Does Your Date Have Daddy Fever?

They get misty-eyed over babies, talk toddlers on the first date, and are hunting for Mrs. Mom. Meet the men pressuring their partners to procreate.

daddy fever
(Image credit: Robert Daly)

Last August, Paul Bavineau, 41, was walking with his girlfriend when they saw two boys playing in the street. "They were skater kids wearing baggy pants with their underwear hanging out," he says. At the sight, Bavineau's paternal instinct kicked in — he couldn't wait to be a dad and goof around with his own kids.

"But my girlfriend started criticizing their behavior and clothes, and her attitude really turned me off," he says. "I knew then that the relationship wasn't going to work."

Bavineau broke things off and signed up for an online dating site, which allowed him to specify what he wanted. "My priority was children," he says. "In fact, my profile stated, 'Please don't contact me if you don't want kids.'"

Bavineau met his current girlfriend online, and barely a month into the relationship he broached the topic of children. "Obviously, it was early," he says. "But before we got serious, I had to know that we were on the same page about starting a family."

The stereotype of the baby-obsessed woman is a familiar trope: She frets about her biological clock, melts when she sees strollers on the street, and "forgets" to take her birth-control pills. But a growing number of men are finding themselves in a similar position. They're on the hunt for a future baby-mama or pressuring their partners to have kids — and according to data published in the journal Contraception, there's even a small subset of men who secretly remove their condoms during sex or replace birth-control pills with baby aspirin.

"Reproductive coercion by men is a lot more frequent than we ever could have guessed," says study coauthor Rebecca Levenson of The Family Violence Prevention Fund. While some men tamper with birth control as a form of domestic violence — keeping their women pregnant and vulnerable — other men put the pressure on because they want their wives to slow down and start a family. "Women are working longer hours than ever and going back to school for advanced degrees in droves," says social psychologist Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of The Case for the Only Child. "They're delaying first and second pregnancies, and the men are getting antsy."

Also, Generation Y guys are more typically the product of divorce, says Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. They're eager to be the dads they never had and want the youthful stamina to keep up with their kids on the soccer field. And there's a physiological component, too. "Men have biological clocks just like women," says Dr. Harry Fisch, of Weill Cornell Medical College. "The older the guy, the older the sperm."

Jessica Huerta, 27, is married, but a baby is the last thing on her mind. She and her husband, Eddie, are serving in the California Air National Guard. But Huerta is also finishing a bachelor's degree in sociology with plans to attend a rigorous Ph.D. program. "Right now I have to focus on school and my career," she says. "It'll be at least six years before I'm ready for a baby." Huerta knows that with kids on board, she won't have much time for her career. "Since Eddie earns more money, he'll continue working," she says. "I'll juggle grad school, my job, and being a mom."

Huerta doesn't hear her biological clock ticking. But when her husband's job sent him to volunteer at an African orphanage, he chose to work with infants. "We have these pictures of him cuddling the orphan babies," Huerta says.

Her husband is ready for a baby — right now. "Eddie's six years older than me and doesn't want to be too old to run around with his son," she says.

Moses Gates, 34, an urban planner, knows the feeling. He recently broke up with his girlfriend, in part because she didn't want kids right away. "I'm basically like a 29-year-old woman," he says. "Time is running out." Gates has calculated the baby math, and he's stressing. "I'll be 35 this year! At best, I'll meet and marry someone at 36, then have kids at 37 or 38. So I'll be 60 before the kid is out of college!"

"I'm envious of my friends who are in the right situation to have babies," says Andrew Pelky, 27. "And I get choked up watching any movie involving fathers. I can't help it." Recently, the Harry Chapin father-son ballad "Cat's in the Cradle" came on the radio, and Pelky got so verklempt, he had to turn it off.

David Fallo, 34, a professional musician in New York City, says that many guys struggle with their desire to be dads, but it's not manly to express this need as vocally as women do. "My friend Rayne would rather talk about John Woo movies than diapers," Fallo says, "but he still really wants a baby."

As does Fallo. Recently, he had dinner at a chic restaurant, and while his friends sipped cocktails, Fallo entertained the lone toddler at the table, throwing the little girl up in the air until she exploded in laughter and her mother exclaimed, "My God, you need to be a dad right now!"

Fallo also has a 5-year-old niece, and he travels to Boston just to see her. For her last birthday, he baked a cake in the shape of Hello Kitty. The project took 12 hours and cost Fallo $200 in materials, but the effort didn't faze him.

"I think like a woman sometimes," says Fallo. "I'm giving myself until the age of 40 to meet Mrs. Right, and then I'm adopting."