Friday, August 27, 2010

When Does One Become a Parent?

Here’s an interesting (and for the most part rather inconsequential) line from a news story:

Gibbons, 47, already had raised eyebrows with his ethics-skirting romance with Legal Aid lawyer Jeanne Emhoff, 31, who he fathered a son with weeks ago.

Grammar (and morality) aside, this is an eyebrow-raising sentence for me because it calls into question when the son was fathered.

If the conception is in view (which would be the normal usage), “weeks ago” would hardly be enough time for the pregnancy to be known, much less for the gender of the child (i.e., “son”) to be known, since it generally is several weeks before a pregnancy test can be viable, and months before a child’s gender is known.

So this article apparently refers to the birth as the time when the “fathering” took place.

The truth is that the baby was fathered at conception, not at birth. And this, for the sake of the next generation, is an important distinction. That son was a person long before he was born, and long before it was even visually evident that he was a son.

While an insignificant line is not good to build a whole case on, it reminds me that the status of life is controversial. We, as life-loving people, should be careful to be precise in the way we speak because language itself creates a culture in which things are viewed a certain way. (No, that is not postmodern; language does not create reality, but it does communicate a view of reality.)

And speaking of words, why is it that “fathering a child” and “mothering a child” are two entirely different things?

I think it would be a better world if “fathering a child” was more like “mothering a child.” Take care of the child. Spend time with the child. Model life for the child. Don’t just have a fling with the mother.

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