I’ve often wondered about people who write “advice to the lovelorn” columns. Often they give pretty sensible advice, but sometimes they totally miss the boat. The better ones allow their readers to criticize the advice they gave and admit it when they were wrong. The poorer ones are those with an ax to grind; that tends to lead them to (a) ignore the facts given to them by the writer and (b) lack any type of empathy for the writer or interest in the problem asked about.
In that category, the Oscar for lifetime achievement goes to Garrison Keillor. Years ago, he used to write an advice column for Salon.com called “Mr. Blue.” On one occasion, a single woman wrote him a truly heartfelt letter asking whether she should tell a man about her pregnancy that had resulted from an ill-advised one-night stand with him.
To this day, “Mr. Blue’s” advice stands as a hallmark in the history of misandry. To him, the man had no right to know of his child and was a pig into the bargain.
So enthusiastic was Keillor to trash the father that he totally ignored what the woman said about him – that he was kind and responsible and would certainly want to marry her and raise the child if she informed him of it. Keillor wasn’t interested in that; his only desire was to denigrate the unknown man and reify the woman. In the process, he completely ignored her very real concerns.
Interestingly enough, Salon.com readers rained all over Keillor’s parade. Virtually as one they told him his advice was ill-considered and morally indefensible. Still more interesting, the woman wrote to Keillor about a year later to say that she’d ignored his advice and told the man about the child. At the time, the two were married and happily raising their toddler.
Well, this one’s not as bad as the “Mr. Blue” debacle (hey, we don’t pass out lifetime Oscars to just anyone), but it’s worth noting for several reasons (Kansas City Star, 12/7/10).
In it, a man wrote in to say that he and his girlfriend of several years have broken up. They have two young children whom he’s helped to raise, but he’s unsure of the paternity of the older one. If the child isn’t his, he’s not sure if he wants to have a continuing relationship with the boy. He also wants to know if he can be forced to support the child if he’s not his.
Those are legitimate concerns which the two advice columnists, Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe treat with a disdain that’s remarkable, even by today’s standards. First they tell him to continue to support the children in all ways; next they tell him to respect his ex and cap it all off by telling him he’s selfish.
Not content with that, they pass out some free legal advice that’s likely to be wrong. It’s likely to be wrong because they ignore key facts about his situation.
Do they know what state this is all taking place in? If they do, they don’t let on and, since family law varies from state to state, it matters. Undeterred, they tell him that
It is our understanding that if a child is born during a marriage, and you sign the birth certificate, you are the father of record. As a result, if you break up with the mother, you will be entitled to parenting time and responsible for child support.
But since he called the woman his “girlfriend,” it’s unlikely that the two are married. And, depending on the state, their advice may well be wrong anyway. Many states allow a father to contest paternity in a divorce or custody proceeding regardless of the age of the child.
But, not content with being wrong, the pair utterly fail to grasp the fact that these issues are important to the guy. To them, he’s just a selfish man who insufficiently appreciates his obligations. They’ve got an opinion and don’t let it bother them that it’s got little to do with his real concerns.
So I thought I’d give the man the type of advice he deserves. Here it is.
“What you describe is a difficult situation. There’s no easy answer, but there are some easy steps to arriving at one.
Your first problem is that you don’t know the facts; you don’t know if you’re the older boy’s dad or not, so you need to find out. That’s easily done by resort to any of the many DNA testing services. Contact one online; they’ll send you a kit with which you can collect cell samples from you and the child. Send off the samples and in a few weeks, you’ll have your answer. The lab will tell you if you’re the boy’s father or not. That’s not admissible in court, but you’ll know the truth.
If you are the dad, then your mind will be at ease and you can continue to raise your son as you’ve been doing.
If you’re not, someone else is and that person deserves to know about his paternity. In that case, your ex has duped you and him for over three years, so take matters into your own hands. Consult an attorney to find out what the laws are in your state governing your situation. You may or may not be required to support the child; if you’re required to support him, you’ll be entitled to a continuing relationship with him.
That’s the legal side of it. On the personal side, you’ll have to decide what you want out of the situation. You’ve helped to raise this boy from birth and he surely sees you as his dad. But if there’s another man whose sperm helped conceive the boy, he may want a role too and in many states he’s entitled to one. A growing number of children have two fathers involved in their lives for exactly that reason.
If you’re not the father and want no further role in the boy’s life, you can probably accomplish that. But be advised, your leaving may cause considerable harm to him, at least in the short term and possibly much longer. You should carefully consider that before making the decision to opt out of his life.
Also, if you terminate your relationship with the boy, you’ll find yourself missing a big part of what’s important to you. Don’t let your bad feelings toward your ex skew your decision about the child. If I were you, I’d consult a therapist or counsellor before deciding anything finally.
Also, understand that your suspicion about the boy’s paternity may be well-founded or it may be the product of anger at your ex that’s natural in the breakup of a lengthy relationship. Don’t feel guilty about your suspicions, just find out the truth.
These are weighty matters. Your peace of mind and a child’s wellbeing hang in the balance. Proceed with caution and with as much information as you can get. Good Luck!”