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Fetal Attraction

Five months ago, I slept with a woman I dated for a few weeks. She said she was on the pill, so I didn't use a condom. Last week, out of the blue, she called and told me she's pregnant and is having the baby. When I asked how it could be mine, she said she lied about being on the pill because she's 36 and desperately wanted a child. I suspect she doesn't know who the father is, but hopes I'll be a good guy and "do the right thing." I'm not trying to shirk responsibility (I'm a committed father to a 4-year-old daughter I had with my ex-wife), but I caught this woman in several lies while dating her, so I can't help worrying I'm being played. What should I do?

--Parent Apparent

Surely, you've heard some of the names for a man whose only form of birth control was the word of a woman he barely knew: "Daddy," "Da-da," "My Old Man," and "The Dupe Who's Gonna Pay My Kid's Tuition To Harvard."

The mere prospect of having sex often reduces even a man of genius-level intelligence to one with all the sense of a sand flea. If only men were more frank about this tendency, they might arm themselves with wallet-sized translators like tourists use to keep from accidentally ordering fish nostril sashimi. These, however, would convert sexual fantasy phrases to reflect the likely post-sexual reality: "Hey, baby, wanna get naked and make twins?" Or, "Something tells me you're into the real phreaky stuff, like bankrolling a full set of braces and eight years of birthday clowns."

In no other arena is a swindler rewarded with a court-ordered monthly cash settlement paid to them by the person they bilked. While you don't mention being forced at gunpoint to have sex without a condom, potentially getting socked with two decades of hefty fines for being a careless idiot seems a bit like being sentenced to 100 years hard labor for stealing a muffin. The law is not on men's side. Matt Welch reported in Reason magazine (2/04) that welfare reform legislation forces some men to pay child support for kids who aren't theirs -- sometimes, kids of women they've never even met -- unless they protest, in writing, within 30 days, that they're victims of a daddy-scam.

While the law allows women to turn casual sex into cash flow sex, Penelope Leach, in her book Children First, poses an essential question: "Why is it socially reprehensible for a man to leave a baby fatherless, but courageous, even admirable, for a woman to have a baby whom she knows will be so?" A child shouldn't have to survive on peanut butter sandwiches sans peanut butter because he was conceived by two selfish, irresponsible jerks. Still, there's a lot more to being a father than forking over sperm and child support, yet the law, as written, encourages unscrupulous women to lure sex-dumbed men into checkbook daddyhood.

This isn't 1522. If a woman really doesn't want a kid, she can take advantage of modern advances in birth control like Depo-Provera or the IUD, combine them with backup methods (as recommended by her doctor), add an ovulation detection kit, plus insist that doofuses like you latex up. Since it's the woman who gets a belly full of baby, maybe a woman who has casual sex and is unprepared, emotionally, financially, and logistically, to raise a child on her own, should be prepared to avail herself of the unpleasant alternatives. It's one thing if two partners in a relationship agree to make moppets, but should a guy really get hit up for daddy fees when he's, say, one of two drunk strangers who has sex after meeting in a bar? Yes, he is biologically responsible. But, is it really "in the child's best interest" to be the product of a broken home before there's even a home to break up?

Short of Krazy Gluing your zipper shut, latex condoms are the only protection you have against both HIV and conniving women with baby lust. At this point, your best defense is a non-combative offense. Show her sympathy and concern, but get on the horn with a paternity lawyer about your options, including testing to see whether all the little DNA ladders match up. Assume you are the father until a test tube tells you otherwise. Decide whether you will be an involved father. (It's likely you will be a financially involved father, whether you like it or not.) If you plan to step in and dad, your first step should be picking up a copy of Dr. Constance Ahrons' The Good Divorce, which will provide you with invaluable advice on how to be a cooperative co-parent with a pathological liar/gene burglar.

Copyright ©2004, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.