About Fathers

Perspectives on fathers and their children.

Missing in the octuplets debate: Their father

Will the Suleman octuplets miss knowing their father?

The Suleman octuplets are the product of Nadya Suleman and a sperm donor. They don't have a father.

It's tempting to put it that way, isn't it? But of course they have a father. Will it trouble them that they might never know him?

We often make casually inaccurate comments about the children of single mothers. "No, he doesn't have a father--his mother used a sperm donor." Or "Her mother adopted her."

That's wrong on two counts. First, on narrow biological grounds. As technically sophisticated as fertility treatments are, they still require sperm.

And that isn't as narrow a technical point as we might think. Each sperm carries with it a vast, twisted coil of DNA that makes up a huge part of a child's genetic inheritance. 

But we know there is more to it than that. I cannot speak from experience, but we know adopted children often develop a burning interest in finding their biological parents. It's an important part of who we are, and not just because our fathers teach us how to handle money, or how to play ball, or any of the other things that, the stereotypes say, men contribute to their children.

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They are a critically important part of us even if our connection is only through an anonymous sperm.

So: Who is the father of the Suleman octuplets? Does he know how his sperm were used? Is he happy about that, or unhappy? Does he wish he could get to know them?

We know a little about him, and it seems that this might not be a case of an anonymous donor.

Angela Suleman, Nadya Suleman's mother, told the Associated Press that all 14 of Nadya's children came from the same sperm donor, but declined to identify him.

The AP found a David Solomon listed as the father on the birth certificates of the four oldest children.

Will the children someday be angry with their mother for creating a situation in which they don't know him? She's had 14 children who might never know their father, or fathers.

Perhaps that won't matter to them. But I'd be surprised if that's how it turned out. Some of the 14 children might not care--but others surely will.


Update: Does Nadya Suleman think she is Angelina Jolie? Frightening story on HuffingtonPost.




Journalist Paul Raeburn is the author of Do Fathers Matter? to be published by Scientific America/FSG in June, 2014. He is also the author of the Fathers and Families blog.


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