Every parent I know has developed a pregnancy pet-peeve. Most women I know have said theirs was unwanted touching of their blossoming baby bump. For my pregnant wife, it’s how total strangers suddenly feel the need to explain how little sleep we’re going to get once baby is born.
I don’t mind that so much, because I assume these are well-intentioned people trying to prepare us for an event we simply cannot understand yet. No, my pregnancy pet peeve was being called a “father-to-be.”
The peeve began to develop very early. When I announced to my co-workers that my wife is pregnant, they were happy for us. They asked about the due date and whether we were having a boy or a girl. And they congratulated me: “You’re going to be a dad!” they said, in the future tense.
I soon became very sensitive to this phrase. But I gave my co-workers the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe I’m just being a grammar nerd,” I thought. “Certainly this won’t be something I hear that often.”
Unfortunately, I was wrong. Everywhere I turned people were quick to label my wife and I as parents-to-be. This is not just among radical pro-abortion activists who reduce pre-born humans to cell clusters, but even on major parenting websites: Parents.com, Parenting.com, and TheBump.com all regularly use the language “dad-to-be” when referring to men with unborn children.
It’s an egalitarian problem as well: People.com called Beyoncé a “mom-to-be” after her announcement of her pregnancy with twins. The language of future parenthood applied to couples celebrating their current pregnancy permeates our culture.
1. It Doesn’t Meet the Definition of Father
Look up the word “father.” Merriam-Webster gives a good clear definition: “A man who has begotten a child.” That is about as clear as it gets. A father is a man with a child. That means any man who has impregnated a woman is a father.
Our culture gets it exactly backward: Every man who has not yet reproduced — including my son, still in utero — is a father-to-be, by virtue of his potential ability to impregnate a woman. I was once a father-to-be, until my wife became pregnant. At that moment, even before we found out, I was, and always will be, a father.
This inversion of language, ingrained in even our parenting culture, needs to be addressed for several reasons. I’m a theology nerd, so here’s a theology nerd analogy to help illuminate the problem: At the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, bishops of the church met to decide what to call Mary. Was she merely “Christotokos,” or “Christ-bearer,” as Nestorius asserted? Or was she “Theotokos,” the bearer of God?
The council found in favor of Theotokos, because they recognized that the title we give Mary is really dependent on who we think Christ is. In other words, what we say about the blessed virgin is really a confession about her son. So also, in the matter at hand, those who use the terms “mother-” or “father-to-be” are really making a statement about the child. That statement needs to change.
2. This Phrase Denies the Science About Human Life
As much as the Left likes to think of conservatives as science deniers on points like global warming, it’s difficult for them to maintain any moral high ground when their rhetoric on the unborn is so anti-science. Take Bill Nye’s now infamous appearance on Big Think’s YouTube channel. As Professor Robert George and bioethicist Patrick Lee note in their response to Nye, the only science Nye cites is that fertilized eggs spontaneously abort pre-implantation at a very high rate.
After that, he just does bad philosophy. They quote several embryology textbooks that explain how and why unique human life begins at conception. A recent study has demonstrated that, even before implantation, a human embryo is autonomous and seeks its own growth and good. That’s some science, guy.
Even when abortion is not specifically in view, it is just as science-denying to use “to be” when speaking of parents. The human in utero is fully human, and when we casually dismiss this tiny, precious human, we dismiss and disrespect so much more of the human experience.
3. It Disrespects the Parents of Miscarried Babies
The language of future or potential parenthood is disrespectful to the parents of miscarried babies. Society grieves when parents lose their born children. We recognize that nature is disordered in a horrendous way when this takes place. But if we continue to talk about parents of pre-born children as if they are not really parents yet, we deny the legitimate grief of parents who lose their children to miscarriage.
Like parents who have lost born children, the mothers and fathers who have lost children to miscarriage do grieve. The American Psychological Association reported one study that indicates 15 percent of female participants who had a miscarriage had “clinically significant depression and/or anxiety during and after pregnancies for up to three years.”
The language our culture uses actively devalues the babies these parents have lost. Those using the epithets “mom-” or “dad-to-be” might as well tell parents that their grief over a miscarried child is as inappropriate as a woman grieving over her period. Both are merely potential children, not children in themselves. So on top of the grief of a lost child, parents have to deal with a society that doesn’t even recognize their grief as legitimate.
4. It Disrespects the Work Parents of Unborn Children Do
My wife has already lost hundreds of hours of sleep to the myriad discomforts of pregnancy. On top of that, she has spent much of time exhausted as her body provides for the miraculous development of the baby in her womb. She has made sacrifices that I cannot even begin to understand as she participates in this wonderment.
None of this is to paint a bleak picture of pregnancy. My wife will be the first to tell you how much she loves this time of our lives. But calling her a mom-to-be diminishes my wife’s important contributions and sacrifices in her vocation as mother.
Not that I have yet made sacrifices to rival those of my wife, but I, too, see this language as an attack on my vocation. I work a full-time job as the sole breadwinner in our house now that my wife is pregnant, simultaneously maintaining high marks and a full school schedule. All of this is a life I have chosen for the sake of my wife and son — it is my responsibility to protect and provide for my pre-born child. When people refer to a father who is working hard to provide for his partner’s comfort and to prepare for the birth of their child as a “father-to-be,” it devalues the vocation of father that he has already taken upon himself.
5. It Allows Men to Abscond from Their Duties
It is rarely disputed that fathers have responsibilities to their children. Our society has enacted child support laws specifically to ensure that fathers fulfill their duty to provide for their children, under penalty of law. We have said that it is wrong for a man to abandon children he has fathered.
But when we call a man a “father-to-be,” we are saying he does not yet have these responsibilities. Thus we should not be surprised when we hear stories in which men pressure women to kill their children by abortion, as Mark and Nathan Hamill reportedly did not too long ago, in this very galaxy.
C.S. Lewis put it well: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” In this case, we don’t call men fathers, and are aghast at them refusing to father well.
I now actually look forward to people calling me a father-to-be, even though it’s also a pet peeve. People who are pro-life often don’t know how to talk to others about their convictions. It’s not easy to bring abortion up in casual conversation. It’s a taboo subject, and expressing your pro-life beliefs can result in losing friends, or worse. One teacher in Canada even lost his job because he expressed his pro-life views.
But here, far removed from the abortion conversation, when someone calls me a “father-to-be” I can ask what exactly he mean by it. I can question her position without ever mentioning abortion. I can ask what he thinks my child is, whether he is human, and all sorts of other questions, all without getting the other person’s guard up. So now I thank God every time someone calls me a “father-to-be.”