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GOING SOLO : A Small but Growing Core of Men Are Becoming Single Fathers--and They're Doing It by Choice

REINVENTING DAD: Fatherhood at a Crossroads * Last in a series

March 28, 1995|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The refrain was familiar: a divorce at twentysomething, a fruitless search for a new partner, an imaginary life script that assumed the presence of children--and a real-life scenario marked by solitude and the steady ticking of a relentless biological clock.

But Don Viola was not about to let reality get in the way of his dreams. He decided to adopt a child.

"It's just something I always thought I would be," said Viola, whose son, Jordan, turned 3 in January. "A father."

In creating a family on his own, the 37-year-old software engineer from Rocklin, outside Sacramento, joined a small but growing fraternity of single fathers by choice. No hard data exists, no longitudinal studies have been undertaken--but anecdotal evidence suggests that a tiny cadre of men are heeding their own needs to nurture, regardless of their marital status or, in some cases, sexual orientation. Largely through private adoption or by contracting with surrogates, they are embarking on solo parenthood. In doing so, they are challenging broad cultural expectations about men--and about parenting.

"These are the cosmonauts of gender space," said Harvard Medical School psychologist Ron Levant, co-author of "Masculinity Reconstructed" (Dutton, 1995) and the head of the American Psychological Assn.'s new section on men. "They are crafting an entirely new role"--a blend, Levant said, of traditional and novel concerns.

Increasingly, single men are showing up at support groups for prospective parents, said social worker Andrea Troy, director of New York Singles Adopting Children. Arlene Tanenbaum, who coordinates adoption information services for Work/Family Directions in Boston, said that "just in the last year and a half, the number of calls has increased tremendously. There are definitely more men looking at the possibility of becoming fathers on their own."

As the head of a chain of clinics called the Infertility Centers of America, Michigan lawyer Noel Keane has acted as the broker for dozens of unmarried men who have contracted with surrogates to bear their children. Depending on the details of the arrangements, and the state where the procedures are conducted, the costs range from about $12,000 to $40,000, Keane said.

"These are pretty upright guys," he said, men who "may not want the problems" of married life or, in the classic parlance of dating, men who "haven't found the right girl."

Besides, Keane noted, "There is such a thing as a confirmed bachelor. Why should he sacrifice becoming a father? I've always looked at it as a constitutional right for someone to procreate a child."

Without the legal argument, that was very much how Bill Tuttle of Fairbanks, Alaska, was thinking six years ago when he worked through one of Keane's centers to become a father via surrogacy.

"I was about 35," said Tuttle, a carpenter at the University of Alaska. "I had finished my third house. I thought, here I've got this great big house and no one to fill it up. I'd gone through a couple of relationships, but I was never very good at it. I'd always wanted a kid. I come from a big family. I've got 18 nieces and nephews."

At first Tuttle explored adoption. "But they looked at me, a single male, as something that crawled out from under the rug," he said. When a female friend mentioned surrogacy, "I thought, gee, this is America, you can buy anything. That's a crass way of looking at things, I know. But if you really want a child, there's no problem."

Tuttle and his 5-year-old daughter, Catherine Elizabeth, known as Catie, maintain a friendly relationship with Catie's birth mother, who lives in the Midwest. But on a day-to-day basis, her father said, "it doesn't cross Catie's mind that it's weird to have one parent."

Most days Tuttle finds nothing unusual about the situation, either, although "you do get left out of a lot of female conversations about diapering and child care. If you try to participate, you get strange looks."

Some male friends tease him, saying he cheated by bypassing the hassle of marriage. Several people were so disapproving of his decision to become a single parent that they cut him out of their lives. But when he brought his infant daughter back to Alaska, a group of women friends showed up at the airport with signs and balloons and threw him a baby shower, right then and there.

Tuttle seldom has time to give much thought to the cosmic ramifications of single fatherhood. But when he does ponder the choice he made, Tuttle concludes, "Men are being allowed to be people."

*

In loftier terms, sociology professor Ida Harper Simpson of Duke University, who studies family configurations, said the move toward voluntary single fatherhood reflects a cultural "disaggregation" of what is traditionally thought of as female caregiving behavior.

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