The Son Who May — or May Not — Be Mine

My Good Men Project column runs one day early this week, and it’s turned out to be a controversial one: I May Have a Son, But I’ll Never Know for Sure. It’s a true story I tell, one I’ve not written about before. I had wanted to write a piece on the Casey Anthony trial, focusing on the anonymity of the father of little Caylee, but I thought better of stoking that fire.


In a medium-sized city in the Midwest, there’s a boy who will turn 13 next month. He lives with his parents, who were wed three months before he was born. He is tall, with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. His name is Alastair*, and he may –- or may not -– be my son…

Fourteen autumns ago, I was casually dating a woman I’ll call Jill*. We had unprotected intercourse a handful of times in late October and early November. And just before Thanksgiving, Jill discovered she was pregnant.

She didn’t tell me until after New Year’s Day. While Jill and I had been in a “friends with benefits” arrangement, she’d also been growing more serious about another man, Ted.* She’d first slept with him for the first time two nights before she had last slept with me. It was that week that Jill got pregnant, and as she would later tell me, there was no way to know for sure which one of us was the father.

But there was no question which one of us was a better bet as a romantic partner. Jill had broken things off with me as soon as she and Ted had decided on an exclusive relationship (just before she found out she was pregnant.) Ted was several years older than I was, professionally and emotionally stable, and clearly falling in love with Jill. I was drinking, partying, with some time to go before I’d hit my rock bottom. Jill wanted to be a mom. Ted wanted to be a dad. I wasn’t sure what I wanted. In her mind, these facts settled it: the baby was Ted’s. Or it needed to be Ted’s…

At the Good Men Project and at Jezebel, where the piece was reposted this afternoon my choices — and the choices of a woman I slept with many years ago — are under intense debate. (The only thing I’m regretting at the moment is the pompous phrase “fourteen autumns ago”.) Not surprisingly, the GMP and Jezebel commenting communities don’t always agree.

Read the whole thing here or here.

0 thoughts on “The Son Who May — or May Not — Be Mine

  1. Hugo,

    people who tell you there’s a clear right, and a clear wrong in such situations probably don’t understand the concept of ‘life’. They should not be trusted.

    That said, I don’t understand why the two of you didn’t use a condom. “Friends with benefits” doesn’t sound like it always happened in the heat of the moment. Why take the risk of getting into a moral dilemma in the first place?

  2. Sam, I was sleeping with Jill at a point where I was taking inconceivably stupid risks in most areas of my life. That’s not an excuse, just an explanation. I slept with her about eight months before I nearly died..

    (BTW, for reasons I can’t figure out, this comment first posted as from “jmg”)

  3. Glad you managed to pull yourself out of that :) Still, you were not the only one there taking the risk, were you?

    I’ve never used that handle anywhere, but the info is entered by cookie (“welcome back, SamSeaborn”). No idea what WordPress did there… maybe I need to renew it manually?

  4. Reason # 22,933 why ‘Friends with Benefits” situations are always a bad idea. Sensible people realise this, which is why they don’t engage in them.

    Of course, given that I have about zero respect for Hugo’s opinion, I’m not surprised that he thought they were a very good idea. The idiocy of the chattering classes is impossible to parody.

  5. Dude, when did I say these were a good idea? Read the frickin’ post; this was in 1997, when I was leading a slipping down life and headed for rock bottom.

    If you had zero respect for me, old boy, you’d niffle off elsewhere instead of hanging around on and off for so many years.

  6. So here’s my thing: it’s not just your possible son, it’s Heloise who’s affected by this personal history. HCR will grow up one day and are you prepared to answer her questions “How could you turn your back on my brother? How could you not want to know your son? How could you not want to know if he is your son?”

    I have a half sister out there somewhere from my father’s first marriage. He was basically a sperm donor, they divorced almost as soon as she was born. He went off into the army for a couple years, met my mother, knocked her up, they got married (and are still married). My father always says if if his daughter from his first marriage wants to find him, she can – he’s not hiding. But is that really her responsibility? She was raised believing her father hated her. Maybe she needs her father and is afraid to ask.

    I can’t pretend to have the answers but I wonder about the duty we have to one another, to family, to past loved ones. To future loved ones. Some day, I have this vision that my half sister will show up at some family event. I don’t know anything about her – is she happy, does she have children, are they happy? Is she a falling down drunk? A federal judge? A bitter slattern with a brood of slack jawed children? A dynamic and enthusiastic woman who loves her life and is filled with joy? I always knew she was out there and my sister so it’s different than your situation but there’s a nagging, wistful corner of my consciousness that yearns to know. Maybe I’d hate her, maybe she’s yearning for family that was told didn’t want her. I don’t know. I can live with not knowing but knowing would be better.

    I think it’s fair to suggest that perhaps keeping your distance is not entirely an act of selflessness or integrity but also one of self protection. Maybe he would hate you for not being in his life, maybe for some reason the truth has come out and you are his father and he resents you for not being there or he things you don’t want him in your life.

    There are no easy answers and I’m not even sure you’re asking the right questions. I’m sure I’m not asking the right questions, FWIW.

  7. Well, on that other thread I think people exaggerate a bit on the importance of medical information and biological dad as destiny. And I’d be amazed if my father turned out not to be my father, but not traumatized. They seem quite judgmental on that thread too – life’s complicated, people make errors and muddle through, in this case the child is being raised. I wouldn’t have done exactly the same things but I’m not able to feel too critical of either Jill or Hugo somehow.

  8. Hmmm, glendenb with the half sister has a point. But, it’s not known that Hugo is the father of this child. I don’t know. I think I have cousins I don’t know (and if I’ve got them, I want them, for sure). But, not all families are all together, what can I say. In the olden days one had the siblings who did not survive babyhood.

  9. Forcing a woman to be mother? Horrific. Even if we have to kill a fetus (which you have sometimes asserted and never denied is a human being), it’s worth it so that no woman should be a mother against her will.

    Forcing a man to be a father? Sometimes it’s okay. If you’d make a shitty father, why not foist the baby on to an unsuspecting man? There will be plenty of time to repent when you’re a community college professor.

  10. glendenb,

    I put your questions with the billions of other “what ifs” we ask ourselves every day. There is no real answer there. What is, is.
    My parents, who as far as I know are my bios, made thousands of decisions raising me, some of which I wish were different. If I spent the time wondering what might have?, if they only?, why didn’t they?, I would be unable to focus on what I can do to take my life where I want it to be.
    Those who focus bitterly on the past to the exclusion of their present are the ones who largely fill offices like mine.
    The “duty” as I see it is to love those who have been in our lives, shared them with us, loved us in return. Of course, I also believe we should show love and compassion to everyone around us. That’s a better legacy than doing so on assumed paternity.

  11. Re: I wouldn’t have done exactly the same things but I’m not able to feel too critical of either Jill or Hugo somehow.

    I’m critical of any man who doesn’t have the courage to take responsibility for the children he fathers. (Incidentally, if you include the child that was aborted, this is the second child that Mr. Schwyzer admits not taking responsibility for). If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

    On balance, I agree totally with GlendenB.

  12. Hugo:

    I can understand the wonderng about it, but if this boy is now 14 or so…only when and if HE wants to know the truth should it even be a consideration. He has grown up with Jill and Ted as his paresnt, and he as their son, and no mention of it but I will assume he is happy and doing good- so at this point, I kinda think it becomes one of those “best interests of the child” thing- and the less drama any 14 year old has to put up with? The better.

  13. Dismissing the significance of biological fatherhood and sweeping it all under the rug of pablum about “it taking more than sperm to make a father” is a little too cute by half. Without the knowledge and input of the ONLY innocent parties in the whole affair and only that of the potentially unfaithful mother and her outside lover… Well, making a decision that turns out to be, shockingly, most convenient and painless to them is awfully convenient. As is pointed out in the original article: this is a problem only men have to deal with. It should be in a complimentary position to abortion then for women: men don’t have to deal with pregnancy, they don’t make the rules. Women don’t have to deal with cuckolding, they don’t get to make the rules either. We’re living in an age of genetic testing, presumptions of paternity by default, and proud sluts though, so probably no man ought to presume too much unless and until he’s seen test results. We’re on notice.

  14. Tom: Actually in this day and age, it behoouves everyone, male and female, who is having sex to take every precautionary measure possible to make sure the sex is safe UNLESS they are- jointly and with forethought- trying to have a baby.

  15. He is about at that age where if he’s going to start drinking or doing drugs, there’s a good chance he’ll be doing them soon. I hope your substance aaddiction problems weren’t genetic.

  16. Hector brings up the “crime and punishment” metaphor, I see. Sex is a crime, and fatherhood is a punishment. What a doubly sad world view.

  17. While John is an excellent name, its owners do seem to be a little plentiful. I’m not the one above, neither is he me.

    I can’t help thinking that this piece was all very well, but in this case it’s easy to be Hugo and not so easy to be Ted. At least, Ted might not be as philosophical about the uncertainty that Hugo and Jill are comfortable with.

  18. Re: What a doubly sad world view.

    I may have a sad wordlview, but unlike Mr. Schwyzer, I haven’t fathered two children, prenatally killed the first, abandoned the second and let some other poor fellow take the rap.

    I’m starting to remember why I stopped reading this blog the last time: virtually every one of Mr. Schwyzer’s posts fills me with genuine disgust. There’s no other word for a man who cheerfully recounts tales of moral turpitude, and can’t even seem to express remorse for them.