When New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asked, "Are Men Necessary?" in the title of her funny book critiquing today's gender-confused culture, I took the question to be a rhetorical play on E.B. White and James Thurber's "Is Sex Necessary?"
I wrote in response that, yes, men are necessary, if not to certain women, then certainly to children, who, despite the creative inventions of many modern mothers, seem to love their daddies.
At least they love the idea of Daddy, since so few children these days get to have a real one. A third of all American children are born to unwed mothers and half will sleep tonight in a house where their biological father does not live.
This past Sunday, the New York Times was replete with stories that answer both Dowd's question and that posed by Thurber and White. Not only are men not necessary, but neither is sex in many cases.
The cover story of the Times' Sunday Magazine, for instance, was headlined "Looking For Mr. Good Sperm" and featured women who have given up on Mr. Right and are searching instead for a good vial of sperm.
Another Times story was about "virtual visitation," which allows absent dads to stay in touch with their kids through instant messaging and webcams. A third told the plight of unwed fathers powerless to block the adoption of their babies.
Finally, the fourth was a first-person narrative by a woman who married and had a child with an incarcerated murderer, whom she later abandoned. The dad, not the baby.
While such distilled summaries can't tell the whole story, the unspoken essence is that women have all the power when it comes to children, and men are only as good as their sperm count.
The most potent of these stories was the one about Mr. Sperm, as it underscored how Techos is winning the war against Eros, and leaving us spiritually poorer for the victory. In one particularly chilling segment, women went looking for specific features in sperm donors to achieve a certain look in their children.
Our embrace of superficiality is rarely so vividly displayed as when an African-American woman chose a Latino donor so her child would have lighter skin and nonkinky hair. A Jewish woman opted for a 6-foot-2 German/Catholic with blond curls and blue eyes in order to avoid Jewish traits she found unappealing and, one can't help proposing, to make a point her therapist can sort out.
Of course, people who marry and couple the traditional way also make genetic selections, if often unconsciously. But the calculated, literally detached selection of a stranger's body fluids versus the random matings that passion inspires feels as sterile as the vial containing the lucky specimen. Obviously, there is difference between infertile couples who resort to sperm donation and single women who can't manage a relationship with men for whatever reason.
While it's easy to understand a woman's desire to have a child, it is less easy to understand how it was decided that fathers are nonessential. I find little comfort in the fact that some sperm donors agree to meet their "offspring" when the child reaches age 18.
Ego gratification on one end balanced against narcissistic self-fulfillment on the other offers little to soothe the restless soul. Or the child, who might like to have a real daddy tuck him in at night.
Or, perhaps, attend her piano recital, rather than hear her piece played during a virtual Internet visit, as one dad did in the Times story about long-distance parenting. Virtual visits may be fun and a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, but they're never a substitute for being there.
From the stories, we can infer that the sperm-shopping women didn't set out to be alone in middle age and make families without fathers, or that the virtual dads hoped to have long-distance relationships with their children. We also can figure that unwed fathers don't mean to produce accidental babies only to lose them. Nor that the prisoner-wife dreamed of someday having a child with a convicted killer. Life is full of surprises.
There's something terribly wrong with this picture, and it is this: These are sad stories that reveal symptoms of a diseased culture in which human relationships have no moral content and children are treated as accessories to adult lives. Yet, these trends are portrayed as the latest gosh-gee fashions.
A society in which women are alone, men are lonely, and children don't have fathers is nothing to celebrate. And a future world filled with fatherless children - bereft of half their identity and robbed of a father's love, discipline and authority - won't likely be a pleasant place to live.