Magazine article The Spectator

Who's the Daddy?

Magazine article The Spectator

Who's the Daddy?

Article excerpt

Paternity can now be verified by a simple test - but that doesn't mean it should be

It's a wise child, they say, that knows its own father. Nowadays, however, wisdom is hardly required; DNA tests can do the job with scientific certainty. For the entire course of human history, men have nursed profound, troubling doubts about the fundamental question of whether or not they were fathers to their own children; women, by contrast, usually enjoyed a reasonable level of certainty about the matter.

Now, a cotton-wool swab with a bit of saliva, plus a small fee, less than £200, can settle the matter. At a stroke, the one thing that women had going for them has been taken away, the one respect in which they had the last laugh over their husbands and lovers.

DNA tests are an anti-feminist appliance of science, a change in the balance of power between the sexes that we've hardly come to terms with. And that holds true even though many women have the economic potential to provide for their children themselves.

The subject has resurfaced lately, courtesy of a story in the Daily Mail , about a married television presenter who for years had been paying for the support of a child conceived, as he thought, as a result of his relationship with a writer. It seems that after meeting the child for the first time, he asked for a DNA test; it duly turned out that he was not, after all, the father. Poor child.

The next Bridget Jones movie may turn this under-discussed issue into a talking point.

For those who didn't follow the columns that took our heroine into the next stage of female angst - about being childless rather than single - the gist is that BJ becomes pregnant, but she is not entirely sure by whom, having been seeing the nice Colin Firth boyfriend, and the bad Hugh Grant one, in pretty short order.

The matter could have been fruitfully ambiguous, with Bridget having a choice of fathers, but it was resolved in sordid contemporary fashion, one of the candidates being wrestled to the ground by Bridget's girlfriends, so as to swab his inside cheek for a DNA sample. And so she found out the paternity of the baby and the most ancient game of humankind, Guess the Daddy, wasn't played any more.

Now I can see that some men might rather welcome an end to the old-fashioned scenario whereby they find themselves held to account for the paternity of children born to girls with whom they just happen to have had sex. …

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