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Perspective: Elon Musk is not the father of the year

It’s wonderful to have a high-profile booster for large families, but pro-natalists desperately need someone else

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Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, stands with his then-fiancee Talulah Riley and his twin sons.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, stands with his then-fiancee Talulah Riley and his twin sons Griffin, left, and Xavier at the Nasdaq’s opening bell to celebrate the electric automaker’s initial public offering on June 29, 2010, in New York.

Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and perhaps the future owner of Twitter, is concerned about the birthrate. His pinned tweet, written in May, bemoans the unsustainability of the birthrate in the United States. And today, he took up the topic again, congratulating people with big families in one tweet, and musing about Tesla making bigger cars in another.

His latest tribute to large families comes on the same day that People magazine reported that Musk has more children than we knew.

The 51-year-old Tesla CEO fathered twins with Shivon Zilis last November, according to court documents published by Business Insider Wednesday. The twins were born in Austin, Texas. That brings the total number of his children to 10.

According to People magazine, the papers reveal that in April, Musk and Zilis, who is the project director at his Neuralink company, asked a Texan county court to change the babies’ names so they would “have their father’s last name and contain their mother’s last name as part of their middle name.”

The twins, now 8 months old, arrived just weeks before Musk and his former partner Grimes welcomed a baby girl via a surrogate in December, despite the pair splitting up in September.

Grimes revealed the birth of Exa Dark Sideræl, who they’ve nicknamed Y, in a cover story for Vanity Fair. They also share 2-year-old son named — and this is not a typo — X Æ A-12.

People went on to explain, “After welcoming the twins, Musk is now a father of 10. He shares 18-year-old twins Vivian Jenna Wilson and Griffin Musk, along with triplets Kai, Damian and Sax Musk, who were born in 2006, with his first wife, Justine Wilson.”

If you’re having trouble keeping track of the branches of the Musk family tree, you’re not alone.

Musk isn’t wrong about the dire nature of our fertility crisis, nor are his positive affirmations about the beauty of a large family off-base. But the problem lies within the word “family.”

Is Musk creating a family, or is he just creating a disparate brood of children? Might one consider that what Musk is doing is “siring,” not “fathering.”

There are great minds around the world trying to solve the fertility crisis, which is raising all sorts of questions. Is government assistance the solution, and if so, in what forms? Is the reason people aren’t having children, or having more children, more social than financial?

There are many hypotheses and few answers. But I would suggest that ultra-rich celebrities using their employees and surrogates to supercharge their breeding capabilities is not the solution that some people think.

Any man can father a child, but it takes a great deal more effort and attention to actually be a father. The first step, one that Musk has not taken recently, is to be married and committed to the mother of his children.

Reporting on the mother of some of Musk’s children, the singer Grimes referred to Musk as her “boyfriend” in a Vanity Fair interview, labeling their relationship as “fluid.” Hours after the story was published, she tweeted that they had split again.

The latest set of twins came four months after the birth of Grimes’ and Musk’s baby to a surrogate.

Confused yet? Me, too. But what’s not confusing is that by every measurable metric, the children of married parents perform better than those born out of wedlock.

In 2010, Heritage Foundation scholar Chuck Donovan wrote: “Children raised in intact, married families with their biological mother and father experience a vast array of benefits that span the age spectrum and persist into their own adulthood, including achieving literacy, avoiding teenage pregnancy and juvenile crime, graduating from high school, and attaining marital success.”

To be clear, Musk may be an amazing father if he brings to that job the energy, intelligence and love that he seems to bring to his paid work. People make unconventional family structures work in all sorts of ways. Maybe taking his teenage sons to meet the pope is evidence that he’s trying.

But even if Musk is an involved father to all 10 of his children, the simple fact that he is apparently not romantically involved with their mothers, let alone married to any of them, puts his children at a distinct disadvantage as they grow older. It’s wonderful to have a high-profile booster for large families, but pro-natalists desperately need someone else.

By definition what Musk is doing is not promoting big families, but out-of-wedlock birth. It’s a pity that someone who understands the problems facing a world with fewer children doesn’t seem to understand what children need to thrive.

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret News. She is a home-schooling mother of five and a widely published writer on politics, culture and Judaism. She is an editor for the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”