I could never have written this on Father’s Day. You see, for so many years, in my house, Father’s Day was otherwise known as “Distraction Day.” I’d make as little reference to the occasion as possible and when I did, I’d call it something else, like, “Go wish your Gramps a Happy Grandpa Day.” I was the mother who proactively went to school and explained (for the umpteenth time) how there are all different types of families and that they should use inclusive language and make sure that all Father’s Day projects were appropriate for each and every child. And I’d spend most of Father’s Day worrying about what my daughter might be feeling.
But I didn’t do any of that this year.
This year, Mama Bear didn’t feel as fiercely protective of Little Bear. This year, without so much as a conscious thought, I stopped protecting my daughter from life’s reality.
And reality is, she does not have a father.
Here’s the conundrum facing parents of donor-conceived children—there’s a fine line between contributing to a child’s unrealistic fantasy and being respectful of their feelings. I chose a willing-to-be-known donor, which means that upon reaching age 18, she will have the opportunity to meet him if she chooses to. He contractually agreed to that. Will he actually fulfill that commitment? Only time will tell. But knowing that this opportunity exists leaves the door wide open to her living out some unrealistic fantasy of what life will be like when she finally gets to meet her “father.”
That wasn’t such a big issue when she was younger. Back when her birthdays were still in single digits, she didn’t ask about her donor much. And her friends didn’t inquire about her father’s whereabouts. But now she’s almost 12, and kids her age talk more about their parents, and what they do. They ask more questions. They no longer accept Gabi’s previous, pat “I don’t have a dad” as a full answer. They want details, and she’s not comfortable with that. When it comes to revealing that she’s donor-conceived, she’s selective. I can’t help but recognize (having been there myself) that she’s entering the “mean girls” phase of school. She longs to be just like everyone else. And she’s not.
Troubling statistic—she was the only kid in her class without a dad. Again. (This isn’t the first year she’s held that distinction.)
So what’s a fiercely protective Mama Bear who’s trying to not be so fiercely protective to do? On this post-Father’s-Day Day, I wrote a letter to my daughter’s donor. Consider this my genetically twisted version of a Throwback Thursday, looking back to that day when a certain guy walked into a clinic and was handed a vial (and, let’s be real, a porn magazine). So…here goes….
Dear Donor XXX,
Until recently, you were just a number. When I entered this process, I was ill-informed, had no idea what it would actually be like to be a parent and had not taken the time to listen to the voices of young adults who were donor-conceived. I’ve learned a lot since then. It’s been 15 years since you made the choice to become a sperm donor. I imagine your life has changed quite a bit since then. I sometimes wonder if you ever let yourself think of the children who were created thanks to your donation. And, if so, what do you think? Do you fear that one day there’ll be an unwelcomed knock at your door? Or do you look forward to the potential of being sought out?
I fear dread will overshadow your moral obligation. I worry that when my daughter comes calling, you won’t answer. But most of all, I worry that your regret will become my daughter’s humiliation. That my daughter will internalize your shame as her own—like she’s the product of a dirty little secret.
Truth be told, I’m desperate to know you’ll do the right thing, because I fear too often I’m doing the WRONG thing. It’s just the two of us now, my girl and I, and sometimes I feel like I’m doing a really shitty job. That’s the single mother’s lament. Maybe every mother’s.
You are not my daughter’s “dad” and you never will be—but you are her biological father. And that means something. To her. (Yes, to me, too.) So next Father’s Day, I hope you spend a moment thinking about the children you helped bring into this world. If I could tell you anything, I’d tell you that there’s a soon-to-be 12-year-old girl who’s looking forward to meeting you. So you damn well better honor the commitment you made all those years ago. Got it?
Oops. Looks like that fiercely protective Mama Bear reappeared after all.