SEX EDUCATION IN the 1990s. Here is the egg. Here is the sperm. Put the two together and here is what they create in approximately nine months:
A visit from Child Support Enforcement.Somewhere this week a boy in his teens is learning that reproduction is a lot more than arrows and ova. Under welfare reforms still in the toddler stage, a mom who seeks federal assistance must declare the name of the father. Once identified, he is approached to declare paternity. If he refuses, the government takes him and his blood sample to court. Paternity established, a pencil-thin neck is fitted with a monster yoke.
The obstetrician has this word for the laboring teen mom: "push." Now, the government has this word for the teen dad: "pull."
As to the latter player, Pamela Wilson has her own word for a society trying to make the best out of what happens when teens have children: "firmth." It's the wedding of "firm" with "warmth."
Society could stick with the "firm" alone. It could be as cold as Siberian winter. But Wilson, a Washington-based expert on getting teen fathers to act responsibly, isn't just talking about child support in a fiscal sense. She's talking about co-parenting, even when parents don't cohabit.
Although society does some reasonable things to help teen moms get on their feet and do what's best for their children, teen fathers are treated either as irrelevant or as the enemy.
We are well aware of the deadbeat dad, he who has money but won't share it. In the case of teen fathers not even out of school, Wilson points to something else entirely: the dead-broke dad.
Under tough welfare reforms, you can wallop that turnip with sadistic intensity and still not get child support that will matter in the short run or in the long run.
If society wants to make the best of such a bad situation, says Wilson, it must find ways to warm these young people to the task facing them. It must provide them with job training, support groups, counseling.
Some offspring of teen dads grow up with suitable fathers when their mothers marry suitable life partners. Others don't. And in those fatherless homes incubate so many of society's more serious ills, including teen fatherhood, a cycle prolonged.
Involving the dad can work. Waco, Texas, resident Joan McClary, in the audience at the forum, was a teen mom. She said that the father of her child has played an important role, including caring for the child while she went to college. She's a physician now.
Whether in earning power or in nurturing potential, or in the essential ingredients that make humanity wondrous and complex, the teen dad is raw material society doesn't want to squander.