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Why I'm Handpicking Some Dads for My Son

It could read like the first line of a dating profile: Lesbian moms seek loving, compassionate dads. My partner and I wanted to have children without a third person—and personality—in the picture. So, my 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter are products of an anonymous but "open" sperm donor, meaning they donʼt know him, but they have the option of seeking out his identity when they turn 18. Someday they may find the donor, but they will never have a "dad."

While my daughter will presumably learn how to become a woman by modeling the behavior of my partner and me, we must even the scales for our son by illustrating for him different ways to be a man today, beyond archetypes of Iron Man and Luke Skywalker. And the older he gets, itʼs becoming clear that I have to create a dad—or a few dads—for him.

Our son is in some ways a pretty typical boy. Heʼs into light sabers, superheroes, ninjas, and running wild. But starting about two years ago, when any man would enter our home, he would whisper to me, "Will he wrestle with me?" He was hungry for male attention, and we realized it was our job to carve out male relationships for him. When my partner and I began trying to conceive years ago, an old friend asked us, "But aren't you concerned that your children will need male figures in their lives?" "Well, duh," we thought, appalled that someone would proscribe our parenting paradigm, and also hurt by what felt like a homophobic, if well-intentioned, undercurrent. But now that conversation is more than theoretical—it's a conscious task on my part. I must find dads!

As a part-time, stay-at-home mom, I spend a lot of hours with my kids—and other children and their parents. And, not unlike a dating candidate searching for compatible partners, Iʼm always on the hunt for adult men—but with the added requirements that they be interested in hanging out with children and socially compatible with my kids and me. We want to create fun male-bonding opportunities for our son, but we're also trying to expose him to regular positive models of masculinity.

But he doesnʼt want just any man, anywhere. Some men he is indifferent to; others inexplicably drawn toward; and it's steered seemingly by chemistry. So, following my sonʼs lead with specific men, I'm building a patchwork quilt of dads, a composite of people that includes close friends and men I barely know. The process is a bit random, as was that of choosing a donor—perhaps someone musical, or humorous, or just low-key and sweet. Mostly, I let our son steer the way.

We've found the gregarious actor dad, who does impressions and is known as "The Funny Man," as in "Can we go to the Funny Manʼs house again?" He invited us in one day when we passed his house on the street and taught my son how to use toy nunchuks. The boy still talks about it a year later. Thereʼs the high school teacher dad, who rides his vintage bike to pick up his two sons and takes our son home with them on occasion for man-dates: play involving Pokemon cards, plastic swords, ice cream, and TV. And we have my best friendʼs husband, who runs a kids' summer camp and has two daughters. When we visit, he and my son may play a board game or sit back to back on the sofa reading a graphic novel and The New York Times.

I donʼt feel bad that we had children without a tangible man—it wasnʼt a choice. My partner and I had been together 10 years, wanted children, and didnʼt have a known-donor option. I do wish that my kids had a father, because I know itʼs hard for a kid to feel different from his peers, but we did the best we could given the parameters of biology. Our kids have two loving parents who bring different traits to the table—some masculine, some feminine, some not specifically gendered. But I do see now that it's our responsibility to build a community of men, for both of our children, that most importantly show them that there are good, kind, loving fathers out there; that women arenʼt, and shouldn't be, the only nurturing parents; and to demonstrate how to properly spin a nunchuk.

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