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Daddy Dearest, the Solo Act

More men are starting families on their own now than ever before. Why the rise in single fathers?

Six years ago, Steven Harris took inventory of his life, as single Manhattan men generally do around certain watershed birthdays, and realized that something was missing.

“A kid,” the 56-year-old lawyer says with a laugh.

What Harris did next was, he says, “unheard of.” With no serious girlfriend or potential partner on the horizon, he searched online for a surrogacy agency to find a woman who would carry his biological child. He settled on Growing Generations, a firm that originally specialized in matching surrogates to gay and lesbian couples but which now has a rapidly growing clientele of single men, gay and straight, who want to start families—and are willing to pay six figures for the privilege.

“This is definitely on the upswing,” says Stuart Bell, the co-owner of the agency, which has offices in Los Angeles and New York. There are no statistics available on the number of single men pursuing surrogacy, but Bell says he’s seen the numbers grow from 5 percent of his practice five years ago to 15 percent today.

He attributes this rise to the increased visibility of single-parent surrogacy. Seemingly every month there’s a fuzzy celebrity-magazine story about Hollywood personalities going through the process. “In the U.S., it’s almost common now,” says Bell. “You run into single people, and they say, ‘Yeah, I had a baby because I didn’t want to wait anymore. It’s almost a mantra: I haven’t found a partner, I haven’t found the right person, and so now is the time for me to do this.”

But most celebrity examples are female. Why the rise in single men? The impetus for the phenomenon is nothing less than a seismic societal shakeup in terms of gender roles, thanks to advances in gay acceptance and female advances in the workforce. “In the last 10 years, there’s been a dramatic shift in how society views the role of a mother versus a father,” says Bell. “It used to be that you must, must, must have a mother in the picture for a child to develop and be nurtured, and that has really changed. You’ve seen it in heterosexual households with stay-at-home dads and with gay couples who are having children. So that opens the door for single men to say, ‘Wait a minute—I can do this too.’ ”

For his part, Steven Harris had planned to have a wife or steady girlfriend by midlife and dated, in his words, “so, so much.”

“I always thought I would get married and have a family,” he says. “At 50, I actually got engaged and thought it was the best way to have a kid. Then I realized I just didn’t want to get married, so I broke it off. The next day I went online.”

That was six years ago, when the idea seemed unorthodox, to say the least, not just in the larger picture but to Harris’ family. “All my friends and family said, ‘Why not just get married?’ But once they saw I was serious about it, it all kind of fell into place.”

For David Kaminow, a 42-year-old single gay marketing executive in Los Angeles, the decision to pursue surrogacy was less spontaneous. “As far back as I can recall, I knew I wanted to be a father,” he says. “And I sort of had a deal with myself when I was in my early to mid-thirties that by the time I was 40 I would be a dad.”

Bell says single men seeking surrogates have a similar personality profile. “They’re type A, very high achievers,” he says. “They’ve concentrated most on their careers, not on their love lives or personal lives. They get to a point in their forties, and they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve worked so hard to build this life that I have, and I’ve always wanted to be a dad.’ Gay men and straight men are very similar in that way.

“We do not,” he says with a laugh, “get playboys.”

One of the most pop-culturally notable single fathers is Tuc Watkins, the One Life to Live and Desperate Housewives star. He pursued surrogacy two years ago and now has a boy and a girl who are nine months old. “I always knew I was going to be a dad, even when I was a kid,” says Watkins, who came out as gay earlier this year. “So it was never really a question of am I—it was really a question of how.”

Once he turned 45, Watkins figured he “wasn’t getting any younger” and sought out Growing Generations, which matched him with an egg donor and surrogate. “Finding donors is a little like online dating,” he says. “You look through pictures, they tell you what their GPA was in high school, what their favorite color is; it’s a very thorough profile. I thought it would be fun to go through the donor database, but the truth is, it created a lot of anxiety. You’re provided with so much information, you feel like you receive the route to the answer ‘no’ rather than answer ‘yes.’ I sort of agonized about it.”

For all three men, working with a surrogate was relatively easy; Growing Generations attracted several who were willing to bear children for single men. Bell says that hasn’t always been the case. “We used to have to do a lot more explaining and talking with a surrogate about working with a single guy than we would a couple. We don’t have to do that anymore. In fact, almost 30 percent of our surrogates are single—they’re living the life they’re helping people achieve.”

Harris’ child was born in South Dakota; his surrogate called him when she went into labor, and he hopped on a plane. “What’s funny is they gave me a room in the maternity ward with all the moms, and my son slept in the room with me the first night. It was me and all the moms. He was born on a Friday, and I took him home on Sunday—he was two days old on the plane.”

The process is distinctly expensive; according to Bell, it can cost $150,000 to $200,000. Harris says he spent around $200,000. Watkins sold his house in order to afford his surrogate. Given the cost and the labyrinthine path they must follow, a question these fathers hear relentlessly is, why not adopt? “I was too old,” Harris says frankly. “Nobody’s going to give a child to a 50-year-old single guy.”

“There’s a lot of ways to be a parent,” says Watkins. “But there are a lot of things to be said for seeing yourself in your child.”

“I wanted to create something,” says Kaminow. “I didn’t think of it as rare. I just knew I had to do it. I looked at people like Neil Patrick Harris and his partner and thought that was cool. Not that that influenced my decision. It made me feel like I was part of a growing community that I could cultivate and be a part of.”

One thing that has changed for the men is dating. All three men interviewed for this story have put it on hold.

“Oh, my God, I’m a chick magnet!” says Steven Harris. “It’s not why I did it, but it’s certainly a fringe benefit. But I’ve only gone out with one woman. Before I had my son, I dated so much because I was trying to get married, and I say I’m not in that business anymore.”

“In all irony, I met someone during my surrogate’s pregnancy,” says Kaminow. “I had embarked on this road, and it was my road—I didn’t want to share it. We broke up. I didn’t want him to be a part of this with me.”

Harris originally planned to go through the process twice but decided against it. “My son wants a little brother, and I say, ‘Ben, it’s kind of complicated for me,’ and he says, ‘Just do what you did with me—get an egg donor and a surrogate and make another one.’ He knows the words; he just doesn’t know what they mean.”

The occasional uncomfortable conversation aside, all three men feel like they’re ultimately part of the new normal. “I was talking to a colleague who said he was single,” says Kaminow, “and I started saying, ‘Yeah, when I was single…’ I had to stop myself and say, ‘Wait, I’m still single. I’m just a dad.’

“I have to keep reminding myself that,” he says, laughing. “Just like any other single parent.”