A few days ago, writer Cord Jefferson posted an article at The Root provocatively titled, ''But What if I Don't Want to Be a Dad?'' In the article, he posits the concept of giving fathers the choice of a ''financial abortion.'' In the decade or so that I have been doing fatherhood work, I have heard this suggestion several times, and it generally goes something like this:
Let's suppose that a guy plans to have sex with a woman and he has made it clear that he has no intention of becoming a father. In fact, he'll wear not one, but two condoms, to ensure that this will not happen. The woman, who is clearly attracted to this guy, concurs and asserts firmly that she has no intention of getting pregnant. She assures him that she is on the pill and has a Norplant implant just in case. She also suggests that a legal document of some sort is in order. So her attorney, who is there to advise on all of her sexual encounters, drafts a legally binding agreement saying that should she get pregnant, the guy will have no responsibility for the child. The agreement is signed. They do the deed. And she gets pregnant and keeps the baby. And then she goes after him for child support.
Okay, I exaggerated a bit, but you get the point. Folks who support the notion of financial abortions say that we should make things equal and give a father the choice to walk away from his responsibility to a child, despite what the mother wants, just as a mother has the legal option to abort their child, despite what the father wants.
And therein lies the problem with the financial abortion argument. A physical abortion is not equal to a financial abortion. You see, when a mother has a physical abortion, this procedure ends life. No doubt, there are significant consequences from this action, but there is no longer a child who needs to be loved and cared for. However, in the case of the financial abortion, there is still a child who must be cared for by someone. The presumption is that the mother of the child will do this. However, if she is unable or unwilling to do so, or needs additional support, the burden falls on someone else — someone who didn't have the sex.
In my view, the issue here is not one of intent but rather one of potential. Specifically, when one has sex, one's intent can vary. Some folks have sex with the intent to have a child, while others have no intention at all to have one. However, in both cases, even with the best birth control, there is the potential to have a child. Every man knows this. Therefore, it's the knowledge of the potential to have a child that makes a man responsible, financially and otherwise, regardless of what the mother says or chooses to do.
This was a perspective that I understood even as a 19-year-old, when I unintentionally got my girlfriend pregnant. I knew that I always had a choice, albeit a difficult one. But all noble things are difficult. So I chose to accept the responsibility for my actions and chose to marry her. And I have chosen to remain married to her for 29 years.
''I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference.''
I could not agree more. I believe that a child has a ''hole in his soul'' in the shape of his dad, and when a father is unable or unwilling to fill that hole, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed. As someone, like the president, who grew up without my father, I know firsthand the impact of a father's absence — financially and emotionally. And I have spoken to countless other wounded souls in my travels.
The notion of financial abortion is not empowering for men; rather, it's degrading and insulting because it's based on the premise that men don't have equal control or choices like women do when it comes to sex. It presumes that a man is no different than a cocker spaniel — just driven by urges and instincts. But men have an equal choice. They can choose not to have sex.
Look, actions have consequences, and although a person can choose his actions, he cannot choose the consequences of his actions. When it comes to sex, one of the consequences can be a child. So if a guy wants to keep his wallet closed, I suggest that he keep his zipper closed, too.
Roland C. Warren is president of the National Fatherhood Initiative.