Orlando Sentinel

From here to paternity: Get dad's name or learn to say no

By Kathleen Parker
Columnist
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on April 23, 2000

Searching for signs of the times?

Look no farther than a billboard near the Charlotte, N.C., airport that nearly caused me to swerve off the road: ``Who's the Father?"

That was it. Three words followed by a Web address and a toll-free number.

What did it mean?

Naturally, I thought of the film L.A. Story, in which God speaks to Steve Martin's character through a billboard. Then, I thought, maybe this is one of those clever, ecclesiastical signs I've noticed lately, such as: ``Loved the wedding, now invite me to the marriage. Signed, God."

Or maybe this was the mother of all questions, and by calling or logging onto the Web, I would receive some insight into the meaning of life or even a clue to the identity of the Big Kahuna. So I went to the Web site and discovered ... a DNA-testing laboratory. Turns out it's an advertisement for women who aren't quite sure who Mr. Wonderful is.

Excuse me, but don't people ask each other's names anymore?

We exchange business cards with strangers in the airport. Yet we go to bed with people, conceive little human offspring and have to ask: Who was that guy, anyway?

The casual nature of the question -- and the casual nature of the relationship implied -- ought to disturb our sleep.

Billboard advertising is expensive, so I have to assume that there's a market out there. A big market of women giving birth without knowing exactly who whatshisname was. Or a big market of women who permit random sperm donors to make a deposit and skip town. Or a big pool of men who can't remember where they left their DNA.

I suppose one could view the billboard message as good news for both men and women. All those men who want to be responsible providers for the children they helped create now can prove that they're the actual dads. Imagine the stampede.

Women burdened with a child and no daddy in sight can pop off a DNA sample and collect child support for the next 18 years. Everybody's happy, right? Especially the DNA-testing lab owners who, given the epidemic of promiscuity and the rising rate of children born out of wedlock, can look forward to early retirement. The young'uns should be happy, too. No more who's-daddy questions.

I imagine a conversation in America's modern home.

Toddler to Mother: ``Mommy, who's my daddy?"

Mother: ``Well, honey, I'm not sure. But if you'll let me rub this little cotton swab on the inside of your cheek, we can find out!"

Toddler: ``Oh, goody, Mommy. I really want a daddy. Let's do it now!"

A cotton swab is all it takes, apparently. According to the Web site, one of several boasting DNA testing, the daddy-identification test is simple and painless, accurate and legal, and inexpensive. All you have to do is type www or dial 1-800 to discover the identity of your child's bio-dad. While you're at it, you can find out if your beloved is having an affair. All you need is one garment section from each of the two suspects.

And, as we learned from the White House, sperm detection is a cinch. One garment sample will do the trick. (It doesn't even have to be navy-blue.)

Call me a radical, but wouldn't it be even more simple and painless to resolve these paternity issues pre-offspring?

I realize that it's Paleolithic to suppose that one might actually marry before creating a child; and I'm aware that some babies are products of passion rather than planning.

But perhaps a better billboard for our times might be something like this: ``Just Don't Do It." But if you do, at least get his business card.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Wednesday in the Sentinel's Living section. Also check out her Web site: www.kparker.com. She welcomes your views and suggestions. Her e-mail address is kparker@orlandosentinel.com

Published in The Orlando Sentinel on April 23, 2000

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