Not everyone has strong parental aspirations. For some, children are a must to have the life they want. For others, children are a bland or even frightening idea. If you do want children, though, the drive to have a family can be extremely strong, but for men fatherhood can be a risky undertaking. Fulfilling, absolutely, but at the same time very difficult to control.
Men’s parental rights stand in stark contrast to those of women. Radically unequal custody, staggering rates of fatherlessness, and the mental anguish of child and fathers separated from each other all attest to the fact that fathers are not respected as a member of the family by modern society. This unbalanced and gynocentric approach to the family has been legally codified on some level at least since the early 19th-century and has only been worsened by growing cultural misandry. Fathers are deemed superfluous and interchangeable, one man being as good a “father figure” as any other.
What, then, is a man dreaming of fatherhood to do? There are no “single fathers by choice” except via surrogacy. To father a child, a man needs the mother’s ongoing and enthusiastic consent because from conception through to birth; mothers are given every opportunity to opt-out while father’s options are limited to condoms, vasectomies, and vows of chastity. Add no-fault divorce, pro-mother court bias and unenforceable visitation, and father’s rights are left up to the child’s mother.
That isn’t to say men should never reproduce conventionally. Most children—if only by a disturbingly slim margin—have a healthy, active relationship with their father, at least on a national average; in some communities, especially African-American, a man is betting against the house if he hopes to live with his children. I’ll leave it at calling the prospect chancy and let individual men decide if they want to take that risk.
What I really want to address in this article is the topic of single men adopting children to raise by themselves. The preamble above was to set the backdrop against which men have to make the decision of how to become fathers, and why adoption can be a controversial but smart option.
When thinking of adoption, many people picture a man and a woman—often older or sterile—taking in a child when they can’t have one of their own. Single individuals adopting doesn’t tend to fit the mold, and even more so when it’s a man. When I propose the idea, most people react with confusion, wondering why a single man wouldn’t just find a nice girl to settle down with and have a family. Single motherhood by choice—a woman intentionally becoming pregnant without the involvement of the father—is becoming more culturally acceptable. Many people nod in understanding at such a decision, sympathizing with “how hard it is to find a good man” and with the woman’s biological drive to have a family.
Men, though, lack the biological capacity to have a child alone (post-conception). Why, then, has adoption by single men not seen a rise in acceptance matching that of single mothers? It comes down to a lack of empathy: the public has consumed the message of the challenges faced by single mothers and is willing to accept that a woman might need to go it alone in order to do it at all. Fathers, however, are held to a much higher standard. The barriers to parenthood faced by men are overlooked, ignored, and sometimes actively reinforced by wider society. If a man wants a family he needs a woman, and that means meeting her every demand—when it comes to children, the buck stops at Mom. For most people there is no scenario in which a man is justified in intentionally becoming a single parent. The usual assumption is that if he can’t get a woman he must be a loser. Inversely and symmetrically, a woman who becomes a single mother can’t find any man who isn’t a loser.
Luckily, the tide is shifting. More and more people are aware of the injustices faced by fathers, but change can’t come soon enough. For many men—young, middle-aged and older—fatherhood is a core life goal, but a domestic partnership is risky enough to make them stop and think. This is where adoption becomes a good option; if a man has the necessary funds and residence he can adopt a child to raise on his own. Is it in the best interests of the child? Children raised by single parents suffer on many metrics of life happiness and success, but they still fare much better than in foster homes or orphanages; and the very act of choosing to adopt means the father has made a conscious choice to undertake parenting, hopefully demonstrating good responsibility.
There are more children in need of adoption than there are adoptive parents, so I fully support any fit adult choosing to adopt. There aren’t any legal barriers to a single man adopting though I’m sure some men go up against personal biases in the vetting process. As with any non-traditional life style choice, the lack of social acceptance can be off-putting to adoptive fathers. Why, though, do so few people understand why a man might want to forgo traditional family in favor of adopting? The willful ignorance surrounding father’s rights is staggering, but the topic of adoption offers a prime opportunity to illustrate the plight of fathers and why some men want to go it alone. There is a stark contrast between the rights of men in mother-father pairs and those who adopt alone, and a brief thought experiment inverting them can show the difference:
Let’s imagine a different kind of adoption process. For the sake of this exercise, only men can apply. When one does, he has to select an “adoption overseer”. There are lots of overseers, millions in fact, and he can approach any overseer he likes. It’s up to the overseer, though, whether or not to take on the man as a client. This overseer has complete discretion to decide if the man will be allowed to adopt. She sets her own criteria and can turn him away at any point, no refund provided. Of course, the man can try as often as he wants.
Once a man finds a friendly overseer and wins her over, he gets to adopt. Presto, he’s a father! He has a son or daughter to raise and love, to give everything to and do everything for. The overseer’s still there, though. In a sense the child isn’t even the father’s; Junior is really just loaned to the father because the overseer can revoke the adoption at any point. Based on a whim, on new-found dislike for the father, on thinking another man would be more fit, the overseer can cancel the adoption and take the child away. No proof required, no show of unfitness. The man can appeal—if he has the money—but the odds aren’t good. He’s got no guarantee of maintaining contact and the judges almost always side with the adoption overseer. Even if he does win some partial retention of parental rights, there’s no enforcement of them or punishment for thwarting them.
If adoptions were like that, if an adoptive parent were at the near-total mercy of the personal feelings of one individual overseer with no accountability, how many people would go through with it? How many men would say “That shit’s crazy” and just walk away?
The reality of father’s rights is even worse, though. Extending the thought experiment, imagine if, after opening negotiations with an adoption overseer, she could force the man to adopt even if he changes his mind? It goes on and on, beyond what anyone would believe in a thought experiment. The reality of fathers’ lack of rights is far stranger than any piece of fiction can express.
Yeah, that shit’s crazy, and that’s why fewer and fewer men are willing to marry. A lot of them, though, still want to be fathers and adoption will become an increasingly appealing option. If you manage to adopt, you only have to answer to adoption agencies and Child Protective Services, and at least, they have some accountability and regulation. Are CPS agencies without fault? Absolutely not. In some states, they’re coming under investigation for misconduct, and they can and do abuse parents’ rights. But are they better than betting your family on the Russian roulette of family courts? I say absolutely. Men need to be able to be parents on their terms, to embrace their own, personal brand of fathering with confidence. No one’s child should be able to be taken away based on another person’s feelings, but that’s exactly what family law does. No need for demonstration of unfitness, no enforcement of rights.
The sad truth is that a father is only considered a real parent if he’s the only parent.
Author’s Note: This article is not meant to provide legal advice or information on the adoption process. Each state, province, and country has its own laws regarding adoption, and a would-be parent should always research the requirements in their region before deciding whether or not to pursue adoption.