For us Known Donors, Father’s Day can be a little complicated — less a celebration and more of a soul searching, where we think once again about who we really are to the child we helped create.

I donated sperm to my friends, a lesbian couple. After a challenging few months trying to make it work, one of them was finally pregnant. Then came the next challenge. What would I call myself? Who would I be to this child?

Nearing the due date, I went to meet up with a lawyer to sign away my rights so that both my friends could claim full parenthood and the non-bio mom could adopt without complications.

“You guys need to have a discussion about what you will be called,” said the lawyer. “But I have to say the word ‘dad’ is a little loaded in this situation. It’s legally binding, And if you call yourself dad and you aren’t a constant presence, the child may feel abandoned.” The last thing I want to do is have this future child feel abandoned just because of one word.

That stuck with me. And since our child was born, I have been very careful to not call myself a “dad,” even casually, to my friends and family.

The problem is — there doesn’t seem to be a good replacement word. If “dad” is inappropriate, then “donor” sounds clinical. “Uncle Mike” just makes me sound like the host of a children’s show. This person I have become isn’t just an uncle, but I am also not really a dad with a capital D.

For us Known Donors (if we are not co-parenting) the D-word  — or even the word “father” — is hard for us to own.

In my case, the momz (that’s what I call them) live a couple hours away, upstate with our Little Being (LB for short).

Here’s my issue: I am a freelance writer and performer (I know: what lucrative career choices!) I am not swimming in money, and I seem to be constantly working to afford my scruffy artistic life. I knew from the beginning I wouldn’t be that constant presence this child needs.

“I guess I have an um, sperm daughter?” I said to people at first, awkwardly.

Mike,” said David, one of my closest friends. “Please stop using that expression? Sperm daughter just sounds gross.”

I have spent the last year performing a solo show called Spermhood: Diary of a Donor, which is about my crazy adventures as a gay man donating sperm for my friends (the tests! The clinics! The 25 year old twinks you meet on Grindr who call you “Daddy!”). After performances I have met a number of people who represent a spectrum of donation: from straight men who are married and have their own families and expect no relationship, to gay men who are single and don’t know what they want to call themselves because they never thought they would have to define this kind of relationship (that’s me, obvi). And all of us, I have noticed, have had to contend with the D-word.

One thing I have learned— there are no rules. Sometimes “Dad” fits comfortably into the situation, even if the donor isn’t a clear co-parent. One lesbian couple give over their children to the donor every Saturday. They call it “Dadurdays.” And one friend of mine, a gay man who lives in New York City, was a donor for a lesbian couple who live in Chicago. They had two daughters, and he tries to see them when he can. One summer, he afforded a trip out to see them when the daughters were around 5 and 7. The older one came up to him. “Are you my dad?” she asked.

My friend was nervous but told the truth, “Um. Yea?”

“OK!” she said, and went off to play.

But then there is the other side. Recently I was at a bar sitting next to three women. They were talking about their nostalgia for the early days of the internet. “Oh man I miss that crunchy uploading sound!” one woman said. She went on to talk about how much she misses AOL chat rooms and the ad hoc community it provided. She described a friend who grew up with an alcoholic father that abandoned her family. The mom, she said, was checked-out. The friend had no where to turn, and went on AOL to ask if she should contact her dad. “Five moms created a private chat room,” said the woman sitting next to me, “and gave my friend a ton of advice. One of the moms said ‘Okay, first of all, he is not your dad, he is your father. Don’t give him the power of that word.’”

Dad. That day, looking down at the contract, I realized the power of that word. But it still felt weird to forsake it. A 25 year old twink can call me “daddy” but my own child can’t? The irony.

After signing the contract, I walked back home from the lawyers office. I remember passing by a dad who was carefully walking behind his young son learning how to ride a bike. The dad gave him space but remained a few feet behind, protectively. “Turn right, Caleb. Turn right, turn right. That’s it!”

I thought of my dad, and how much I took for granted his constant presence in my life. My dad came home from work every night, dumped his change and Chapstick on the counter and, no matter how exhausting his work day may have been, always found the energy to talk to me. I always knew he would come home, and not for a second did I doubt that. He was always there for me. He was, and still is, definitely my Dad with a capital D.

So what am I to this child. The question plagued me, until one day I spoke with Peter, a friend of mine who donated to two women. They now have a beautiful, sweet kid named Winter. Peter is also not a primary parent, but he found a way to relax himself from the pressure of definition. “Winter doesn’t belong to me,” he said. “I belong to Winter.”
Illustration by Ben Tousley

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