Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fathers are not "sperm donors"

Fathers are not sperm donors and sperm donors are not fathers.

Several times now, I have encountered transparently angry mothers who refer to their ex's as "sperm donors". I find this difficult to accept. A sperm donor is someone who provides a service, usually to a fertility clinic and in the expectation that he does not incur any liability for nor any further involvement with that child.

A father is a person who is known to a child. He was one of two willing participants in the conception and birth of the child and has normally participated in its upbringing at least up to a certain point. Even after the failure of the relationship, and even if he is so irresponsible as to take no further part in that child's life, he is still and will always be someone important to that child.

The epithet "sperm donor" directed at a father is derogatory and intended to objectify him. If he pays you child support, you might just as well call him "the walking wallet". It shows a failure of human respect and even if he richly deserves losing that respect, a properly adjusted adult will not do it. The only thing it achieves is to expose the anger and resentment of the mother and potentially will harm the child because even if she never uses the phrase in the child's hearing, the attitude will undoubtedly spill over. Children are very sensitive to this sort of thing, they will catch it, and the long term result will quite possibly be loss of respect for both parents.

In our society, it often seems to be acceptable that a woman be as vitriolic as she likes when she separates from her partner, whereas for a man, it is not. For him, in fact, it can be actively dangerous. Feminists want to be equal to men; if that is to be so, then they must accept the same responsibilities as men. Women do not want to be objectified and they should be vigilant in avoiding the hypocrisy of objectifying men. Women that do this will win the respect of men and of their fellow women, which is at least as significant as winning equality. Other women who encourage putting down ex's are indulging in throughtless gang behavior -- they are behaving like schoolkids clubbing together to stick it to another, and, as in any group of school bullies, any one of them can become the target at any time.

Separated fathers are forcefully enjoined against derogating the mother. They are warned never to put down the mother to the child and to be careful not to imply that she is anything but respected. The usual recommendation is, if the father feels too much resentment towards the mother, he should refer to her as "the mother of my child". This, at least, is a neutral and mature response to a difficult problem. Likewise, I would suggest to the angry mother to refer to her ex as "the father of my child".

Come on, mums, you're bigger and better than to call your kids' father their "sperm donor", would you have liked your mother to describe your father this way or thought better of her if she had?

I am sorry if this sounds pompous. I am expected to show respect towards my ex at all times, no matter what she does (and she does plenty). It distresses me that the inverse is not true.


sue said...

"The walking wallet"... sorry, but I found that amusing.

You are perfectly correct in this post and I, for one, NEVER called my ex "a sperm donor". Nor is that what I call my ex-SIL. I very much expect a father to participate in their childrens' lives, whether the parents are married anymore or not. The only time I can see where a father should be kept away is if there have been abuse issues, but personally, I don't think that really happens very often.

B.S. said...

The label of "father" has to be earned, I think. A father is a man who cares for a child in a mature fashion. Unless he happens to hail from the Cleaver family, he takes it upon himself to educate himself in parenting. I referred to my child's father as a sperm donor in a recent post on my blog. You, John Doe, undoubtedly do deserve the title of "father". But why should you assume that every man with a kid does? Have you ever met a man who behaves with a lack of integrity toward his child and/or the child's mother? And by the way, I was never married to the man in my case, so I don't call him an "ex" either. In my case, the man's behavior is actually abusive verbally, toward myself and my child, and when he unleashes on me, he does it in front of the child. He has never paid a dime of child support. Yet I allow him to see the child whenever he asks because I made the decision when my child was born that it was important for him to know his father. Go ahead and get hung up on labels if you like, but this man has a hell of a deal going, John. I don't think you should feel too sorry for him. I apologize for upsetting you needlessly, and I'm sorry that you feel unappreciated as a father. Oh, and please don't call me an angry mother. It's safe to say that you don't know me. I'm actually quite satisfied with my life, but now and then I do conflict with the man in question. The only time I ever called him a sperm donor was on that post, because I like to write in a colorful way. "Walking wallet"? Well, you sure didn't get that from me. And where do you get all this coaching on how to talk about and treat your ex? My child's father has managed to avoid all that.

John Doe said...

Betty, does the label "mother" have to be earned, or is it automatically conferred by a successful pregnancy? I think that the labels and hence the roles "mother" and "father" should be there by default, lost only under extreme circumstances and that decision made by someone more objective than the other parent. I do not assume that every parent deserves their status as such. I have met men who behave without integrity, and I have met women that do that too. I am sorry your ex behaves as he does and I laud your tolerance towards his place in your child's life but I am sorry, I do not believe that you should have the unilateral power to permit or deny that (don't get me wrong, that you do have it and do not exercise it is, in my view, a point in your favor). I don't feel in the least bit sorry for him and you didn't upset me needlessly. I'm not hung up on labels myself, I've been called enough not to feel them so much now. It's true that I don't know you (but it's obvious I touched a raw nerve). I came up with "walking wallet" myself; I don't expect many child support recipients to use it, it's too close to a confession. The "coaching" on how to talk about and treat an ex is standard advice to a father who wants to maintain a relationship with his children in the face of a custodial mother who is uncooperative, and no matter how uncooperative.

My only point is that one should be very careful as to how one talks about an ex no matter how disasterous the relationship, because very few people have the self-knowledge necessary to prevent an unpleasant attitude spilling over such that the children detect it.

B.S. said...

Hi again John,

I agree with everything in your comment, including that a woman who delivers a baby is not automatically entitled to the title of mother. I took parenting classes during my pregnancy, and I also read parenting books constantly. I daresay I own one of the most extensive parenting libraries anywhere. I am humble enough to realize that even my vast effort does not guarantee good parenting. For reality checks I take my child to a well-respected child psychologist.

The proof is in the pudding. My son is happy, well-liked and gifted academically. You are right that it is very difficult to prevent a negative attitude from becoming known to the child. I mentioned in the other comment that my child's father had behaved poorly toward the child, such as breaking promises and belittling the child in public. My son has formulated his own assesment of the kind of person his father is. I have actually had to talk the child into forgiving him by explaining that the father is just imitating his own father- he doesn't know any better. So, in reality, my child is accustomed to hearing me defend the father rather than put him down. I really feel that it's my duty to move heaven and earth to try to make up for the fact that my son does not have the huge benefit of living with 2 loving parents.

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