I was standing in the elevator with a couple of moms the other day. The two of them, clearly friends, were venting about the fathers of their children.
“Well at least yours shows up occasionally. My daughter hasn’t seen her sperm donor in 6 months.” One says to the other and the conversation morphs into a strange competition of whose child has the most deadbeat dad. Each is certain that she is going to win this contest. I think the dad who uses the nickname ShouldaBeenAborted to refer to his daughter is the winner (looser?) but mom #2 makes some compelling arguments for her ex as well.
I can’t help but compare our “sperm donor” to theirs. Of course, there are some very substantial differences. The most obvious being that Andy isn’t an asshole. However, there are some similarities too. Sporadic visitation? Check. No child support payments? Check. But, unlike the men who conceived children “the old fashioned way,” Andy is doing everything we wanted him to do. And everything he agreed to do upfront.
Of course, he’s more than “just” a sperm donor (he's a special guest star!). Mac will call him Dad and a relationship will be established as he ages. And Mac is fortunate enough to take a place in his extended family as well. You might say that Andy is carving out a new identity as a parent (noun) who doesn't parent (verb) daily. And it bothers me to have his role lumped in with a group of deadbeat dads.
I think of the act of sperm donation as something very noble. Men are giving of themselves so that another person or couple can have a child. And now that I have experienced the true magic that is parenthood I can say with complete sincerity that it is a debt those of us who need sperm could never repay. Without Andy’s generous gift I wouldn’t ever get to see this smile.
Or wipe away this tear.
What a tragedy that would be.
And what about the anonymous sperm donors? The men who visit clinics, magazines in hand, ready to offer up the biological contribution required to create a child? What they are doing is honorable as well. I had the pleasure of reading a few of their application essays as my friend was trying to select sperm and it was immediately clear that their motivations were to be of service rather than to gain financially. With the amount of meetings and testing that needs to be done before one can donate, the payout for being a donor is actually quite small. And I hate to see these men lumped in with deadbeat dads as well.
Sometimes words are just words. But more often than not they are sites of power that invest meaning onto that which they name. The habit of referring to deadbeat dads as sperm donors turns the label into something to be scorned and condemned. And while I understand that it is a clever linguistic trick used to convey that the man is not behaving as a father should, I can’t help but wonder if there is a better term we could use to convey that meaning?