Dear Donor

An open letter to my unknown biological father, and anonymous sperm donors everywhere

Dear Donor. Dear Father. Dear whatever your name is. I’m your biological child, and I’m searching for you. I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s the inevitable result of a decision you made decades ago. I hope you’ve been expecting me.

I was 35 when I learned I was conceived using anonymously donated sperm. When my mother told me the truth (in a moment of pure love), my brain shot out of my head and circled the moon before exploding like a supernova. It was exhilarating, fascinating, and deeply shocking. For months, all I could do was sweep the dust of my mind into a neat pile and try to remember to blink and breathe.

You’ll never be my dad, but you will always be my biological father. That fact automatically makes you significant.

The rush of emotions was intense beyond measure, but you were frequently in my thoughts. I’ve watched sepia-toned mini movies of you in my mind’s eye, casually stepping off a curb on a balmy summer day in late 1970s Toronto. Thick brown hair (longish and shaggy, as was the fashion), kind of an angular jaw, glasses? Everything I’ve read suggests you were most likely a med student, but my heart whispers otherwise: a sociology or psychology major. It would explain a lot.

You’ll never be my dad, but you will always be my biological father. That fact automatically makes you significant. Have you ever wondered about me? I hope so, because you’re not “just a sperm donor” to me. You’re not some guy; you’re a man — one specific person who is probably still alive, walking around with half of my face.

One way or another, my parents were going to have a second child, but without you, it simply wouldn’t be me. I inherited a lot from you. Immediately identifiable examples include my tall, typically lean frame (if I can avoid eating every cookie in sight), skin tone, eye color, blood type, and hair so thick it’s like having a beaver pelt strapped to my head. You are the source of half my DNA and my Jewish ancestry. Probably more.

I know it would be easier for everyone involved if I didn’t care. I’ve tried, and each time it was physically painful, like a heavy boot compressing my lungs. It’s frightening to be open and vulnerable, but I need to tell the truth. Not knowing who you are is frustrating at times (and dehumanizing at others), but I have reason to hope. One day, tomorrow or decades from now, my DNA test results with 23andMe or AncestryDNA could yield a match — a close relative that will lead me back to you through immigration records, obituaries, or a family tree. Thinking about it makes me queasy with anticipation, but I know when I unlock that mystery it will feel like justice.

When you donated sperm, you probably saw it as an altruistic act. You were helping a couple have a child — a proverbial (and mostly hypothetical) bundle of joy, forever frozen in time. It’s easier that way. Donor-conceived babies aren’t interested in ancestry. They don’t struggle with identity issues, or sometimes feel like they’re more a product than a person. They don’t have the mental and emotional faculties to process the fact that they were deliberately deprived the right to know their full history — including the identity of a biological parent.

Regardless of the circumstances of their conception, everyone deserves to know the identity of both biological parents.

I don’t blame you for not understanding the full impact of donor conception, but I do think you deserve to know the truth. It’s what connects us. For the record, I’m quite grateful for the role you played in my life, but you should never have been promised anonymity. Regardless of the circumstances of their conception, everyone deserves to know the identity of both biological parents.

I’d sign my name, but I don’t want to give you the impression that this is a story about one solitary person with a provocative perspective. I’ve done my research and I’m not an outlier in the international community of donor-conceived people. As surprising as they might be, my views are statistically average. So, instead, I’ll sign off like this:

Sincerely,
One of Many

MJ Adelaide is a pseudonym