What Makes a Man a Father?

March 08, 1994

You would think legislators would be embarrassed to make the kind of remarks that peppered a recent House of Delegates hearing on a bill designed to speed the process of adoption for Maryland children whose biological parents cannot or will not provide them with a home.

"You mean if I find out I've fathered a child, and that information upsets me enough that I have to go off somewhere for a year and pull myself together, I could come back and find out my rights had been terminated and my child had been adopted?" That was the incredulous -- and incredible -- line of reasoning from one legislator.

The short answer to his question is yes -- for fathers or mothers. The bill under consideration would indeed terminate a parent's rights if he or she had nothing to do with the child for one year and could not be located. But the question itself is so self-centered, so oblivious to the needs of children and the responsibilities as opposed to the rights of parenthood as to illustrate the problem so many Maryland children are up against.

Currently, about 1,300 children are in foster care, waiting to be adopted, but only about 400 will get families this year. Many of the rest will never be adopted. Part of the problem is the lack of resources to match children with families and to speed the cases through a complicated legal process. Another problem, however, is the fact that Maryland law bends over backward to protect the rights of parents, even at the expense of grossly neglecting the best interests of the child.

Does a man have a right to let a child languish for a year -- an eternity for a child -- while he "pulls himself together" from the emotionally shattering news that he has fathered a child? Apparently, the members of the House Judiciary Committee think so. They defeated the bill.

A similar bill is pending in the Senate. Perhaps the debate there will be less concerned about the fragile emotions of parenthood and pay more attention to the importance of giving a child a chance to grow up in a household with an adult who earns the title of parent by filling that important role in daily life. There is more to parenthood than blood, and Maryland law should recognize that fact of life.

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