The Thinking 

DNA Testing and Deceived Fathers

November 23, 2009


A long Sunday magazine article in yesterday’s New York Times, explores the effect of DNA testing on the men and children who sudddenly discover they are not biologically related.

Eric writes:

I was horrified by the Times piece and left a long comment there that apparently didn’t get past the moderators.

My take on it is that the Times completely stepped around the heart of the story, which is that (thanks to the new technology), the women who deceive their mates with the mockingbird’s hatchlings are now confronted with the truth. It is a terribly painful situation, hard for the men (there are two of them), hard for the woman, but mostly hard for the child. But what matters most is (1) it is the woman who set up the tragedy, first by infidelity, then by deceit, and (2) the longer it takes for everyone to get the truth, the more it hurts when they do.

So what does the Times write about?

They write about how the English common law, written centuries before the existence of any kind of blood test, has always shaken down the men (it’s traditional! we love tradition!). They write about how much it hurts when the truth comes out (better they never know!). They write about how much adoptive dads love their kids (DNA doesn’t matter!). They write about men, who after decades of bonding with someone else’s child, choose to continue to support them after they learn the truth (they would be fathers anyway, no need to tell them!). And they write about kids who are devastated when their “fathers” push them away after the test results come in (damn those stupid tests!).

But about the women who lie, cheat, and steal themselves and their families into this horrible situation, they say not one unkind word.

Laura writes:

I have read the story, but I have to admit it was filled with so many disturbing twists and legal complications, I couldn’t take it all in in one sitting. There were no interviews with the women involved to press them as to why they perpetuated this outrageous deceit over a period of years. Although, as I read it,  the article came off as sympathetic to the fathers; the women involved appeared monstrously selfish in contrast.  It says of the father who is the main subject of the piece and who discovers “his” child is not really his:

“Just because our [the child and his] relationship started because of someone else’s lie,” he said later, “doesn’t mean the bond that developed isn’t real.” Still, his love became entangled with humiliation and outrage, and each child-support payment stung so much that he felt compelled to take a stand on principle. In doing so, he also took the small but terrifying risk of losing his child.

Karen Wilson writes from England:

I worked as an OB/GYN for several years in some of the major UK hospitals and this type of deception is very common. Also common are wives who conceal from their husbands that they have had previous abortions and births of children who have often been adopted. Hospitals have boards on every ward where they write the parity of the woman. Some were para 1 or 2 but their husbands thought they were primigravida. The wives wanted the hospitals to conceal this fact and made requests that their details could be falsely recorded. This was not permitted because of the risks of mismanagement of the case if the medical staff got confused about the details. But most hospitals would comply with removing case notes from the end of the patient’s bed lest the husband picked up the notes and read that his wife had actually had one or two babies before. Staff were also asked not to mention this fact as well which could get all very complicated at times. This is all permitted under data protection acts. Notes of previous obstetric history were often scrawled over with “husband not aware” in red. 

Many women openly admit to their physicians that their husbands are not the fathers of their children. This is very common where there is a large age difference. Data Protection again protects the privacy of this confession. The topic is often raised during the discussion of screening for genetic disorders when the wife will often casually mention that there is no need to undergo testing because her husband is not the father of the child, but of course wants this to remain confidential. If all children and their apparent fathers were DNA tested, a lot of them will find they are unrelated. 

The majority of men are very naïve about women. Some will say “my wife had a very quick labour for a first child” and you have to think but not say “yes that’s because she has done it before.”

Laura writes:


 Laura adds:

Of course for those women who are not telling their husbands of previous abortions or pregnancies, there are just as many men who are probably not telling their wives of the pregnancies of their former girlfriends.

Tracie C. writes:

While it’s tragic for those men who believed themselves to be fathers only to find themselves duped by cheating/lying partners, it appears that the number is so small as to be statistically insignificant, approximately only 2% of married men according to the article. In other words, 98% of married men who believe themselves to be the biological fathers of their children actually are. 

The number of deceived appears to be higher among unmarried men – the same men who, by having unprotected sex with women they are not married to, contribute to the staggering 40% out-of-wedlock birth rate in the U.S. While I have no patience for feminism and the societal havoc it has wreaked, I also have no patience for the men whose own irresponsible behavior contributes to the downhill slide. 

The lesson: a man who follows the traditional path of courtship, marriage, then family, will generally have no reason to doubt the paternity of his children.

Laura writes:

Excellent point.

My husband’s reaction to this story, given the low percentage of these cases, was that it is part-and-parcel with the Times ongoing and relentless campaign to destroy the family. As he saw it, the subtext was, “If traditional families are often based on fraud and if many fathers are not biologically related to the children they are raising, what’s so bad about same-sex marriage and adoption of children by homosexuals?” 


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