We're familiar with the hardships and stereotypes single mothers face, but what about single fathers? Men have mental biological clocks, too: more than one million unmarried men, both gay and straight, were raising children in 2010, according to a UCLA think-tank. Wifeless men who want children of their own have social stigmas to overcome as well, and they're not just of the bumbling Mrs. Doubtfire variety.
Gay men long believed it was too hard to be openly gay and have kids, according to Steve Majors, communications director for the same-sex advocacy group Family Equality Council. "Either you were in a heterosexual relationship and having children, or you were gay," he told NPR. "You couldn't have both." Now, he says gay men attend his parenting seminars and regularly email him for advice on the best way to have kids.
It's not just gay men who are taking advantage of reproductive technology to start families. Straight men face different issues: while gay people know their only way to have kids is through surrogate mothers, many straight men have no idea they can legally adopt on their own. "I think that it's a bias on the part of the agencies and the system itself that questions men's ability and their intentions of why they would want to be a single father," said Brian Tessler, who recently started a hotline for prospective single fathers called 411-4-DAD. He said he gets up to 30 calls a month, half of which are from straight men.
Single dads face discrimination just like single moms — including in the workplace, Tessler said. "If a mom is in a meeting and all of a sudden she gets called because her kid is sick, nobody raises an eyebrow," he said. "But if a guy gets called because his kid is sick and he has to leave, it's kind of like, 'Where's your wife?'" And some single fathers told NPR that people are so unused to the idea of a single dad that they assume the mom is just off elsewhere:
[B.J. Holt] laughs as he recalls driving through a toll booth on a recent weekend.
"There I was, in the car with my two kids in the backseat," he says, "and I was fumbling for the money. And [the woman in the tollbooth] said, 'Take your time, take your time. Daddy's without the mom today!' " Holt says he just smiled and drove on.
And where are the mothers? One single dad hasn't found the right woman, but he makes sure his children are around female friends, his mother, and a nurse so they "can feel the touch of a female." Holt keeps a photo of his pregnant surrogate on a table by the front door, and calls her his "special friend." Is he worried about telling his kids exactly how special his friend is when they get older? Nah. "I will always be there to love them," he said. "And that's all that ultimately matters."
Image via Tom Wang /Shutterstock.