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Who’s Your Daddy?

What happens when a man finds out he’s bringing up someone else’s kid? So, what really makes a man a father? Seema Goswami tries to find out.

sex and relationships Updated: Feb 07, 2009 15:47 IST
Spectator | Seema Goswami

What happens when a man finds out he’s bringing up someone else’s kid?

So, what really makes a man a father? Is it the fact that he has bestowed his genes to the fruit of his loins? Or is it that he has spent time and energy – not to mention love and money – in bringing up the sprogs?

I ask this question because of a bizarre case that has all the British tabloid press in a tizzy. A man named Mark Webb sued his former wife to recoup the money he spent on bringing up his daughter, Elspeth, who later he discovered was not his biological child. So, Mark wants his ex-wife and her lover to pay him back for all he spent on raising their daughter.

Mark lost in the English courts, but is not content to let sleeping paternity cases lie. Now, five years after he first found out the truth about Elspeth’s parentage (when she was 16) he is appealing to the European Court for Human Rights, asking that the court acknowledge the injustice done to him.

It’s not about the money, Mark says to those who ask how he can measure fatherhood in pounds. It is about the larger principle of natural justice – after all, a man deserves to know whether the child he is bringing up is his own or not. And he says he is doing this on behalf of the many men out there who have been hoodwinked by their partners into raising the kids of other men.

Whether the European Court feels Mark’s pain or not, this case does raise some interesting points about the nature of fatherhood itself – and indeed, about the shrinking role of men in the reproductive arena.

As far as the nature of fatherhood is concerned, there are broadly two views on the subject. The first lays emphasis on genetic make-up. Your children are yours because they share your DNA. They are your biological link to the future, your claim to immortality, your chance to see your genes survive into the next generation.

If this is your view of fatherhood, then of course you would be gutted to discover that the child you have looked after, loved and cherished was never yours to begin with. That he or she, in fact, shared the genetic code of another man. And if his mother had lied to deceive you on this score, how much deeper would the anger, the pain, the resentment and the bitterness go? It wouldn’t just be a blow to your ego but an assault on your sense of self itself.

But there is also a contrary view of fatherhood. According to this, fatherhood has less to do with genes and everything to do with a genuine generosity of spirit. If you have brought up a child, changed his nappies, wiped off his drool, driven him to school, nursed him through illnesses, dreamt dreams for him – then he is yours, no matter who his biological dad may be.

So even if you discover that the child you have loved for so long does not share your DNA, it shouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to how you feel about him or her.

But, sadly, the truth is that it does make a difference. Of course it is not the child’s fault and you should not make him suffer for it (as Mark Webb did by disowning his daughter and suing her mother). But if you have been lied to and tricked into investing your emotions, your energy and your resources into a child who is not your own you can’t help but be devastated by the huge betrayal.

Your feelings towards your partner are going to be riddled with bitterness and anger. Your family dynamic is going to change. So how can your relationship with the child in question remain the same?

No matter how hard you try, you will catch yourself wondering if she thinks of her “real father”. Is he, in fact, her ‘real’ father or are you? Does she still love you in the same way now that she has another Daddy? Will you have to compete with him for her affections?

How could things ever be the same in such a complicated scenario?

It is not my case that it is not possible to love a child who is not your own biological offspring. Millions of adoptive parents and step-parents do that every day, pouring their hearts into kids who are not of their own blood. But this is a choice that they exercise out of their own free will. They haven’t been tricked into it, manipulated by lying partners into loving kids who are not their own.

That has to hurt. And any man who has been cheated upon in such a manner will carry that hurt with him forever. He may still love the child he brought up. But this love will be always imbued with the pain of betrayal, muddied by the stains of treachery and shot through with all kinds of confused emotions.

At the end of the day, what can you do but pity these men? When it comes to the reproductive arena, women wield all the power these days. They can decide when they want to have babies and with whom. They can trick men into getting them pregnant. And yes, they can lie about who the father of their child really is.

Honestly, when it comes to procreative stuff, it really doesn’t pay to be a man. But if you are a man – well, then you must always pay.

E-mail author:

seema_ht@rediffmail.com