SO, DNA results were finally announced this week in the Anna Nicole Smith "Who's the daddy?" contest.

Photographer Larry Birkhead's paternity claim has triumphed over Howard K. Stern's, as well as that of Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, Prince Von What's-his-Name.

Which raises two questions:

Is there anyone Smith didn't sleep with in the window of time when Baby Dannielynn was conceived?

And, more importantly, what if all men were as eager as these guys were to claim responsibility for the kids they thought they'd fathered?

Pretend for a moment that Dannielynn is not an heiress worth millions, a status that could prompt even the most reluctant baby-daddy to volunteer for a paternity test.

Instead, think of how many children would be rescued from lives of diminished chances if their dads would just step up.

Studies show that kids of absentee fathers are more likely than children of involved ones to drop out of school, use drugs and booze, engage in premarital sex, have babies out of wedlock, endure poverty and unemployment, spend time in prison and die young.

If that's not evidence for the need for a father in a child's life, God knows what is.

The fallout might be less desperate among children whose mothers have financial means and healthy extended families, but the effect of a father's absence on any child is profound.

Kids are naturally self-centered. So if a child's dad wants nothing to do with him, the child naturally assumes it's because he's not worthy of his dad's time.

No child deserves to feel that abandoned by one half of the two most important people in his life.

It goes without saying that kids abandoned by their mothers suffer as mightily. It's just that their numbers aren't as great.

Still, numbers don't tell the whole story, said Walter Long, president of the Philadelphia chapter of Father's and Children's Equity, an advocacy group for noncustodial parents (including moms, he explains - the group's name is a throwback to its founding, 30 years ago).

I called Long to get his take on the Dannielynn paternity circus and to ask what he thought of Birkhead's odds of getting full custody of Dannielynn, now that his DNA jibes with hers.

"I heard a legal commentator say that Dannielynn's grandmother might stand a better chance of getting partial custody because single fathers aren't viewed in a great light in the Bahamas" where the legal proceedings are playing out, said Long. "And I thought, 'Single fathers aren't viewed in a great light in the United States, either.'

"I could tell you stories for hours about fathers who try to share custody of their children but the courts work against them," says Long. "No one is thinking about what's best for the child, which is to have both parents equally involved."

Long's group has been trying to get the Pennsylvania Legislature to approve bills that would presume equal custody between parents unless proof is offered that to do so would inflict harm on a child, but says the bills have never made it out of committee.

So: "Fathers get the 'vanilla custody' arrangement - every other weekend and maybe a dinner with their kids in between," he says. "It doesn't make sense. We know the effect of fatherlessness on kids, so why aren't we making it easier for good fathers to be involved in their children's lives?"

In the end, of course, it's impossible to use Dannielynn's case as a textbook example of anything other than what happens when a very, very rich baby's future is up for grabs. Her wealth places her case in a category all its own, says Joan Esmonde, an assistant D.A. in Family Court's Child Support Enforcement Unit.

Still, I asked Esmonde, if more fathers fought for the chance to be involved in their children's lives the way the men in Dannielynn's life fought to have a say in hers, what might life be like at Family Court?

"I'd be out of a job," she said.

That's one unemployment check we'd be lucky to pay. *

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns: