Cover image for Sex in the future : the reproductive revolution and how it will change us
Sex in the future : the reproductive revolution and how it will change us
Baker, Robin, 1944-
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Arcade Pub. : Distributed by Time Warner Trade Pub., 2000.
Physical Description:
xvi, 320 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Previously published with the subtitle: Ancient urges meet future technology.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library RG133.5 .B35 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Provocative and often shocking, Sex in the Future examines how advances in reproductive technology will change human behavior. In-vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood could mean the end not only of infertility but also of the need for men and women to form relationships or for women to interrupt careers for pregnancy. Sperm and egg storage mean people can literally shop for genes, while cloning, egg-egg fertilization, and other techniques will lead to fertility on demand in a Reproduction Restaurant. What will all our choices be, and how far down this road do we want to travel?
-- Like Sperm Wars, Robin Baker's international bestseller, Sex in the Future uses fictional scenarios followed by informed discussion to explain the issues clearly and understandably.
-- Lays out the range of present and future reproductive technologies, with an emphasis on behavior: how we will respond to what science makes possible.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

"The demise of the nuclear family is an inevitable step in social evolution," argues Baker (Sperm Wars; Baby Wars) in this analysis of the possible effects of new reproductive technologies. Baker, a former reader in zoology at the University of Manchester, sees in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, cloning and other procedures as logical and practical ways for human beings to maximize reproductive success. Such technologies, Baker writes, can certify paternity, making it impossible for men to reject responsibility for the children they father. With legal mechanisms in place to require fair child support from men and women regardless of marital status, individuals will naturally gravitate toward single-parent families--which are already on the increase and, in Baker's view, a completely satisfactory system for raising children. Reproductive innovations can also end male and female infertility. The possibilities seem outlandish at first, but even a procedure as shocking as the transplantation of human testes into rats as a potential treatment for male infertility appears more reasonable as the analysis proceeds. Baker explains the science behind the new techniques with clarity and precision, and constructs fictional scenarios that serve as entertaining, if not wholly plausible, illustrations of possible post-reproductive revolution behavior: a typical sketch involves a middle-aged man lusting after a daughter cloned from his wife (it's not really incest, Baker points out, since the young woman is not genetically related to her "father"--as if DNA were all there is to parenthood). Baker tends to see utopia ahead; many readers may see his future as a dystopia to be avoided. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One PATERNITY TESTING AND CHILD SUPPORT SCENE 1 (VERSION 1) MY SON -- PERHAPS? The phone rang.     Drunk as usual at this time of the evening, Jim tried to ignore the insistent sound. With only minutes to go till the end of the game, he was reluctant to take his eyes off the television set. He didn't much care about the final score, but he knew that whoever was on the phone would be of even less interest.     The ringing persisted, though. Finally, Jim pulled himself to his feet and with a slight stagger walked into the hall, clutching his nearly empty can of beer. As he picked up the once-white phone to say hello, he cleared his throat and coughed. It had been hours since he had spoken.     The operator asked Jim to pay for the call. Taken aback, he reluctantly agreed.     "Hi, Dad," came the unexpected voice. "You sound hoarse."     He was genuinely pleased to hear his son's voice. It was at least two months since they had last talked, and then they'd ended on bad terms. They always ended on bad terms. Between calls, Jim would fret and vow to be more tolerant and amenable next time. But it wasn't easy, especially since the gaps between conversations were so long. The two of them lived several hundred miles apart, and, although Jim would have liked to make contact more often, there was no phone in the condemned house his son called home -- so all he could do was wait.     The caller was Rob, the youngest of Jim's three children. Dan, his eldest, was nearly thirty, ran a successful business, and now had two children of his own. Sarah was in her mid-twenties, had just finished a Ph.D. and had one child. Then there was Rob, just twenty and sending Jim to an early grave with worry and penury.     There was no doubt of Rob's innate talent. An aspiring poet, he had shone at school and easily won admission to a good university -- but his student career had lasted just one semester. Too lazy and hungover each morning to attend his classes and too misguided to heed his professors' warnings, he had assumed he was an asset that couldn't be thrown off his course. He was wrong but didn't admit his dismissal to Jim until the end of the year, when he could hide it no longer. In the meantime he had continued to spend Jim's money, as well as accumulate overdrafts and small loans. He claimed he was waiting for inspiration.     Nearly a year had passed since the big argument when Jim had told Rob he was on his own, that if he couldn't take advantage of the opportunities handed to him on a silver platter then he would have to make his own way. Rob continued to live in his university town, spending his nights -- and much of his days -- sleeping on floors offered by sympathetic friends who were still students. Mainly he tried to live off a succession of menial jobs, ranging from bussing tables to delivering groceries. His latest was stuffing chickens. He had written a few poems, but unimpressed editors had returned them all.     The phone call began reasonably well. Rob said he was happy, more or less. And he was healthy, apart from an outbreak of zits. When Jim asked, Rob eventually admitted he'd lost his job stuffing chickens. He claimed he'd had a couple of girlfriends since they last spoke, but neither had lasted long. After a while, he broached the reason for his call, and to Jim, it had an all-too-familiar ring.     "Look, Dad. The reason I'm phoning ... Well, I got this letter from the bank. Well, not really from the bank -- from some debt collectors. They say I don't have a bank account anymore. It's been handed over to these debt guys or something. Anyway, they say if I don't pay off my overdraft, I'm going to be blacklisted ... and they're going to start legal proceedings. They wouldn't do that, would they?"     Jim's heart sank. "Rob, I told you never to ask me for money again. I told you to sort yourself out. I haven't got any money myself, thanks to all of you. Ask your mother for some money -- ask your brother -- but don't ask me. I've got enough problems making ends meet myself."     That didn't end the conversation, but it heralded the end. Rob persisted with his request, eventually pleading tearfully for Jim to pay off his debts. He wouldn't let it happen again, he said. He promised. He really meant it this time, he said. In the end, Jim angrily agreed to think about it. Then he slammed down the phone, all vows of tolerance and amenability shattered again. Part of the problem was that Rob could only remember the old days, when Jim had part-owned his own business and was well-off and generous to a fault.     Exasperated, Jim downed the remainder of his beer in one gulp and returned to his chair in front of the television. He was disappointed that Rob had not simply wanted to talk but also angry at the clumsy attempt at emotional blackmail and the false promises. Then he felt panic, first at the thought of what not helping might do to Rob, then at the thought of what helping might do to himself -- even if he could somehow scratch the money together. More than anything, though, he felt guilty, because the conversation had raised in him the old, old suspicion. Was Rob realty his son?     The doubts had been there from the very beginning. Two children were enough, Thelma had said. We've got our perfect family, a boy and a girl, let's concentrate on them. Let's do everything we can for them . But then, out of the blue one evening, when their marriage was becoming increasingly shaky, Thelma appeared before him, naked from her bath, proclaiming she wanted another baby. A month later, she was in the throes of morning sickness. For Jim, the whole episode had the aura of deception. And although Rob's birth and infancy kept them together for a further seven years, he could never convince himself that he was the boy's father. Eventually, he and Thelma separated and divorced.     Jim glanced at the clock: 9:50. Time to sober up. Rising from his chair, he stared out the window at the dark, windswept streets. The last thing he felt like doing was to go out, but he had no choice. How on earth had he ended up in this state? he asked himself. It was a rhetorical question, though -- he knew the answer.     When they divorced, Thelma kept the marital home, and Jim, beginning what should have been a brief climb back to wealth and home ownership, rented a sizeable, almost flamboyant, apartment. But from then on, he misjudged everything.     Thelma never did cohabit with anyone; nor did she get a job, preferring to live off Jim's alimony. Dan went to college, spent Jim's money as if it was limitless, and a year after graduating begged for capital to buy into a friend's family business. Sarah followed Dan to college, succeeded in being an even greater financial drain, and partied herself into pregnancy. None of the three potential fathers would accept responsibility, so Jim ended up paying for good accommodations and child care while Sarah finished her degree.     Jim raised the money Dan and Sarah needed by selling to his oldest friend, Dave, his half of their joint business. In the years following their graduation, Jim and Dave had built up a successful advertising company. Reluctantly, Jim sold his partner everything on the understanding that his job and privileges would remain secure. He then used the capital he'd raised in two ways. He helped his two eldest children, and he bought a house to placate his new girlfriend.     Susan had been more than happy to visit Jim in his apartment in the early days. But as soon as her place in his life seemed secure she pressured him into buying a property that reflected the status she wanted from the relationship rather than the status Jim could afford. Twenty years younger than Jim, Susan was everything he had been looking for in a second wife, even though deep down he knew she was mainly after his money. They married and bought the house jointly, even though all the capital was his.     It soon became obvious that Jim's income couldn't support their lifestyle and before long there were bitter arguments between them. His financial demise was the image in reverse of his son Dan's financial ascent, as Susan never hesitated to point out. Almost a year to the day after Jim and Susan had moved into their new house, Jim came home unexpectedly from what should have been an overnight business trip to find Susan in bed -- with Dan.     The bitter and abusive scene that had followed was the end of his relationship with both of them. Susan moved out to live with Dan and as part of the divorce settlement took half of the equity from their house.     Soon after, to Jim's amazement and despite his opposition, Dave and Dan merged their businesses and became partners. Dave had always taken an interest in Dan and had helped him out in small ways. "Uncle Dave," Dan had called him when he was young. But for Jim, this was the end. Feeling unable to work for the team of his ex-business partner and his son, Jim left the company, only to find that men over fifty, no matter how successful they had been in their past life, couldn't find employment that easily. In the end, he had been forced to move into the tiny apartment that was now his home. He could just about make ends meet but had nothing to spare to pay off the debts of idle young poets.     Leaning over the bathroom sink, Jim splashed cold water over his face. He didn't need to be totally sober for what he had to do, but he needed to be more sober than he was. After studying his face in the mirror, he decided not to shave. Who was going to see him anyway? Who ever saw him?     As he donned his security-guard uniform and went to the tiny kitchen to make a sandwich and a thermos of coffee, he pondered his younger son's paternity for the thousandth time. None of his children looked particularly like him; they resembled their mother much more closely. But at least the two eldest had his drive and sense of purpose. He didn't see anything in Rob's appearance, personality, or demeanor that could convince him he was his son. And Rob's conception, so unexpected and so deliberate, seemed just one more act of deceit. Had Thelma really wanted them to have a third child, or had she been unfaithful and simply trying to cover her tracks? Yet here Jim was, twenty years later, being asked for what little money he had -- and for what? To save a lazy, useless adolescent -- who was probably somebody else's child -- from ending up on the streets or in jail.     What irritated him more than anything was that both Rob's mother and his elder brother were better positioned to help Rob than he was, but both were under the thumb of tightwad partners. As Jim closed his front door and stepped out into the dark street, he made his decision. This time he would not pay off his "son's" overdraft -- and as if to emphasize his decision, a train thundered over the nearby railway bridge. On the other side of the track, both geographically and socially, Jim's two ex-wives were finishing an expensive meal. Thelma was quite drunk and feeling very affectionate toward her daughter-in-law.     Theirs had been a relationship of two halves. At first Thelma had resented her place as Jim's wife being taken by a girl young enough to be her daughter. But when Susan metamorphosed from second wife to daughter-in-law, then gave Thelma two beautiful grandchildren, their relationship had blossomed. Even the last tinge of jealousy, because Susan was actually the wealthier of the two, had disappeared when Thelma had finally found somebody suitably well-off and married again.     "There's something I've always wanted to ask you," said Susan as they both sipped liqueurs. She knew her mother-in-law was feeling mellow and sensed that tonight might just be the moment to ask. "Do you know the one thing that really gets to him?"     They always referred to their mutual ex-husband as "him."     Thelma laughed, swaying slightly in her seat. Her cheeks were flushed, and she slurred a bit. "I know. You don't need to tell me. He'd like to think that that lazy good-for-nothing son of ours isn't his, wouldn't he? That's what he'd like -- so he doesn't have to give him any more money. I know just what he's thinking."     Susan nodded, mildly surprised. "Except he says he always had his doubts. Even when you were pregnant."     "I know. He used to keep asking me. About once a month he'd ask me. In the end, it was one of the reasons I left him. I kept telling him Rob was his, but he never really believed me. He got totally screwed up about it."     Susan paused a second but couldn't leave it there. "So, go on then ... Is he? Really, come on, tell me ... Is Rob really his son?"     Thelma smiled, took another sip of her liqueur, then leaned across to whisper her secret.     "Yes, he is," she said, with emphasis. "He really is his son ... But I will tell you something -- if you promise to keep it to yourself." She paused for agreement and effect. Gaining both, she went on. "They might not all be his."     This was the sort of revelation Susan wanted. "You mean ... Sarah's not his daughter?" she said in amazement.     The elder woman shook her head. "No," she said. "It's not Sarah."     "You mean ..."     Thelma laughed, enjoying the impact of her revelation. "But for goodness sake don't tell anyone. I can't be absolutely certain. Jim could be his father -- it's possible -- but if any of them isn't his ... it's Dan!" TAMING THE FORCES A divorced ex-businessman is down on his luck. Money-grabbing ex-wives share the secrets of their infidelities, one of which was with his eldest son. A promiscuous daughter falls pregnant. An idle son bleeds his father for every penny he can. Such a depressing scene hardly mirrors the fate of every man, but it is common enough to strike a chord with many an observer at the outset of the twenty-first century. Why was the man in this position? And would he be better or worse off in the future?     Most of the chapters in this book will be concerned with the impact of modern technology on the nuts and bolts of human reproduction -- the micro-manipulation of testes and ovaries, sperm and eggs, cell nuclei and the like. The two chapters in Part 1, though, are different. The legacies under review here are subconscious urges that control what is, in effect, the strategic behavior of men and women. Equally as innate as their more anatomical counterparts, these legacies surface as each sex tries to do the best, reproductively, for itself and its children. The impacts of modern developments on our subconscious urges are much less tangible than the more obvious impacts of technology on conception and fertility -- but they are no less potent, as we shall see.     In the scene, the main characters were straggling against, or taking advantage of, behavior patterns that have been handed down from distant ancestors. The main forces at work, sculpting the scene's events, were the influence of paternal uncertainty on men's behavior and the problems and opportunities that this generates for women. Soon, though, these forces will be tamed. Indeed, the first faltering steps in two different directions have already been taken.     Originally, paternity testing and child support enforcement were expected to bolster the institution of the nuclear family, which by the end of the twentieth century was in free fall. Ironically, as we shall discuss in Chapter 2, they are likely to have exactly the opposite effect. This is because, socially desirable though both are, they actually erode the cement that binds the nuclear family together -- the threat of infidelity.     First, though, this chapter considers the biological background, social birth, and initial influence of both developments. PATERNAL UNCERTAINTY AND PATERNITY TESTING * PATERNAL UNCERTAINTY In the realm of reproduction, the psychological difference between men and women is greatly underestimated. A woman can have total confidence that she is the genetic parent of any child to whom she gives birth. A man can never have total confidence in his genetic parenthood. Sex takes only a few minutes, so no matter how much of his time a man spends with a woman -- unless it is absolutely every minute -- a nagging doubt over paternity can always remain. Trust helps, but can never be total. And the less a man trusts a woman, and the less time he spends with her, the greater that doubt can be.     A survey in the United Kingdom in 1989 showed that if a man spent more than 80 percent of his time with his partner between sexual acts, she was almost never unfaithful to him. Less time than that, though, and the chances of her infidelity increased significantly, rising to over 10 percent if he spent less than 10 percent of his time with her. Other facts also emerged, such as that a woman was most likely to have sex with a lover during the fertile phase of her menstrual cycle and that acts of infidelity are less likely to involve contraception than are routine acts of sex with a live-in partner. The result is that from time to time, infidelity makes babies. On average, the supposed father does not sire "his" child on about 10 percent of occasions: men's worries over paternity are sometimes justified.     In the scene, Jim spent much of his life agonizing over the paternity of his third child, Rob. And the more he was required to do for Bob, the greater his preoccupation. He fretted that any parental effort on his part was misdirected if Bob was not his. The feeling that Thelma and some unknown paramour might have tricked him gnawed away at him constantly. And like most men in his position, Jim's uncertainty affected how good a father he was to his child.     In one sense, though, Jim was unusual. Most men spend little time consciously pondering their paternity. But this is relatively unimportant. Whether a man's uncertainty is conscious or subconscious, the quality of care and support he shows for a child is higher if that child is his genetic offspring than if it is not, as study after study has shown. * QUALITY OF CARE Most such research has examined the behavior of men in blended families -- households in which some of the children are the man's genetic offspring and some are his stepchildren. Studies of families in Canada and Britain show that a man in a blended family is seven times more likely to abuse his stepchildren than his genetic children, and a massive one hundred times more likely to kill them. This increased risk of violence and murder on the part of stepfathers is greatest for young babies up to the age of two, but is not confined to that age group.     There is nothing particularly new and twentieth-century about this behavior. Studies of the forest-dwelling Ache people in Paraguay, for example, showed that 9 percent of children raised by a mother and stepfather were killed before their fifteenth birthday compared with less than 1 percent of those raised by two genetic parents.     Abuse, neglect, and murder are the most extreme forms of parental disfavoritism and fortunately are relatively rare. Much more common is simple parental favoritism, in which one child gets more toys, more pocket money, and simply more praise and attention than another does. Again, we should not be surprised to find that in blended families men are more likely to favor their genetic offspring than the offspring of another man.     Humans are not the only species to care about genetic parenthood. Male birds spend more time helping to feed the chicks of faithful than unfaithful partners. Lions are much more likely to kill cubs that cannot be theirs. Monkeys and apes also show heightened aggression toward youngsters that cannot be theirs. We can never know, of course, how conscious or unconscious is the behavior of the males of these other species, and it really doesn't matter. Probability of paternity affects their behavior. And the youngsters who masquerade as their offspring benefit or suffer accordingly, as do the youngsters' mothers.     Evidently, the male behavior associated with paternal uncertainty has a long evolutionary history. Perversely, though, this traditional problem for men is equally a traditional opportunity for women. Females can sometimes gain from male confusion over paternity, as Thelma did in the scene. * CONFUSING PATERNITY If a woman can convince her partner that he is the father of her child when he isn't, then she gains and her partner loses. In the scene, Thelma seemed to have engineered just such an advantage for herself in conceiving Dan. Jim poured money into Dan's education and career, little realizing that he might not be his son.     The converse can also happen: a woman failing to convince a man of his paternity even when he really is the father. In the scene, this is what happened at Rob's conception. And when things became tight, Jim discriminated against Rob as a result.     As these two fictional conceptions illustrate, the pressure has always been on the man to judge the situation correctly and on the woman to convince her partner that he is the genetic father, whether he is or not. Sometimes one or other succeeds and sometimes they don't. In the scene, Jim failed miserably, judging the situation correctly with only one -- Sarah -- of his three children. Thelma succeeded a little better, convincing Jim of his paternity of two of her three children, despite the fact that Dan might not have been his.     Thelma also achieved something else, but to explain it requires that a secret be divulged. At the end of this chapter we revisit Jim, Thelma, and their children and consider what a difference it would have made to their lives if there were no such thing as paternal uncertainty. There we discover that Dan wasn't Jim's child. His genetic father was actually Jim's erstwhile business partner, Dave.     Thelma's achievement is emulated frequently by female primates, and is also often contrived by female birds. What each of these females manages is to convince one male that he is the father of her offspring while at the same time making one or more other males think that they might be the father. Then all the males are much more inclined to help than hinder. Some female birds have been observed to recruit three or four males to help feed their fledglings by this ruse. Female lions and monkeys reduce male aggression toward their offspring by giving several males cause to think that they might be its father.     The way that all these females confuse paternity, of course, is by having sex with more than one male. In the twentieth-century industrial society in which Thelma lived, such promiscuity was fairly covert and secretive. In some human societies, though, female promiscuity is much more common and overt. In the Ache of Paraguay, for example, women regularly have sex with several men, and paternal confusion is the rule rather than the exception. So much so that a man who has had sex with a child's mother can categorize himself as either the child's primary father, in other words the man most likely to be the child's father, or its secondary or even tertiary father. To differing degrees, all the "fathers" help in the child's upbringing, to the benefit of both the woman and the child.     In Thelma's case, two different men were encouraged to think they were Dan's father. Jim gave Dan his greatest help, but "Uncle" Dave also helped him on and off during his childhood. And he did so again, later, when they merged businesses. Almost as if they were Ache, Thelma and Dan both did very nicely out of the situation Thelma's promiscuity had created.     As we move into the twenty-first century, though, life is about to change for the Thelmas, Daves, and Jims of the world, and maybe eventually for the Ache. Global paternity testing is just around the corner. * PATERNITY TESTING The men of the future will be liberated from the specter of paternal uncertainty that haunted their male ancestors. In the past, a man's only window on paternity was a set of vague recollections of sexual activity around the supposed time of a child's conception, perhaps bolstered by an equally vague physical resemblance to the child. On that flimsy basis, men sacrificed their time, effort, and resources in the raising of supposed children. Now, every man can confirm his paternity if he so wishes, and in the future it will probably be done for him as a matter of routine.     Men will owe this liberation to paternity testing, a technological offshoot from the process of genetic fingerprinting. This latter technique was developed in Britain in 1984 by a man, Alec Jeffreys, whose gender is relevant later on in this chapter. We shall discuss the nature of genes and chromosomes in more detail in Chapter 8. For the moment, it is enough to know that genes are simply sequences of chemicals. They are arranged along the chromosomes found in the nucleus of nearly every cell in the body. Chromosomes are composed of a chemical known as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA itself is made up of different types of amino acids arranged in unique sequences. Short sequences of amino acids are called bases, and a gene consists of a certain number of bases.     Jeffreys found a way of identifying bits of DNA -- called minisatellites -- that flanked particular genes. He also found that everyone has repeated minisatellite regions in their DNA, but that the number of repeats is unique to every individual. Moreover, these repeats are inherited from the parents, half from the mother and half from the father. Only identical twins end up with the same numbers of minisatellite sequences. This discovery was destined to change family life forever, because it heralds the end of paternal uncertainty.     A sample of any tissue that contains cells -- blood, saliva, hair roots, or semen, for example -- is all that is needed to make a genetic fingerprint. DNA is extracted from the sample, then cut chemically at specific points using so-called restriction enzymes. The fragments of DNA produced are placed on a gel and separated from each other via electrophoresis -- the running of an electric current through the gel. Pieces of DNA have a negative charge. So when a positively charged electrode is placed at the other end of the gel, the charged fragments of DNA are attracted through the gel toward it. Shorter, lighter fragments move faster and hence travel farther while the longer, heavier fragments move more slowly and hence travel less far. The result is that the fragments separate along the length of the gel according to their size. At first, the pattern of fragments along the gel cannot be seen, but after treatment a series of bands becomes visible. This is the genetic fingerprint, a mixture of light and dark bands, with darker bands containing more DNA fragments.     The genetic fingerprint looks a bit like the bar code found on packaging. And just like bar codes, it can also be described as a series of numbers, each number referring to the length of the DNA fragment. This length can be calculated by measuring how far a fragment has traveled through the gel compared with marker bands of DNA of known length.     In paternity testing, cells from the child, the mother, and the putative father are used to produce a genetic fingerprint for each. As a child inherits half its DNA from its mother and half from its father, these fingerprints can be used to check paternity. Any band in a child's DNA fingerprint that fails to match a band in its mother's DNA fingerprint must have been inherited from its father. If the putative father is the real father, these non-maternal bands from the child will all match with bands from this man.     This sounds good, but the measured match between fingerprints from a child and a putative father is statistical rather than certain. Even when a child's fingerprint is compared with that from a man who is not its genetic father, some bands (25 percent on average) will match by chance. This might sound like a fairly basic flaw in the process, but it is not, as long as enough bands are available for comparison. For example, if both the child and the putative father have, say, ten bands for checking in their DNA fingerprints, the probability of all ten matching by simple chance is very low -- approximately once in a million tests. Usually many more than ten bands are available for analysis and a chance match is even less likely. In current usage, paternity testing really is a powerful and accurate procedure.     Paternity tests are a lot easier and a lot more reliable if tissue can be obtained from everybody concerned -- the mother, the child, and the range of putative fathers. There are ways around not having tissue from the mother, especially if tissue is available from a second child, but the technique becomes a little less reliable. This need for cooperation raises a problem because one or other of the parties may consider that it is not in his or her interest to do so. The question then becomes: Under what circumstances should participation be coerced?     This question is in fact only part of a much bigger one. How far down the road toward automatic or enforced paternity testing should governments go? Although this may not be a major concern at the moment, it will become a concern for the future. We shall discuss this question shortly, after considering a related phenomenon -- child support legislation. DEADBEAT DADS AND CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT In the scene, Thelma gained from having sex with two men around the time of Dan's conception. She confused paternity and Dan reaped the benefits. Her daughter, Sarah, though, who had sex with three men around the time of her own child's conception, experienced a different payoff. She fell victim to one of man kind's least pleasant but most enduring and perfectly natural attributes -- a taste for having sex with a woman and then abdicating all further responsibility. It is this unpleasant but immutable trait which child support legislation is intended to counteract. * URGENT AND IRRESPONSIBLE MALES, COY AND CARING FEMALES There is a basic difference between the sexes, a difference that biologists can trace back over 800 million years to the earliest of multicell animals and the very origin of males and females. Sexually, males are urgent and relatively indiscriminate, whereas females are much more coy and cautious. It is a truly ancient characteristic handed down over eons of time, as much a feature of men and women as it is of male and female butterflies, drakes and ducks, dogs and bitches, and bulls and cows.     Men have a much more cavalier approach to one-night stands and other casual acts of sex than women have, because men have more to gain and less to lose from such encounters. Their gain is the chance of cost-free reproduction. Men's bodies could produce innumerable children, but they are limited by opportunity. So they take advantage of as many opportunities as they can, no matter how fleeting. After all, what have they got to lose? Not for men the drain of pregnancy, birth, and lactation that has bedeviled female mammals from the very beginning. For women, it is different. It is their bodies, not their sexual opportunities, which limit their reproduction. And unlike men, they do have much to lose.     We can add to this basic gender difference in the payoff for casual sex the fact that if a child results, the man cannot be certain it is his. It is not surprising, therefore, that natural selection has shaped men biologically to be predisposed to "have sex and run." * DEADBEAT DADS This ancient male predisposition to have sex then flee creates a problem for a woman. For her, in effect, it turns sex into a gamble. She can't recruit a man to help her raise offspring without at some point allowing him to have sex with her. But having had sex with him, she has no guarantee that he won't then simply disappear, leaving her with the baby. However, although the gamble of sex has been an ever-present problem for the individual woman, it has not been a major social problem until the last few decades.     Essentially, a woman deserted by a man has three courses of action open to her. She can try to raise the child single-handedly. She can turn to her extended family for help. Or she can abort, kill, or abandon the baby -- a social problem, of course, but of a different sort. In the past, and in cultures such as the Ache now, women did everything but raise the child single-handedly. The second half of the twentieth century, though, saw an increase in pressure on women to try to raise children on their own. Single parenthood is on the increase. We shall discuss this important trend in greater depth in Chapters 2 and 9, but a few details are needed here to set the scene.     A steep rise in the numbers of single parents began in the 1960s. By the first half of the 1990s, single mothers and their children comprised about one in five of families with dependent children in both Britain and the United States. This represented a virtually threefold increase since 1970. The rise in the United States during the seven-year period from 1987 to 1994 was particularly steep, increasing from 14 to 23 percent. By the March 1998 Census Bureau update, 23.3 percent of children in the United States lived in a single-parent family headed by their mother. This represented 16.7 million children. Of these, 40 percent, or 6.7 million, lived with mothers who had never been married. A 1999 Census Bureau study reported that in the early nineties more than half of first children born to young women were conceived outside of wedlock, and 41 percent of first births took place out of wedlock.     Not surprisingly, single-mother families on average have less income than two-parent families. In all industrialized nations for which 1990s information is available, children in single-mother families are at greater risk of poverty. In Australia, Canada, and the United States, over 50 percent of children in single-mother families are living below the poverty line. In Australia, Norway, and the United States, such children account for over half the children in poverty.     For many single mothers, the harsh economics of single parenthood have serious consequences for their own and their children's survival, health, and fertility. There are also social consequences. Single-parent families on average produce children with poorer school performance and higher rates of delinquency. They are also associated with a decline in the mental health of both mother and children. The daughters of single mothers are more likely to conceive in their early teenage years, often thereby creating a new generation of such families.     In the last quarter of the twentieth century, single-parent families formed a societal presence that most governments were eventually forced to address -- with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success. The greatest of both was perhaps in Scandinavia. Countries such as Denmark, Finland, and Sweden have a high percentage of children in single-mother families, yet fewer than 10 percent live below the poverty line, thanks to the mitigating effect of government support.     Even with governmental enthusiasm, the inescapable fact was that single motherhood was becoming a very expensive phenomenon. Throughout the industrialized world, regimes sought ways to reduce the cost of single mothers to the state, and quite reasonably they focused on ways of unburdening state responsibility onto the children's absentee fathers.     In particular, government knives were drawn on the so-called deadbeat dads -- fathers who not only removed themselves from any form of child support but who often covered their tracks so successfully that they could not be traced. Suddenly, these men were being blamed for a variety of social ills from poverty and social pathology to the spiraling costs of welfare -- and the statistics were impressive. For example, in the United States 62 percent of custodial mothers received no support from the child's father, which represented over 6 million single mothers managing on their own.     What a difference it would make to the women, the children, society -- and to the Treasury -- if somehow men could be forced to support their genetic children whether they lived with them or not. * CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT At the beginning of the 1990s, the move toward child support enforcement began to roll. Various governments mooted, and their wider societies applauded, vitriolic suggestions such as license revocations, wage garnishment, and even imprisonment for deadbeat dads.     As an example, a system for child maintenance was introduced in Britain in 1993 with the establishment of a government agency called the Child Support Agency (CSA). Under the Child Support Act of 1991, child support maintenance was an amount of money that an absentee parent, invariably an absentee father, was to be forced to pay regularly as a contribution to the financial support of his children. The money was to be paid to the CSA, which would then pass it on to the mother. Similar agencies were formed in, for example, Australia. In the United States, welfare reform legislation enacted in August 1996 under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act established federal requirements for the child support enforcement programs of the several states. Among the provisions of the new law were the mandating of uniform child support laws and procedures among the states, as well as computerized central registries for child support orders, collections, and disbursements, and tougher penalties for nonpayment. The act also established a National Directory of New Hires to track delinquent parents across state lines, simplified procedures for withholding child support from wages, and streamlined the system for establishing paternity. Subsequent legislation, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998, created felonies for egregious child support offenders.     The amount of money a father is required to contribute is calculated by formula. In 1997 the British CSA described its child support calculation as follows. The CSA allows essential living expenses for the absentee parent and any of his own children who live with him, plus rent or mortgage costs for the house he lives in if he or his partner is the householder. In some cases a weekly allowance may also be provided for travel to work and/or for transferred property or capital. The CSA deducts the total of these costs from the absentee parent's net income (which means the amount left after paying tax, national insurance contributions, and half of any pension contribution). This net income is known as assessable income . In broad terms, the CSA assesses maintenance at half of this amount up to a weekly minimum maintenance requirement.     The CSA does not routinely take account of any debts incurred and cannot adjust the maintenance to help pay other bills first. The agency always double-checks that the amount assessed is not more than 30 percent of the absentee parent's personal net income, and frequently it is less. The CSA takes account of any new family the absent parent may have and sometimes reduces the amount of child support payable so that the absentee parent is left with a certain level of income.     The financial circumstances of both parents are taken into account. If the parent with care has a steady income, this may reduce the amount of maintenance that the absentee parent is required to pay.     Such calculation processes are very similar in the United States as well as other industrialized countries, but there are a few variations -- such as between states in the U.S. In Maryland, a child support order is based only on the incomes of the two parents. In Delaware, a basic living allowance for the non-custodial parent is permitted before payment of child support is required. This allowance, called a "self-support reserve," is set at the federal poverty guideline.     The manifesto of the British CSA states: "The Government believes that children are entitled to the financial support of both parents." Few people would disagree with such a laudable belief. Nor can there be any doubt that eventually governments around the world will act upon the child support principle fairly and efficiently. Sadly, though, the first attempts at enforcement were anything but fair and efficient. Instead they were ill-prepared, pragmatic, draconian, and vindictive and did little to win universal sympathy for the underlying principle.     In Britain, the popular concept of the CSA at the time of its creation in the early 1990s was of an organization that would track down deadbeat dads and make them support their children. But under pressure from the Treasury for quick results and in the face of the enormous task of actually locating deadbeat dads, the CSA opted to ignore the difficult cases and concentrate on the easy ones. Responsible fathers found their existing court orders for maintenance being torn up by the CSA, to be replaced with much greater assessments. Yet at the same time, deadbeats who had never paid maintenance continued to avoid payment. Men struggling to bring up two families on a low income found that the formula used by the CSA to calculate maintenance left their new families destitute.     No problem, said the CSA, all you have to do is appeal. But so hastily had the agency, and particularly its computer system, been set up that it simply could not handle the volume of appeals it received. While second families starved, distraught men committed suicide, and thousands of people demonstrated outside the Houses of Parliament, the CSA failed to answer the letters sent to it, answered the wrong letters, or sent out contradictory responses. Few attempts at implementing a new bureaucracy can ever have been so badly organized and the whole episode would have been hilarious had the consequences not been so serious.     Inefficiency is a relatively easy problem to solve. First, there needs to be a desire to improve. Second, computer systems, and staff, need to be adequate for the task. There are already signs that the initial inefficiencies of child support agencies are beginning to fade; though in Britain at least the process is proving to be painfully slow. A more difficult but important problem to solve is the widespread feeling that luck and circumstance rather than socially determined policy decide who is targeted for enforcement and who is not. The phenomenon of deadbeat dads may have precipitated child support enforcement, but a few years later it is clear that other factors are at work. Many men feel that the system is unfair and that they are being victimized while others escape. In large part, whether a man is caught or escapes depends on the attitude of his ex-partner.     In the United States, only half of all women who qualify for child support have obtained enforcement orders on the men concerned. The remainder have a variety of reasons for not taking advantage of support programs. Some of them (30 percent) simply do not want child support and have not asked for it. Others (20 percent) have accepted alternative financial arrangements from their ex-partners rather than get involved with child support enforcement. Yet others (25 percent) have accepted that the absentee father genuinely does not have the money. Of those absentee fathers who have been served with an enforcement order, about half comply in full, a quarter comply partially, and the remaining quarter fail to comply at all.     Men are much more likely to help support their children if they have access to them. Almost all men (90 percent) with full joint custody and most (80 percent) with at least some visitation privileges pay their support in full. In contrast, less than half of those with no visitation privileges comply. It seems that if they were so inclined both women and governments could increase compliance rates simply by allowing men more access to their children, and in 1998 in Britain a move to link child support payments to access rights did indeed begin.     Overall, only about 10 percent of the 11.6 million American women listed in government records as being single mothers are the actual victims of deadbeat dads, though at around one million women that's still a big enough social problem. According to 1996 figures, about half of absconded fathers are eventually located, although the success rate is reportedly higher since the establishment of the National Directory of New Hires. When traced, however, not all the men on record as deadbeat dads are quite what they seem. Government records being government records, some of the men so recorded are found to be still living with the mother. Other dads are found to be not just deadbeat but actually dead.     The only way to free the child support system from its aura of unfairness and victimization is for all parents -- married, separated, divorced, cohabiting, and never cohabited -- to be treated equally. There should be no favoritism in calculating support for children from first and later relationships, or for children that are living with or apart from the parent. Discrimination, generated by the formulae used to calculate support, is the root of the real problem, the one that has caused most of the antagonism and misery.     Part of the objection to the current formulae is the strong suggestion of a punitive element for parents who are not living with their children or who have dared to have a second family. For example, custodial parents who are living in poverty are not expected to support their children financially; in fact, they and their children are actually provided with public assistance. In contrast, non-custodial parents who are living in poverty are expected to support their children financially. Even when awards do not reduce the non-custodial parent to the poverty threshold, the formulae still favor children from early relationships over those from second relationships.     The production of a fair formula will need a great deal of discussion and analysis. One principle, though, should be paramount: each of a person's genetic children should be entitled to an equal share of that person's income and resources. A proportion of the person's income should be deducted for child support, then divided equally among his or her genetic children. It should not matter how many people the person has children with, or who they are living with. Nor should it matter in what order they were had, except insofar as it relates to the children's ages.     Of necessity, of course, equality should be moderated by children's ages, older children by and large needing more money than younger. Children, therefore, should count not as individuals but as child units. Thus a baby might, say, count as one child unit, a toddler as two child units, a ten-year-old as three, and a teenager as four. Actual weighting should be based on national -- or state or county -- figures for the relative cost of keeping children of different ages.     Each parent would be registered centrally as having a number of child units. The total would be updated each year as the children age or become too old for support, or each time the parent has a new child. Thus if a person has ten child units, a child worth two units will receive 20 percent of the proportion of that person's income that is deducted for child support.     The proportion of assessable income to be deducted for child support will need to be decided as it is for income tax. In fact, child tax would be an appropriate name. Presumably, one principle should be that the more child units a person has, the greater the proportion of his or her income should be deducted in child tax, just as the more money a person earns, the greater the proportion taken by the IRS.     To be fair, child tax will need to be collected from both mother and father if both are earning, irrespective of which parent lives with the child -- again in the same way as income tax. This move has already begun, though out of pragmatism not principle. In Britain, for example, the CSA is using DEOs (Deduction from Earning Orders) increasingly often: in 1997 DEOs were used in 60,000 cases, a more than twentyfold increase over 1994. In the United States, provisions of the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996 aimed to facilitate the withholding of child support from the delinquent parent's paycheck, but of course the custodial parent paid her or his share directly.     In such a scheme, each person will know, as they do with income tax, that they and everybody else will pay a certain amount of child tax throughout their parental life. Whether and how much they pay will not depend on luck and circumstance as now. Instead it will depend solely on assessable income and total number of child units.     Each child's "income" will derive in part from its genetic father and in part from its genetic mother, depending on the parents' respective incomes. The total "income" for that child will not, of course, be paid to the child itself but to one of the parents, usually the main custodial parent, irrespective of what proportion of its time the child spends with each parent. And the parent who receives the money will be responsible for all the child's expenses, even when staying with the other parent, save for any voluntary excess contributions made by the other parent. Of course, this means that the receiving parent will be getting back money that they once paid in child tax. But, to a small degree, this is what already happens with exemptions for dependants, or at least it does if the parent pays income tax.     Such a child tax system would be evenhanded and nonpunitive. Everybody would be taxed in the same way, whether they lived with their child's other parent or not and whether they had children with one, two, or more people. There would still be contentious issues, of course, such as what debts and expenses to allow in the calculation of assessable income. But such calculations are a matter of routine for the IRS and in principle need be no more problematic for child support agencies.     The question will also need to be addressed of how to support children -- and parents -- when the formula leaves one or other with insufficient money. Again, though, this is not a new problem and need not be exacerbated by child support enforcement. The potential exists to create a fairer system than was ever achieved by leaving people to their own devices.     The final, but crucial, question that child support enforcement needs to address is how to make sure men are never forced to support children that are not their genetic offspring. This does not mean that men -- or women -- should be barred from voluntarily adding a nongenetic child to their list of child units, as in adoption. It means only that a man should have the right to know a child's parentage before he agrees to pay tax for that child.     Some form of marriage between child support and paternity testing seems essential. A MARRIAGE: PATERNITY TESTING AND CHILD SUPPORT To a biologist, one of the fascinating and unexpected consequences of the recent campaign against absentee fathers was the way that it flushed paternal uncertainty into the open. Suddenly, societies seemed to be full of men expressing doubts about the paternity of children that they were being forced to support. Everywhere, enforcement agencies had to take seriously the question of paternal uncertainty. In Britain, the CSA made the following offer: "If you believe you are not the parent, you should say so and we may take steps to resolve this ... You may be offered a DNA test at a discounted rate. If this establishes that you are not the father, the Agency will refund the cost of the DNA test."     Of the women who qualify for child support but seek no enforcement order, only 2 percent cite uncertainty over their child's paternity as their reason. Of the men who resist supporting a child on the grounds of paternal uncertainty, 15 percent have their doubts verified by DNA fingerprinting.     At the moment, the link between child support and paternity testing is fairly ad hoc and ramshackle. Yet everybody -- men, women, and children -- would benefit from a more formal marriage of the two, especially if the vows included child support mutating into child tax and paternity testing becoming automatic. A child would be assured of financial support from both genetic parents. A man would be assured that every child he supported was his. And a woman would be assured that if she conceived to a man, his money would help support her child to independence, no matter where the man might run.     Just how quickly down the road toward automatic paternity testing different governments will be prepared to go is difficult to judge. But one thing is likely: home kits for paternity testing will only briefly be popular. At the moment, it is possible to purchase a kit, take a few cells from inside the cheek of mother, child, and putative father, and then send the samples off to a laboratory for genetic fingerprinting. The cost is relatively high -- about £400 in Britain and $300 to $400 in the United States -- though not as expensive as a lifetime of supporting some other man's child. But important though paternity is to the individual man, it is even more important to governments. The monitoring of paternity must sooner or later become state-controlled -- and home kits will have had their day.     Paternity testing is inconvenient, and expensive, once families disperse. So, too, is the process of handling complaints and appeals. Testing would be done most conveniently, cheaply, and efficiently soon after the child was born, along with those routine tests of blood group and genetic diseases that already occur. The mother would recently have given a number of blood and other samples. Cells from the likely father -- or fathers -- could confirm or decide paternity at the same time. Putative fathers are much more likely to be around at the time of birth than years later. Men and women's child tax records could be updated at the very beginning of their child's life, cutting out the cost of hearing and settling appeals of nonpaternity later.     In most cases, a woman should be able to name the man or men likely to be the child's father positively enough for paternity testing to be straightforward, Only occasionally -- one-night stands with an unknown man or following predatory rape -- might a woman not be much help in tracking down the father. Most men named as a father for child tax purposes would volunteer to cooperate, just in case. In fact, many might demand a right to such a test. For everybody's benefit -- mother, father, child, and Treasury -- routine and probably compulsory paternity testing at birth seems a future inevitability.     There is, however, an alternative system to mandatory DNA fingerprinting of named men at a baby's birth. This system would cover all cases but raises questions of civil liberty. Along with social security or national insurance numbers, passports and identity cards, every person could have their genetic fingerprint registered. The test could be done at birth and recorded centrally on a global database. Then, given mother and child's genetic fingerprints, a computer search could easily check the man or men named by the mother, even if they were no longer around. In most cases paternity would quickly be assigned. Only if there was no match or the mother could give no information would it be necessary to carry out a wider search to identify possible fathers.     At the moment, DNA databases exist only for the fight against crime. Since about 1990, law enforcement agencies in the United States have been collecting DNA samples from convicted criminals. The FBI already has a national database of over 138,000 DNA profiles of convicted violent offenders. In addition, state authorities have collected over 600,000 samples from convicted offenders, but, according to the FBI, only 250,000 or so of those samples have been analyzed. Police try to match DNA patterns of blood, hair, or semen stains found at the scene of a crime to past offenders. By 1998, the database was achieving between 300 and 500 matches a week, and 80 percent of those matches resulted in guilty pleas. Equally important is that innocent people can be cleared of crimes by the evidence, and there are already over 50 cases on record of individuals whose convictions for crimes including murder and rape were reversed based on DNA evidence.     Extending the database scheme to cover the whole population would inevitably meet with opposition, but perhaps not as much as might be imagined because most people would see there were potential benefits. A possible reduction in serious crime is one. Predatory rapists and murderers might often be deterred by the prospect of almost certain identification. A saving in police -- and innocent suspects' -- time is another. People could be eliminated from police inquiries without even knowing their involvement had been mooted.     Some people, albeit reformed ex-criminals, have already realized that there are benefits to being part of such a scheme. For example, the U.S. Forensic Science Service often receives letters from previous offenders who would actually like to go on the database so that they can be quickly cleared when new offenses occur. At present, though, there is no provision to include volunteers on DNA databases or to extend the scheme beyond the criminal population.     Although the advantages of a global DNA database are obvious to the majority of people, the price would be a level of infringement of civil liberty that many people would argue was unacceptable. But can societies of the future really oppose such a scheme when the only practical cost would be an infringement of each person's right to get away with felony? In any case, whatever the implications for crime detection and prevention, if child tax gains wide public support it will almost inexorably push governments down the road to routine genetic fingerprinting and paternity testing at birth.     Paternity testing and child support were first linked in the 1990s in the interests of government finance rather than social reform. But their future together lies in creating a much fairer environment within which people of the future can reproduce. Even so, not everybody will benefit from the future's evenhandedness, as we are about to see. Some people -- women who can skillfully confuse paternity, men who can successfully cuckold others, and deadbeat dads -- will be worse off. All would have found opportunities better suited to their talents in past environments in which their vulnerable prey would have been armed only with their ancient guile. Such exploiters will be curbed, not helped, by future developments, but even they would be hard pressed to argue that the future system is less fair than the past.     Imagine how different things might have been for Jim, Thelma, and the other main characters in our opening scene if they had been living not in 1990 but in 2035. This will be a world in which paternal uncertainty no longer exists, and fathers have no choice but to help support their genetic offspring. SCENE 1 (VERSION 2) WINNERS AND LOSERS The phone rang in the distant kitchen.     Drunk as usual at this time of the evening, Jim tried to ignore the insistent sound. With only minutes to go till the end of the game, he was reluctant to leave the TV -- his answering machine could deal with the call.     For a few more seconds, the ringing persisted, then it stopped. He thought the answering machine had cut in, but a second or so later he heard his young partner's voice. She appeared in the doorway, clutching the cordless phone. Scarcely twenty, Julie was naked save for a towel wrapped around her head.     "It's your son," she said, offering him the phone.     "Rob? Tell him I'm watching the game. I'll call him back."     Julie spoke into the phone then offered it to Jim again. "He says his news is more important than your game. He's going out to celebrate. Speak to him -- he's excited."     Reluctantly, Jim put down his glass of wine and took the receiver. Julie sat on his knee so that she could hear the conversation, muting the TV as she did so. Jim knew what his son's news would be -- he'd arranged it, after all. As he prepared to sound surprised and excited, Julie commandeered his glass and began drinking from it.     "Hi, Dad -- guess what?"     "You're drunk," said his father.     "Damn right ... And I'm going out to get even drunker. I've got a publisher! I can't believe it. Somebody actually wants to publish my work. I haven't even graduated yet, and I'm having my first book of poems published. Isn't it fantastic?"     "Terrific," responded his father, just about managing to sound surprised. "Bravo. I'm really proud of you."     "I can't believe it. It's like a dream."     "I knew you could do it. Next time you're home, we'll celebrate too. Where are you going tonight? Who's going with you? Are you taking your girlfriend?"     "Both of them!" came back the cocky reply.     While father and son exchanged their parting pleasantries, Julie shouted her congratulations down the mouthpiece. Then, as Jim switched off the phone, she drained his glass.     "Get us some more," he said. "We should celebrate too."     As he watched her walk toward the kitchen, the towel beginning to unwrap from her hair with a loose end dangling over her neck, his pleasure at his son's news was tinged with guilt. As a matter of principle, he would have preferred Rob to make his own way in the world, but he had been unable to resist giving him a helping hand. It was he who had suggested Rob should send his manuscript to publishers who just happened to employ his company's services. And it was he who had taken the editor to lunch and slipped into the conversation the possibility of what they could do for each other.     "I need to open a new bottle," Julie shouted from the kitchen. "Where's the opener?"     "It's there somewhere," he replied, sinking back into his chair. The game had just finished and the result pleased him. The evening was shaping up nicely.     At the end of their conversation, Jim had promised Rob that he would phone Thelma, Rob's mother, and tell her the good news. Idly, he considered making the effort now. It was thirteen years since his and Thelma's divorce, but they were still good friends and kept in frequent touch, sharing the lives and experiences of their two children. Seventeen years they had lived together -- surprising, really, considering the bad start.     He still remembered the shock when the paternity test of Thelma's first child, Dan, had shown that he was not the father. He'd had no idea she'd been unfaithful to him. Evidently it had only happened once -- with Dave, his then business partner. Just one moment of passion, she claimed. She said that she couldn't believe Dan was conceived that night. But the test proved otherwise. And when at last the child support machinery had run its course, Dave was registered as Dan's father and supporter.     Jim and Thelma had nearly separated, but didn't. And within the year Thelma was pregnant with her second child, Sarah. And this time, Jim was the father, or so she said. But he still didn't fully believe her until the paternity test gave him the proof. He was even more suspicious about Rob's conception. Thelma's sudden desire for another child had seemed so incongruous that Jim was convinced she was covering the tracks of another infidelity. Whether she had been or not, the paternity test showed that their single night of sex that month had indeed hit the mark. Jim was in no doubt that the aspiring poet he had just spoken to on the phone was his son.     "I can't find it. Where did you put the damned thing?" came an irate voice from the kitchen.     Jim was just about to tell Julie to look harder, when he saw the corkscrew on the table next to him. He must have carried it in absentmindedly after opening the first bottle. Picking it up, he staggered drunkenly into the kitchen and handed it over, apologizing sheepishly.     "Aren't you cold?" he asked, smiling lecherously and nodding toward her nipples.     She snatched the corkscrew from his hand. "Go and sit down before you fail down. I'll bring your drink in to you -- though you're going to be little use to anybody tonight if you drink much more."     Returning to his chair, Jim smiled to himself. He liked young women. All three of his partners had been twenty when he first began living with them. He'd only been three years older than Thelma but he had been twenty years older than his second partner, Susan, and he was thirty-three years older than Julie.     He and Thelma had separated amicably when Rob -- a young poet in the making even then -- was just seven years old. By that time, the success of Jim's business combined with the child support that came into their household from Dave had placed them in a comfortable position. They hardly noticed their financial separation.     A year later, Jim had set up house with Susan. She had been an employee of his and as soon as he came "on the market" had used both her good looks and quick wits to land the comfortable position of sharing his house and bed. A year after she moved in they had their first child, a son.     It was when Susan was pregnant with her second child that Jim's daughter, Sarah, announced that she, too, was pregnant. Any one of three men at her university could be the father, Sarah had said. She said no to abortion and thanks to lucky timing had no need to interrupt her studies. Perhaps fortunately for everybody, the paternity test proved the father to be neither of the two penurious students she had bedded, but one of her instructors. His child support easily allowed Sarah to afford the child care she needed to continue her studies. She never cohabited with the child's father, who was already in a relationship, but she did live for several years with one of the young students. With support of different kinds from two men, she rarely called on Jim for financial help.     "Here -- and don't spill it."     Jim took the glass of red wine from Julie, laughing at the way she spoke to him as if to a child. Her authoritative air seemed incongruous with her nakedness and with the difference in their ages. She sat down on a long pile rug in front of the fire, placed her own glass on the hearth and removed the towel from her head. He watched her closely as she pressed strand after strand of her long hair in the towel, drying herself gently.     It was a year now since he and Julie had first begun having sex -- acts of infidelity on his part that racked him with guilt until he discovered that Susan was also being unfaithful. He and Susan had both realized they were drifting apart, she wishing that he was thirty-five again, not fifty-three, and he wishing that she was twenty again, not thirty-one. Their final separation had been more acrimonious than his separation from Thelma, largely because he discovered that the target of Susan's infidelity was Dan, Thelma's eldest son, whom he had helped raise for sixteen years.     For a while, after Susan had moved in with Dan, taking her two children with her, Jim really began to feel his age. A month ago, though, he had invited Julie to share his home. She needed little encouragement, and they were still very much in sexual mode. He felt young again.     "Come and comb my hair," she said, "if you're not too drunk."     He hauled himself to his feet and went over to her.     "And for goodness' sake, take off those clothes."     He obeyed, then took the comb from her hand and moved to kneel behind her.     "Don't be silly," she said, lying back on the rug. "I didn't mean that hair." A few miles away, Jim's two ex-wives were finishing an expensive meal. Thelma was quite drunk and feeling very affectionate toward her son's new partner.     The warmth of their relationship was very recent -- less than a year. Thelma had resented her place being taken by a girl young enough to be her daughter and for a while there had been animosity between them. Even when Dan had confided to her that he was sleeping with Susan, she had felt ambivalent. Two recent events, though, had united them. Susan was now pregnant -- carrying Thelma's first grandchild -- and Jim had disgraced himself by his choice of the new woman in his life. Their disdain for him was a powerful unifier.     "I don't think Jim could relate to a mature woman," said Susan as they sipped liqueurs. "That's why he always goes for twenty-year-olds. I don't think he's ever going to grow up. You'd think that by now he'd want somebody more ... more ... adult . She was his secretary, for God's sake -- what a goddamn cliché. It would be laughable if it weren't so sad."     Thelma laughed anyway, swaying slightly. Her cheeks were flushed. These were precisely the thoughts she'd had about Susan a decade or so ago. "I know. He's pathetic," she said. "Still, as long as he goes on supporting your children ..."     "He's got no choice, has he? Anyway, he can afford it."     "True. Just as well, really. Especially if his latest little gold digger manages to get herself pregnant." Thelma hesitated. She'd called Susan a gold digger at one stage. "Anyway," she continued hurriedly, "there was something else I wanted to talk to you about."     "What's that?"     "I want you to put some pressure on that son of mine for me. It's his father -- Dave, his real father. He needs help, but he's too proud to ask for it. You know that when the paternity test showed Dave was Dan's father, Dave sold his share of his and Jim's business ... obviously they couldn't go on working together. And, as you know, Jim eventually got full control of the company. Well, Dave went downhill for a while after that -- and I feel a bit guilty about him. Child tax was more severe then than now and he was only just beginning to get back on his feet around the time you and Dan started getting together."     Susan was nodding. She knew all this and was impatient for Thelma to get to the point.     "I'm going to ask him," Thelma said, meaning Dan, "to try and find room for Dave in his company."     "Dan and Dad," Susan mused. She knew Dan wouldn't like the idea. Even though Dave's money had raised him, she knew he still thought of Jim as his father. If it hadn't been for the wedge she herself had driven between them, she knew Dan would prefer to link his business with Jim's rather than take on a poverty-stricken partner like Dave, even if he did share his genes.     "I'll have a word with him," Susan said. "See what I can do. After all, Dave is this little thing's grandfather." She patted her stomach.     "Isn't it weird?" said Thelma. "If it weren't for paternity tests, we wouldn't know that. I was convinced that Jim was Dan's father, you know. I still can't believe that one evening with Dave was all it took. Without those tests, we'd have been sitting here thinking that Jim was your baby's grandfather."     "My God, I know," said Susan. "That's really creepy. I would have thought that Jim was the father of my first two children and grandfather of my third." She grimaced. "You know, it's really difficult to imagine what it used to be like, not always knowing for sure who was your child's father."     Thelma agreed. "Not only that, think what it was like not knowing that the father, whoever he was, would have to help you support your baby. Just imagine trying to raise a baby on only your own money. How on earth did women manage?" She lifted her glass and thrust it toward Susan. "To the man who invented paternity tests," she said.     Susan clinked glasses with her. "Except I bet it was a woman," she said.     "Naaagh," said Thelma confidently. "Child tax -- that was woman's work. Paternity tests -- that had to have been a man. I guarantee it." Copyright © 2000 Robin Baker. All rights reserved.

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