Bill Guest was about 30 when his biological clock kicked in.
His friends were having kids left and right, and suddenly being a doting uncle wasn't enough. Guest wasn't particularly interested in getting married, but he did very much want a child, and not an older child.
"I wanted a baby," said Guest, 40, of Villa Park. "I wanted to experience all of the stages of life."
With Father's Day approaching, single fathers such as Guest are a reminder of how far modern men will go to become parents.
He is one of the small but growing number of single men who are becoming fathers via surrogacy, in which a woman agrees to carry someone else's baby. Surrogacy can cost more than $100,000 and involves finding a woman who wants to carry your child, achieving a pregnancy via in vitro fertilization, and navigating the emotional experience of pregnancy and childbirth with a surrogate who has her own needs, responsibilities and boundaries.
At Family Source Consultants in Chicago, which facilitates about 25 single-father/surrogate matches a year, up from 10 to 15 five years ago, co-founder Zara Griswold said that single men, both gay and heterosexual, are pursuing surrogacy for the same reason single women are freezing their eggs: They really want biological children.
"Men who have a paternal instinct, it is no less than women who have a maternal instinct," said Griswold.
"They will be as obsessed as a woman will be; they just want it so much. And then when they have their babies they're so happy; they're so grateful; they're such great parents."
Alternative Reproductive Resources, another Chicago agency, matches about three single dads with surrogates each year, according to CEO Robin von Halle.
Guest, a stay-at-home dad to Freya, 19 months, said that he looked into adoption through the foster care system, but the kids who were available were 6 or 7.
"I kind of gave up," he said, but his mom, Josephine, urged him to go online and try again, and he found Men Having Babies, a nonprofit that helps gay men become dads. About 60 percent of the single dads via surrogacy at Family Source Consultants are gay; the rest are heterosexual.
At Men Having Babies, Guest, who is gay, found information about how surrogacy works; single dads need both an egg donor and a surrogate, and many turn to agencies for help. There were even opportunities to apply for financial assistance in the form of reduced agency fees, which Guest did successfully.
He located Family Source Consultants, filled out a lengthy questionnaire and submitted an application. The first surrogate he matched with via the agency seemed perfect, but it turned out that the surrogate's husband didn't want her to work with a gay man. Guest pressed on; a second match looked promising, but the surrogate lived out of state, which meant he would have to go through a potentially lengthy adoption process. The third match met him for lunch and they clicked immediately. They both had big, close-knit families; she worked with the gay community and wanted to help a gay couple or individual. By the time Guest got from the restaurant to his car, his phone was ringing: Surrogate No. 3 wanted to carry his baby.
In part because Guest's surrogate had good health insurance, he was able to keep his costs relatively low. Costs range from about $75,000 to $125,000, he said.
Freya was born in the fall of 2016.
"I was crying when she came out. She was so beautiful," Guest said.
Today Guest, who lives with his parents, William and Josephine, spends his days with his toddler daughter, who is a big fan of the family dogs and the kiddie pool.
"We do everything together: We shop together, we spend the whole day together. I call her my little sidekick," he said.
Fatherhood is so great, he said, that he's doing it again. The surrogate who carried Freya is having a second baby for him, due in late December.
His more immediate plans are to spend Father's Day in Door County with Freya, his parents, his sister, his brother-in-law and his five nieces and nephews.
"For me (Father's Day) means I'm working on completing my family," he said. "And it's happiness. I'm so happy to be a dad."