for National Geographic News
What would Father's Day—and every other day—be like without fathers? Maybe not so bad, according to experts on the Mosuo culture of the Chinese Himalaya.
The women of this matrilineal society shun marriage and raise their kids in homes with their entire extended families—but no dads.
By most accounts, children seem to do just fine under the arrangement.
"They are a society that we know hasn't had marriage for a thousand years, and they've been able to raise kids successfully," said Stephanie Coontz, family studies professor at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.
(Also see "Father's Day 2009: Facts, Gifts, More.")
No Fathers: It Makes Genetic Sense?
Men of the Mosuo, who live around Lugu Lake on the border between Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces, do help to raise kids—just not their own, with whom the men typically have only limited relationships.
Instead the men help look after all the children born to their own sisters, aunts, and other women of the family.
Rather than "one father with a kid, it will be four or five uncles. That [father] role is shared among a number of people, and these are very large extended families," explained John Lombard, director of the Lugu Lake Mosuo Cultural Development Association.
The unusual parenting arrangement makes genetic sense, in terms of extending the family line—and many Mosuo men actually think of it that way, Lombard said.
"If you [father] a child with another woman, you can never be absolutely sure that the child really shares your genes," he said. "But if your sister has a child, you can be 100 percent sure that the kid shares some of your genes."
"Walking Marriages" But No Fathers
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