I can’t recall a post or an article I’ve written that’s caused more consternation — and such wildly divergent reactions– than my column yesterday at the Good Men Project: I May Have a Son, But I’ll Never Know for Sure. Both at GMP and at Jezebel, where the piece was reprinted, there’s been an outpouring of criticism (and a fair amount of praise) for the decisions a woman I’m calling “Jill” and I made 14 years ago.
A sample of the emails I’ve gotten:
You are a horrible human being and should face the consequences of
your actions. You and Jill conned another human being into a fake
life, giving his love to a child which is not his. Who are you to
determine what fatherhood is for Ted and what is it relation to
I have a beautiful son and if he was not mine my world would end. And
yes, I would no longer love him if he didn’t have my genes. My genes
makes him my son before all the environmental influences. This is my
love it is my choice who to give it to. — “Amir.”
On the other hand:
This may be my favorite thing you’ve ever written. I had respect for you before, of course, but it’s been doubled. You and Jill made the right decision. I hope you never have a moment of doubt about it, and I hope that Jill doesn’t either. Love to you and your family, and love to that family in the Midwest which is stronger because of what you didn’t do. — “Naomi.”
And of course, lots of comments fall in between these two extremes. (In general, the most virulent and hateful comments and emails have come from men, but plenty of women have taken issue with what I did — and, especially, what Jill chose to do.)
A few clarifications below the fold, based on questions that have come up in emails and comments on the two versions of the column.
1. Why did Jill tell you about Ted — but not Ted about you?
Jill and I had been friends for over a year, before we started a brief sexual relationship. She knew me well (one of the reasons she knew damn well I wasn’t husband or father material at that point in my slipping-down life). She had only recently met Ted (I’m not sure how, but I think they were set up by some of Jill’s work friends). Ted and Jill went immediately into a romantic and sexual relationship, and they didn’t have the history of friendship she and I enjoyed.
2. If you haven’t seen a picture of Alastair, how do you know what he looks like?
I love fact-checkers! Seriously, I could tell he was blonde and blue-eyed when I first held him. (I was blonde until I was into my teens). And in the last email I had from Jill (more than a year ago) she told me he was tall for his age. Jill and I aren’t friends on Facebook, by the way.
3. Don’t you think Alastair deserves to know his genetic history?
This whole situation would be much simpler if we knew I was Alastair’s father. But right from the start, Jill was uncertain. Obstetricians can date the time of conception to within a week – but not, I’m told, to within a time frame of less than 48 hours. (At least not with certainty. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) A paternity test would be needed, and Jill didn’t want one because she had made the gut decision that Ted was the father. Perhaps that was hope, perhaps that was intuition, perhaps that was practicality. Perhaps it was all three.
There’s at most a 50% chance that I’m Alastair’s father. If it was a 100% chance, that would make everything different. But there is a 100% chance that coming into their lives now would be disruptive (to put it mildly.) I’m keeping my promise — but if Jill ever contacts me and wants my medical history, she’ll have it in a heartbeat.
4. Do you think it’s possible that Jill has already told Ted everything, that Alastair has been tested, and they already know the answer?
It is possible. That wasn’t the case as of our last communication on the subject, but it may well be. It’s a happy thought, frankly.
5. What about the possibility that Heloise will read this someday and start asking questions about her possible big brother? What about if Alastair or Ted somehow get wind of this?
The former is a very real possibility, and I’m quite prepared to have a serious discussion with my daughter when it comes up. Look, Daddy also had three ex-wives before Mommy, too. She’ll come to grips in her own way with the reality that before he got sober in 1998, her father led a very, very reckless life in a great many ways. As for Alastair or Ted, I’ve disguised more than the names — the dates aren’t quite right, deliberately so (though they’re accurate to within less than a year.) I’m confident I’ve honored the letter and the spirit of the agreement I made with Jill so long ago.
6. Would you do the same thing if you were in the same position now?
That’s a moot point. At this stage in my life, I’m more likely to be a “Ted” than the Hugo who was. When I was sleeping with Jill without protection, I was also slutting around with lots of other people, using drugs, regularly self-injuring and headed rapidly towards a suicide attempt. I was a different man. That doesn’t mean I can’t be called to account for what I did before July 1, 1998 (my sobriety date), but it does mean that the decisions I made before that time were made with an entirely different moral calculus.
And I’ll say it again: Heloise is my daughter and I am her father. That’s a relational statement, not a biological one. And if I were to discover that she and I did not share genetic material, that wouldn’t change a thing. As far as I’m concerned, a man for whom it would make a significant difference doesn’t deserve the title “father.”
I loved Heloise when she was still in the womb. Ted loved Alastair before he was born. Sperm doesn’t make love.