Does the desire for a child pass through the Name-of-the-Father or can it do without?
If the symbolic father has always operated as a law, – he is “the signifier which gives support to the law, which promulgates the law”  – the notion of real father is undoubtedly the tipping point which gives him a whole other function, in particular that which consists in seeing in the Name-of-the-Father, a nomination of the real. As for the imaginary father, he is entitled to name the versions of the father that each writes himself, taken as he is in his relation, always symptomatic, with his own father or substitute.
Desire for a Child and Fantasy of having Children
The desire for a child has never been more spoken of by men than at the start of the 21st century. It is questioned in terms of commitment to, not the partner with whom the child will be conceived, but the child himself. As a result, we see that there is a shift from the desire for a child always attributed to women, towards a desire for a child in the masculine, the two seeming to constitute themselves according to the form given by Freud when he writes the equation child = phallus. This phallicisation of the child object indicates that there is today, due to a fall in phallic semblants of men, a graft of this feminine desire for a child to all men. Whether it is to be responsible for an unborn child, or to perform as the ideal parent, reveals a form of equivalence between the sexes: the question is to repair or supplement imaginary castration. The desire for a child comes in response to phallic deflation in current discourse. It also gives an outline of the male fantasy of pregnancy, as Lacan speaks about it in the Écrits  and which illustrates this point of concordance of masculine desire for a child with the said feminine one.
This shift is all the more evident in that there is now a new way of naming the conjugal couple that has disappeared from the discourse, to prefer that of the parental couple. The latter is no longer made up of a father and a mother, but of two parents, parent 1 and parent 2 indicating the sexual de-identification of the parental couple. These substitutions of signifiers indicate that there is no longer any difference between men and women, neither in terms of gender designation, nor in terms of symbolic attributes such as maternal care and protection and roles of authority and transmission of knowledge on the father’s side. These disappear in favour of greater shared responsibility. The consequence is the putting into tension of effects of rivalry between parents in the exercise of their function. Here again, there is a type of shift from the paternal position to the maternal position which destroys the old educational models in family life and comes to accommodate a certain imaginary confrontation in the relations of the parental couple. The child is then an object of love that we argue about, even snatched or stolen from each other. From shared object a, it becomes Un-shareable, a bit of real unhooked from the impossible of the parental couple.
If the desire for a child occupies a new place in the relations of men with their partners, it is also because science has relegated their participation to being just a sperm in the service of maternal order. In fact, the new law concerning procreation gives the desire for a child a completely new status, since it is now established that a woman alone can achieve her desire for a child, without the help of any man, except in the form of a sperm bank.
Therefore, the child can have as a father a frozen sperm, received in the post, the use of which will allow a woman to become a mother. If there is a man behind the glitter, he only exists through his donation of genetics. Only one sperm will remain, a bit of real programmed to generate. Here, the desire for a child takes the form of a service rendered to the person. Here too, we can see an imaginary reparation in the form of a donation, a sort of ideology of the Name-of-the-Father used altruistically. This deflation of the father to his spermatozoon had already been interrogated by Lacan who defined the real father, in opposition to the symbolic father, by the spermatozoon, while saying that “no one ever thought of saying that he was the son of such and such a spermatozoon.”  In 1970 it seemed unlikely, but in 2021 the real of the father has passed the bar of the impossible. Science uses its know-how to meet the demands for a child that it receives. The father reduced to his sperm responds to it and then takes on a new value. He is that with which a woman can believe that the sexual relation is written. Science believes in this, just as it believes in the imaginary father and its symbolisation, when it proposes that the father-sperm can be known to the child, thus wanting to symbolise the real of the father, in a potential encounter. Of course, the debate is open as to whether knowing one’s genetic substance is crucial in order to construct oneself as a subject. Let’s say that today there is a delirium around genetics which would be the new Name-of-the-Father of our children, that they have a symbolic father who would have taken care of them, remaining necessary but not sufficient. Genetic transmission, which is real, tends to be predictive and therefore symbolisable. The body, without this new link to paternity, seems to be an illegible inscription. The sperm is the S1 of this new type of parent. However, the body envelope is present there in the form of the physical characteristics of the father-sperm, which are size and eye and skin colour. Thus, from the real, the spermatozoon consents to be the bearer of instructions that particularise it. Does this mean that after having wanted to strip the father of his semblants, to have made a commodity that we choose from a catalogue, we try to imagine him as a message about the genes that he transmits? Will we one day augment the information with a background leaflet on his history, intellectual faculties and his modes of enjoyment [jouir]?
Thus, maternity crosses all obstacles associated with the encounter of bodies. Science provides for this by supporting women in their project for a child. What it forecloses only time will tell.
On the Imaginary register, the father-sperm can be any man caught up in the maternal history of his loves, however disappointing or impossible. Thus, the father of the woman who wants to become a mother probably occupies the first place in these new filiations, the oedipal fantasy serving his position. Others can come to occupy this function in the feminine imagination, a brother, a cousin, an uncle, but also the analyst. Since Breuer, analytical experience on this subject has been low-key. But children continue to be born under transference. “One can very well give one’s husband a baby, and yet this be someone else’s child, even if one hasn’t fucked with him, someone, precisely, whom one would have liked to be the father. Yet it’s for that reason that one has had the child.”  This sentence of Lacan’s comes to countermand his starting position which had it that “[t]his is clearly what demonstrates that the attribution of procreation to the father can only be the effect of a pure signifier, of a recognition, not of the real father, but of what religion has taught us to invoke as the Name-of-the-Father.” 
These different occurrences of paternity open the debate on this question of the real father, of the imaginary and symbolic father, which can be read from three areas of the contemporary clinic:
The child is the object that makes the family exist. It is in the place of the precious and desired object until the moment of the dissolution of the parental couple which feeds back to the disruption of the parental family. From the single-parent family to the step-family, changes in the family open up to infinite combinations, introducing the multiple into the first structure. Whether it is about adoption, family reunification, room-mating or shared custody, the family is undergoing changes which reflect an evolution which marks “the father’s disappearance”  this scar left by the decline of the Name of the Father.
These arise from the fragmentation of the family. While there is a real that every speaking-being comes up against – not having chosen his parents is a loss or a gain in life and fixes a destiny – new family types favour encounters that will allow a child to elect new adoptive parents, even if it means relegating their own to the heritage of the living dead. The contingent encounter between adults ready to invest in a new form of family often creates a bond of privileged affection between co-parents and children. Thus, parenthood follows the curve of encounters of the Ones all alone. Rather than to fixity of family order, there is a preference given to contingency with their inventions, marking the impact of lalangue which allows it to be knotted.
The fragmentation of the family gives way to new writings of the family romance. If Freud discovers here a function of separation – that to imagine oneself in another family allows one to detach oneself from parental love – it is obvious that today this separation is often experienced in reality. As a result, the family romance is written differently. The child can no longer imagine himself freed from the yoke of the family by dreaming of a more loving or less repressive family. On the contrary, with the excess of jouissance offered by the parents’ free choice, the family romance sometimes gets old. Some children dream of a cushy life where everyone does not change places. The inventing of another version of the family will bear the upheavals linked to its new destinies.
Picture : ©Dominique Sonnet
Translation: Raphael Montague
Review: Caroline Heanue
 Lacan J., The Seminar, Book V, The Formations of the Unconscious (1957-1958), text established by J.-A. Miller, Transl., R. Grigg, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2017, p. 132.
 Lacan J., “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” (1953), Écrits, The First Complete Edition in English, Transl., B. Fink, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002, p. 259.
 Lacan J., The Seminar, Book XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-1970), text established by J.-A. Miller, Transl., R. Grigg, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007, p. 127.
 Lacan J., “On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis” (1958), Écrits, The First Complete Edition in English, Transl., B. Fink, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002, p. 464.
 Lacan J., “Note on the father“, La Cause du désir, n°89, mars 2015, p. 8.