Who's Your Daddy? Hop Into My Testing Van To Find Out

Before you ask who your daddy is, you’d better be ready for an answer you might not like.
Publish date:
August 17, 2012
hrm, paternity, genetic testing

“Who’s your daddy?”

Truly, an existential question for the ages. And one that Jared Rosenthal is helping people answer courtesy of a mobile DNA testing facility that roams the streets of New York City. And yes, while the advertising for the service is a bit tongue-in-cheek, the service is real, and it’s apparently getting a lot of use. Whether people walk in or call the number for more information, they’re seeking verification of genetic connections.

Paternity testing is a thorny world. There are some cases where it’s ordered for legal reasons, to establish parental responsibility or for other purposes. Having a child with someone is a huge responsibility, and in cases where the child’s paternity becomes a legal matter, it can be important to have a definitive test. But genetic testing also opens up a real can of worms.

I'm sure this empty field is really worried about child support. (Photo by Flickr user Zabowski, Creative Commons license)

Then there are instances where people “just want to know,” which creates a lot of uncomfortable feelings for me. This is often framed as a specifically male issue in the context of cheating, with the implication that women are sneaky seductresses going out and bringing home unauthorized sperm, passing off the resulting babies as those of their partners.

I feel like if you’re in a committed relationship with someone and you have a child but you don’t have the trust to believe your partner, you’ve got some relationship problems that are maybe not best solved by slipping off for a paternity test.

What about children who want to know, who are searching for their fathers or want to know if the men identified as their genetic fathers are actually related to them? And how do the findings of testing change your relationship? If you’ve raised someone as your genetic child and it turns out that’s not the case, clearly you’re going to view your child differently -- and that child is yours in the sense that you contributed to the kid’s formative experiences, view on the world, manners, and everything else.

For that matter, what about women who are unsure about the paternity of a child? When they come up, they’re often labeled slutty and left at that, as though being a slut is a bad thing, and there’s no other reason for a woman to doubt the paternity of a child.

My daddy making ice cream.

The focus on paternity testing as a father’s issue, rather than a whole-family one, reminds me of the socialized worry about fathering, and the deep-seated fears that have driven cis men throughout history. Unlike cis women, who can verify the genetic origins of a child since they’re the ones doing the childbearing, cis men have always had to rely on the words of their partners. And in patrilineal societies, those assurances determined the fates of empires.

It troubles me to see that we haven’t progressed very far as a society, with a fixation on genetic parenting above all else, even though fostering, adoption, and the proverbial cuckoo are ancient traditions. I get the sense that many people think non-genetic children are lesser, or don’t come with the same obligations that genetic children do, even as I also understand the need to establish legal paternity in some cases, and I struggle with how to reach a balance point there.

The truck offers pretty low-cost testing, which makes it affordable to a range of people, and I’d be curious about the motivations of the people who use it, and why.

The mobility and range of price-points makes it more accessible, which has costs and benefits alike. On the one hand, people who might have trouble accessing testing can get it more easily, including people who need it to establish visitation rights and for other legal purposes. On the other, the easy availability of the testing might tempt someone to take a plunge down a rabbit hole they aren’t really prepared to enter.

The moustache is genetic. Someday I'll look just like granddaddy.

Genetic testing of any form sometimes uncovers things that people are not ready for, like the presence of a genetic disease, or the discovery that your karyotype is not what you thought it was, or the finding that the man you think is your father actually isn’t. That’s one reason why genetic counseling is recommended in conjunction with testing; people argue that these kinds of tests shouldn’t be used lightly or played for cheap stunts like they are on “Maury,” where people get paternity test results live on air for shock value.

Rosenthal says that the mobile clinic model tends to be more intimate than a walk-in clinic, and he establishes a connection with the people he meets there. He also recounts stories of clients who have been shocked by their test results, but what I don’t hear about is what kind of counseling or referrals they were offered. Test results can flip your life upside down in a heartbeat, and people who think they’re ready might not actually be prepared.

Before you ask who your daddy is, you’d better be ready for an answer you might not like.

What about you, readers? Have you used genetic testing? What were your experiences? Got a good story for an It Happened To Me?