February 08, 2007

On the Genius Sperm Bank Donor Fathers

One of the men who donated sperm for the Genius Sperm Bank was a businessman, whom Plotz describes as "an extremely successful businessman, someone who has launched several companies, including one that's almost a household name. He's rich, accomplished, athletic, and driven. He also has no children of his own." This impressive man explained to Plotz why he donated his sperm. He says:

The repository was perfect for me because I was not responsible for the kids. I really did not care. That is why I did not want to know how many kids I had.

I have not had children. I have never been interested in children. I acknowledged it and decided not to have the child suffer my disinterest. I left home very, very young. I left home after high school and never went back.

So you never think of your repository kids?

No, I guess I don't think of them. They are so anonymous to me—I guess because I have never been really interested in children anyway. I never followed up that much.

Are you afraid that one of the kids might manage to find you?

I would expect that they destroyed any documentation on that. But I might be thrilled. It would be nice to have it all turn out well. I would probably get immediately emotionally involved. It might be a bit of a kick.

Wow. So donating sperm was basically a way for this man to pass on his genes and have children without having to take care of them or be responsible. And then if they turned out well, it would be nice to meet them someday, he just "might" get a kick out of that.

Yeah, that's a real role model. Why are we fuelling this kind of parental irresponsibility and narcissism on a grand scale?

Another one of the donor fathers, Donor White, provides a different reason for having donated. According to Plotz, "He wrote that he and his wife had never been able to have their own children. He also wrote that he couldn't shake the memory of his own great-grandfather, who had fathered his only child just before going off to fight and die in the Civil War." Donor white has at least 13 children thorugh the sperm bank. He says:

The indirect success … is not like having your own children, of course, and I will likely never be able to see any of them in person, because I would be 75 years old before they become adults. Moreover, many of these children will likely never know that their adopted fathers are not their biological fathers. Still, I know these children are out there somewhere, and they are thought about often. I have seen very pleasing photographs of several of them, with their parents' permission, and have been able to form my own mental images of others while running on the beach in the quietness of the early morning. This is a rather poor substitute for having one's own children, but it does provide a sense of continuity that was not present before. In my view, a person's genes really belong to all of those many ancestors from whence they came, and we are only allowed to borrow and make use of them during our lifetimes. I have the satisfaction, then, of having been able, in an anonymous way, to connect the past with the future in a continuous line like a curve on a graph.

Plotz also writes about the sperm bank fathers that:
Most of the donors have something unusual in common: an unsteady personal life. The vast majority of men their age are married and the vast majority have children. Yet only two of the seven, I believe, are married. Only three have their own (non-repository) children. Only one of the fathers is married to the mother of his child. (At least two men had relationships that foundered in part because the woman desired children. "She wanted to have children and I did not. But sometimes I would be in the next bedroom donating sperm. She did not try to stop me, but she was not happy about it," says Average Guy.)

...Most of the Slate Seven remember their "work" for Graham with satisfaction. A couple are purely happy about it. They think fondly about any genetic kids. A couple are pleased with the venture in an intellectual way: They don't think much about any kids but praise Graham's goals. A couple feel slightly embarrassed by what they did. None thinks of himself as a father to the bank children. Even those who believe most strongly in heritability insist that fathers are made by nurture, not nature. Even so, all of them expressed some enthusiasm at the prospect of meeting their biological offspring, though they worry about tampering with the kids' families.

The Average Guy has the most perverse and complicated feelings about being a donor. He has kept obsessive track of his repository kids. He took notes every time a repository staffer contacted him to report a birth, allowing him to figure out his offspring's birthdays and sexes. He corresponded—anonymously through the repository—with one mother who used his sperm. Though the repository eliminated identifying information from the letters, he was able to figure out the first names and professions of her and her husband, as well as where they lived. (How did he find their hometown? you ask. The parents sent him a studio photo of their daughter: He searched photo studio catalogs to find the studio that used the logo embossed on the frame. VoilĂ ! It was one in … I'm not telling. He showed me the photo: The girl's resemblance to Average Guy is astonishing.)

But despite his obsessive record keeping, Average Guy says he is often ashamed of what he has done. He is chagrined that he has selfishly avoided responsibility for raising kids. And he feels that spawning more than a dozen rugrats contradicts his own environmentalist ethos. "I am concerned about overpopulation and America's destructive appetite for resources. I have contributed to this problem in a big way by creating so many new consumers."

In one final way, the donors seem very much alike. All sound blue when they discuss their genetic offspring. They seem sad that they have kids they can't ever meet, can't watch grow up, can't ever help. They understand the melancholy reality of sperm donation. It's fatherhood without the responsibility, but also fatherhood without the delight.

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