely too much.
Then the state decides to stop giving them free stuff. In every case, including the ones that weren’t his, we weren’t dealing with an newborn or an infant, but a toddler. That’s nine months of pregnancy plus two or more years that the child in question went with a blank space on their birth certificate while their mother soaked up entitlements like a dank, smelly kitchen sponge. It’s only when the overburdened bureaucracy gets around to reviewing the bottomless bucket-loads of free food, medical care, and housing they’ve been blindly throwing at these women that positively identifying their child’s father becomes a priority to them. For if they don’t, the entitlements cease. So they begin the mental calesthenics necessary to remember who and when and how many times, and in at least one case, sent out half a dozen court orders demanding DNA.
It’s amazing to me that the dialogue about dead-beat dads is always turned up to 11, but we almost never hear anything about these women who shirk responsiblity and milk the system while keeping their baby-daddy’s identity a secret, usually either out of shame, or some half-assed reasoning about “not wanting him involved”…because while he was good enough to have reckless sex with, he’s not good enough to even be made aware that he’s a father. Our side of field is flush with stories of men getting billed for a decade of child support for a child they didn’t even know existed, but the same agency enforcing it does nothing to hold these mothers accountable for why they kept their little bundle of joy under the radar for so long.
His new daughter was a different story. The state stepped in and permanently terminated her mother’s rights for incessant crack-headism. This little girl is one of seven children the state has removed from this woman’s custody by force. No one is suggesting that the state force her to get a tubal-ligation. No one is suggesting that she be issued some kind of mandatory birth-control. In spite of a lifetime of making the worst possible choices, over and over again, no one is suggesting that the state interfere with her right to choose. She can continue having children until the coffers run dry, and then maybe have a couple more for good measure.
My niece was in foster-care limbo for a few months while they worked out the adoption process, but she’s here now, safe and sound. Happy, adorable, and getting along splendidly with my own daughter, despite their being two years apart.
It’s a Pyrrhic victory of sorts. We get to raise this child without any interference from her mother or the state, but my brother is now a felon and will have to be a registered sex offender when he gets out, which means he can never live at the same residence as his own child. All because of one woman’s lies, and another woman’s omission.
It isn’t that some women lie about rape or paternity. It’s that they aren’t often held accountable when they do. Men are held accountable, financially and morally, for children they didn’t know about. I’d like to believe that most men, if they’d been made aware, would do the right thing. But it’s impossible to be a father to a child whose existence is deliberately kept secret from you. We weren’t given choice, and because of that, we missed out on the first two years of this little girl’s life.
I’m writing about it because it’s the second time in six months that the state has handed me, a man, custody of a child over the child’s mother. Whether this is objective decency on the part of the court, or the beginning of a shifting trend, I can’t say. But I hope it’s both.