When we think about the Suleman octuplets, we might catch ourselves saying that they don't have a father. She's a single mother, right?
We all understand that children can't be conceived without sperm, so, yes, in a technical sense, they have a father, or fathers.
But perhaps there's more to it than that. Adopted children often become very curious about their biological parents, and sometimes go looking for them.
I can't speak from personal experience, but it seems that even if a father is represented only by an anonymously donated sperm, the notion of father means something important to us. An obvious point, of course, is that the sperm is not simply a trigger for conception; it brings with it a huge, vitally important genetic inheritance.
So even that anonymous sperm donor has a huge influence on a child. Most of us want to know who we are, where we came from, and so on. Our fathers, even if unknown and anonymous, are a large part of the answer to those questions.
In the case of the Suleman octuplets, the story may be more compicated than an anonymous donor. Angela Suleman, Nadya Suleman's mother, told the Associated Press that all 16 of Nadya's children came from the same sperm donor, but declined to identify him.
The AP found a David Solomon listed as the father on the birth certificates of the four oldest children.
Will the children someday want to know who their father is? Will they be angry with their mother for creating a situation in which they don't know him? She's had 16 children who might never know their father, or fathers. And that might not matter. Or it might.