Meeting My Sperm-Donor Dad

Like thousands of other kids his age, Ben Sommer was conceived through alternative insemination and raised in a lesbian household. Recently, at 21, Sommer decided it was time to meet his ‘dad’ for the first time.

 

—-

I grew up in a middle-class home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with two loving parents, both of whom are women. My conception was perhaps the most organized and scientific miracle of the modern American family—my architecture, the dream of dozens of individuals conducting their work across thousands of miles.

I was conceived through alternative insemination. A donor submitted his sperm to the Sperm Bank of California in Oakland (TSBC). Later, it was sent to the Fenway Community Health Center in Boston. Since opening its doors in 1982, TSBC has helped families without the ability to conceive on their own to birth over 2,000 children. Two thirds of those have ended up, like me, being raised in a lesbian household. TSBC is also the first sperm bank to offer a donor-identity-release program, which allows children of alternative insemination access to their donors’ information when they turn 18.

I am not as much an oddity as you might think. As of 2005, some 270,000 children in the United States had same sex-parents. We are a generation that is just now beginning to come of age and able to share our stories. This is mine.

♦◊♦

Growing up in a lesbian household was much like growing up in any other family unit, I imagine: vacations to Cape Cod, parents working late and sometimes not, play dates with a diverse group of friends.

I never gave much thought to that mysterious figure across the country. I never questioned the fact that I didn’t have a father. As far as I was concerned I didn’t need one. Is having two moms really all that different than having a mom and a dad? Parents are parents, right? I didn’t see a difference at the time. My parents didn’t either—at least at first.

They decided to conceive through a donor, in part, to avoid the complications that a third parent would bring. Asking a close male friend to donate, like some couples have done, can create unforeseen consequences. In the past, there have been custody battles between the donor and the parents raising the child. This was the case with a friend of mine, whose parents arranged donation from a male family friend. With a semi-anonymous donor like the man my parents chose, it would be clear who my parents were. And it was.

♦◊♦

That’s not to say that it was smooth sailing. “When we first learned you were going to be a boy, we really panicked,” my mother told me recently. “Who’s going to teach him to throw a ball? We didn’t have many male friends. There was even basic stuff, like who’s going to teach him to pee standing up. That doesn’t come naturally.”

They tried to make up for it. I remember feeling self-conscious when my biological mother took me to the batting cages in the suburbs of Boston, in former warehouses and factories that smelled of sweat and pine tar, and had no heating—places built for father-son time, where my mother, barely 5-foot-6, placed herself next to burly dads and fed me fastballs through the Iron Mike.

As I grew up and made male friends, I was surrounded by fathers. Technically I was not their son, but I was part of the community in which they and their families lived, and everyone’s parents shared collective responsibility for one another’s children. My friends’ fathers took over the role of father figure. I couldn’t wait for the daily drives to and from MIT day camp. One father told us stories of Robin Hood and his adventures in Sherwood Forest. Another father took us out for after-school pizza night—just guys—at Armando’s.

As I got bigger, and my throwing arm got too strong for my mothers’ battered gloves, there were plenty of lace-patterned bruises. When the injuries became too much, they passed me off to some heterosexual family, whose dad could take the physical blows I delivered. Maybe I didn’t have a father of my own, but I wasn’t without fathers—coaches, teachers, or male family friends who all helped raise me.

♦◊♦

It was only this past summer that I made the decision to contact my donor. Most kids I’d talked to went through the process when they turned 18. I was 21. My parents had, from time to time, brought up the subject casually, but I always feigned apathy. But recently I realized that I may have not been as apathetic as I pretended to be. Hollywood may have something to do with it.

I finally saw the movie The Kids Are All Right at my mom’s recommendation. “Go see it, it’s terrible,” she said. We dragged my younger sister to the theater. The first half of movie was believable. The family structure mirrored our own, even down to the mother with a career in health care. This could be my family, I thought. But when the sperm donor and one of the mothers sleep together, my sister gasped. “Oh, God,” she said, “I can’t sit through this! This would never happen.”

Walking out of that movie, I remember wondering how my sperm donor would fit into my life. Mark Ruffalo’s presence in the movie is destructive—he’s no father figure. I know other kids who have met their donors. Often, the situation plays out differently. In many cases, the donor does become a part of the family.

I’d had a hard time envisioning a stranger becoming my dad overnight. There were questions I’d been reluctant to face: Would I have a responsibility to him as a son? Would he have a responsibility to me as my biological father? Would it turn out to be an immense disappointment? I’m not sure which possibility I feared more—but I decided that knowing was better than not knowing. I began preparations to meet donor #35.

♦◊♦

After I sent in all my information, notarized and witnessed, to the Sperm Bank of California, I was prepped over the phone by its executive director, Alice Ruby. Of the 2,000 children they’d brought into the world, only about 50 had called to receive their donor’s info. She told me not to get my hopes up, that some sperm donors don’t want any contact. Some expectations cannot be met. Some decisions to donate, over 20 years ago, may not have been made with a lifetime commitment in mind. Some are fathers—in the very real sense—with children of their own. Some haven’t told their families.

A week later I received his information: email, phone number, and an address in California. He’s unmarried and has no kids. A 10-year-old picture—a middle aged man standing against a marble wall—was included. He had short black hair, darker than mine. Despite the pink polo shirt, he looked serious, even tough. My parents said he looks like me “in the eyes.”

I remained committed to contact this man, whom I could finally put a face to. I sent him an email.

He sent one back, signed “Always Yours.”

♦◊♦

Read part two of this story here.

—Photo by welcomeimages/Flickr

Sponsored Content

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Ben Sommer

Ben Sommer is currently a senior at Carleton College in Minnesota where he studies English and creative writing.

Comments

  1. Ben, this is an awesome story. I can’t wait to read the rest. I’m glad you’re telling your story.

  2. I have a lesbian daughter and she and her partner have two children with the same “father.” I sometimes wonder when (if ever) the children will want to meet their donor, and how it will play out. So it will be fascinating to read part 2. Well done for sharing this.

  3. Ben, thanks for sharing this story. I look forward to reading part 2.

  4. You are one brave soul! Like others here, I look forward to part 2!

  5. Ben,

    Great story and I had no idea there were so many in your shoes. I’m a single mom and really there are a lot of parallels. Can’t wait to read part 2.

  6. Hi Ben,
    I read your post with interest and look forward to part 2. My spouse and I (thank you to the state of Iowa) have an 8month old son, conceived with an identity-donor from TSBC. The identity-donor program, as well as the research they conduct, was an important aspect of our decision to use TSBC services. I expect your posts will be reading for our son one day. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Compelling stuff Ben, can’t wait for the finale.

    My aunt and her partner had two artificially inseminated daughters with a third-party friend. Then they split up. My aunt married another woman and had three more kids through artificial insemination using a donor they did not know. The youngest are now 8 years old and it never occurred to me they might one day want to know who their father is. But I think that’s a testament to the parenting they already get, because it doesn’t seem like anything is missing. Sounds like your situation.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing and I can’t wait for Part II.

  8. Noah Coolidge says:

    Ben,
    Really great story. Can’t wait for the rest.

  9. Ellen Brodsky says:

    You write so well. What a great, compelling story about the common and uncommon! I will share this with many friends. Can’t wait for part two. Valentines’s Day is such an interesting choice – as the story is so infused with love.

  10. Thanks Ben,
    Your story is so engaging and written with such heartfelt clarity. I first met one of your moms when we were about the age you are now. She was already such a community builder, exuding such powerful love and intellect. It’s fascinating to read your piece and see those qualities —among many others— in you. Thank you for this! …and now I know a second thing I want to do on Valentine’s Day!

  11. Helen Laughlin says:

    What beautiful writing and what a beautiful soul you are! I await Part Two eagerly. I am so proud of who you are and celebrate your courage in meeting your Sperm-donor Dad. Dick often said what great parents you had in your two Moms. You know that I have always concurred! I love you,
    Grandma Helen

  12. Kim Beckman says:

    I remember the binder that contained Donor #35′s bio and the giddy laughter that came with your moms’ choosing. Your clear and straight-up (so to speak) telling of the tale is courage in action. I’ll be back on February 14th for the unfolding of the tale. Much love, Aunt Kim

  13. Priscilla Ballou says:

    Ben, I knew your moms back before you were born, and I met you by chance with one or both of your moms from time to time through the years. Your sister, too.

    It’s so wonderful to read what you’re writing and to see what a bright, articulate, and grounded young man you are growing up to be. More power to you. I have a feeling the world is going to continue to hear from you!

    Priscilla Ballou, Roslindale, MA

  14. COLAGE: People with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer parent applaud you for sharing your story, and applaud all of you who are commenting and discussing these issues. COLAGE recently released a Donor Insemination (DI) Guide and launched a new website to provide community to all of us who have an LGBTQ parent! Check it out :)

Trackbacks

  1. Sites We Like…

    [...]just below, are some totally unrelated sites to ours, however, they are definitely worth checking out[...]…

  2. [...] article was originally published in two parts at GMP on 2/7/11 and 2/14/11. –The [...]

  3. [...] article was originally published in two parts at GMP on 2/7/11 and 2/14/11. –The [...]

Speak Your Mind