“Linda and Jeffrey sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G…First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Linda with the baby carriage.” Decades ago—young girls (and a few boys), would not only sing this rhyme, but were also likely to live it in the future. That’s changed. Single women have been choosing to become mothers for a long time. Now, increasing numbers of heterosexual and gay men are following suit by choosing to become single dads.
Laying the Groundwork for Single Fathers
According to the US Census Bureau, there were as many as 10 million single mothers in 2011. Those women could be single for any number of reasons—never married, or divorced, for instance. The national support group, Single Mothers by Choice, focuses specifically on women who choose from the start to be solo parents. Psychotherapist Jane Mattes, herself a single mother by choice, founded the group in 1981, and describes these mothers as “career women,” who wish to become moms “before it’s too late.”
Like women and couples who cannot conceive on their own, single men are adopting and hiring surrogates to bear their children. B.J. Holt decided to become a father around age 40 via an egg donor and surrogate. He has two children; Christina, 4 and Payson, 2. He told NPR although he had no partner, he, like many single mothers by choice, heard his biological clock ticking. Advocates say Holt is an example of single men feeling they don’t need another parent in the picture to raise happy and healthy children.
It helps that fathers’ roles at home in husband-wife settings have been changing; more and more fathers have become the stay-at-home parent while their partners and wives work outside the home. Stay-at-home dads help to remove the stigma of a man’s inability to be a single parent and sole caregiver.
The Williams Institute, a think-tank spotlighting sexual orientation and gender identity law at the University of California, Los Angeles, notes that more than one million never-married men—both gay and straight—were raising children in 2010. Gary Gates, a demographer with the Institute, says that’s “three times more than two decades ago. The Census doesn't ask how many of those men are raising children alone versus with an unmarried partner, or if they are single fathers by choice, but adoption and surrogacy agencies say they are seeing more such dads.”
I can only imagine what Mark Regnerus, who released “New Family Structures Study” in the Social Science Journal would have to say about single gay dads. Regnerus concluded that children who grow up with same-sex parents are at a disadvantage and “underperform” in most areas. Commenting on the study, Amy Davidson, senior editor at The New Yorker Magazine wrote: “What would make a study of how children raised by gay and lesbian parents do in life helpful? Rigor, valid comparisons, and a sense of what the words in that sentence—“raised,” “gay and lesbian,” and “parents”—might mean. None of those seem to be true of the latest work from Mark Regnerus…It purports to show the very harmful effects of having gay and lesbian parents.” On close examination, the study is more about stability in the home than parents’ gender preference.
Support for Single Dads by Choice
Brian Tessier and son Ben. Photo by Erika Hart
Groups have emerged to support men who want to be dads, but are not in committed relationships.
Brian Tessier of www.weheartthechildren.org started a hotline and corresponding website www.4114DAD.com about two years ago for prospective single dads, which helps straight men and gay men alike. Brian has two adopted children, now ages 10 and 6.
Tessier says of the outreach initiatives, “I think the most important change is the level of visibility of single fathers and ensuring that men who want to parent have the correct information, someone to talk to about the facts and the emotional implications of becoming a parent, and a community of likeminded individuals in which to connect”. He adds, “I did not give up the dream of parenting, I pursued it.” Tessier, a lawyer, details his experiences in his helpful book, The Intentional Father: Adventures in Adoptive Single Parenting.
Despite support and growing numbers, it remains more difficult for single men than single women to adopt. Adam Pertman, director of the Adoption Institute and author of Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming Our Families—and America explains: “Generally speaking single men [gay or straight] are still sometimes 'suspect' in practice; as a matter of cultural attitudes, people wonder 'why would he want to adopt a child alone.’ With that thinking comes all sorts of negative suspicions, concerns, and stigmas attached.”
The numbers underscore Pertman’s point: The Family Equality Council determined that one in four children in this country are being raised by a single parent. Most, at least for now, are women. A report on the structure of adoptive families by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2010, shows that only three percent of adopted children were adopted by single men.
Some dads look outside of their country. During an interview, Avi Brecher, who lives in Israel, noted that he “traveled the globe to create a family.” First he adopted his now 6-year-old son from Guatemala. This year, 3-month-old Ariel was born via a surrogate in Minnesota.
The difficulties involved in adoption, which I explain in Why More People Don’t Adopt, and the complications and expense of surrogacy, underscore how steadfast and committed the men are who decide to become single fathers. As the definition of family continues to change, it is likely that we will see more single men choosing to become parents.
Brodzinsky, David. “Research-Based Best Practices in Adoption by Gays and Lesbians.” Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, October, 2011.
Davidson, Amy. “A Faulty ‘Gay Parenting’ Study.” The New Yorker, June 12, 2012.
Gates, Gary. The Williams Institute. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-Badgett-NCFR-LGBT-Families-December-2011.pdf and
Gates, Gary J. and Cook, Abigail M. Census 2010 Snapshot Series, The Williams Institute, 2011, http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Census2010Snapshot-US-v2.pdf
Ludden, Jennifer. “Single Dads By Choice: More Men Going It Alone.” National Public Radio, June 19, 2012
Regnerus, Mark. “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study.” Social Science Journal, Volume 41, Issue 4, July 2012, Pages 752–770.
Copyright 2012 by Susan Newman