When New York Times
columnist Maureen Dowd asked, "Are
Men Necessary?" in the title
of her funny book critiquing today's
gender-confused culture, I took the
question to be a rhetorical play on
E.B. White and James Thurber's "Is
I wrote in response
that, yes, men are necessary, if not
to certain women, then certainly to
children, who, despite the creative
inventions of many modern mothers,
seem to love their daddies.
At least they love
the idea of Daddy, since so few children
these days get to have a real one.
A third of all American children are
born to unwed mothers and half will
sleep tonight in a house where their
biological father does not live.
This past Sunday,
the New York Times was replete with
stories that answer both Dowd's question
and that posed by Thurber and White.
Not only are men not necessary, but
neither is sex in many cases.
The cover story of
the Times' Sunday Magazine, for instance,
was headlined "Looking For Mr.
Good Sperm" and featured women
who have given up on Mr. Right and
are searching instead for a good vial
Another Times story
was about "virtual visitation,"
which allows absent dads to stay in
touch with their kids through instant
messaging and webcams. A third told
the plight of unwed fathers powerless
to block the adoption of their babies.
Finally, the fourth
was a first-person narrative by a
woman who married and had a child
with an incarcerated murderer, whom
she later abandoned. The dad, not
While such distilled
summaries can't tell the whole story,
the unspoken essence is that women
have all the power when it comes to
children, and men are only as good
as their sperm count.
The most potent of
these stories was the one about Mr.
Sperm, as it underscored how Techos
is winning the war against Eros, and
leaving us spiritually poorer for
the victory. In one particularly chilling
segment, women went looking for specific
features in sperm donors to achieve
a certain look in their children.
Our embrace of superficiality
is rarely so vividly displayed as
when an African-American woman chose
a Latino donor so her child would
have lighter skin and nonkinky hair.
A Jewish woman opted for a 6-foot-2
German/Catholic with blond curls and
blue eyes in order to avoid Jewish
traits she found unappealing and,
one can't help proposing, to make
a point her therapist can sort out.
Of course, people
who marry and couple the traditional
way also make genetic selections,
if often unconsciously. But the calculated,
literally detached selection of a
stranger's body fluids versus the
random matings that passion inspires
feels as sterile as the vial containing
the lucky specimen. Obviously, there
is difference between infertile couples
who resort to sperm donation and single
women who can't manage a relationship
with men for whatever reason.
While it's easy to
understand a woman's desire to have
a child, it is less easy to understand
how it was decided that fathers are
nonessential. I find little comfort
in the fact that some sperm donors
agree to meet their "offspring"
when the child reaches age 18.
on one end balanced against narcissistic
self-fulfillment on the other offers
little to soothe the restless soul.
Or the child, who might like to have
a real daddy tuck him in at night.
Or, perhaps, attend
her piano recital, rather than hear
her piece played during a virtual
Internet visit, as one dad did in
the Times story about long-distance
parenting. Virtual visits may be fun
and a great way to stay in touch with
friends and family, but they're never
a substitute for being there.
From the stories,
we can infer that the sperm-shopping
women didn't set out to be alone in
middle age and make families without
fathers, or that the virtual dads
hoped to have long-distance relationships
with their children. We also can figure
that unwed fathers don't mean to produce
accidental babies only to lose them.
Nor that the prisoner-wife dreamed
of someday having a child with a convicted
killer. Life is full of surprises.
terribly wrong with this picture,
and it is this: These are sad stories
that reveal symptoms of a diseased
culture in which human relationships
have no moral content and children
are treated as accessories to adult
lives. Yet, these trends are portrayed
as the latest gosh-gee fashions.
A society in which
women are alone, men are lonely, and
children don't have fathers is nothing
to celebrate. And a future world filled
with fatherless children - bereft
of half their identity and robbed
of a father's love, discipline and
authority - won't likely be a pleasant
place to live.
Kathleen Parker is
a popular syndicated columnist and
director of the School of Written
Expression at the Buckley School of
Public Speaking and Persuasion in
Camden, South Carolina.