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Don’t you ever wonder what he looks like? Have you ever looked for him?
I didn’t know my dad, and I never will. There’s no bad blood, no story about abandonment, no tragic death that left my mom a single parent, and no bitter divorce resulting in a custody battle he lost.
I never had a “dad.” Even stringing those three letters together feels strange. When I reference the dads of my friends, the word tastes foreign in my mouth. In uttering that word aloud, I know I’m treading into choppy waters—into territory that isn’t safe or familiar like the shallow pool of “ma” or “mom” which have monopolized my parental vocabulary. It’s like when you travel to another country, and you’re not sure what’s proper etiquette and what might land you in the police blotter in the newspaper.
I define a father or a dad as someone who’s involved in the raising of a child. He doesn’t need to be in a relationship or married to the child’s mother, share an address with the kiddo, or even be the child’s biological parent; there’s much more to fatherhood than scientific distinctions. But I had no father.
Someone fathered me, but it was a sperm donor my mother chose. They never met and shared a meal or a glass of wine. There was no grueling interview process complete with references and months of scrutiny. There was a list of demographics. There was a sample. There was a choice my mother made to parent alone, from conception to adulthood. It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around the reality that growing up with one parent isn’t always something deserving of condolences.
So you don’t know who he is? What if you’ve seen him before, and you didn’t know it?
It’s always awkward sharing the details of my parentage, because people are never sure how to react. They usually start with the politically correct statement:
Oh wow, that’s interesting. Good for your mom. I’ve never met anyone conceived that way before!
Once they see I’m comfortable talking about it, they start in with the questions…
Think he could be someone famous? What do you think he was he like? Do you think he writes, too? Suppose you have his nose?
I don’t have answers to these questions or any other permutations of inquiries you could come up with. He could be blond. Maybe, like me, he hates fish based on smell alone. Perhaps he writes sonnets or zombie stories to pass the time. Maybe he died last month. He could live 20 minutes away from me. He could be Daddy Warbucks rich. I don’t know, and I have no intention of ever finding out.
I’ve never once asked my mom about the sperm donor that other people call “my dad.” It’s not because I thought I shouldn’t ask, or because my mom forbid it: I’ve never really wondered. People don’t believe me when I tell them that I’m not curious about my “dad.”
How could you not care? Don’t you want to know about him—a whole part of your life is a mystery!
No Crayola etchings of my family portrait included a strange man—a child’s vision of the phantom that was a tangible presence at home for most of the other kids. I’ve never daydreamed about his face, where the creases would fall, whether we share a resemblance, or if his potential salt and pepper strands are winsome. I haven’t dwelled on the medical history I know nothing about, the father-daughter dances I’ll never attend, or the wedding aisle I’ll traverse alone. This phantom doesn’t haunt me, because he’s not real.
Somewhere over the rainbow, there’s a man out there who donated the sperm that conceived me. That entity fathered me, but he isn’t my father. In an alternate universe, he might have helped me with my algebra homework or given me under-dog pushes on the swings at the park, but in the movie of my life, he wasn’t meant to have a starring role. I don’t mourn the relationship we didn’t have, because we were never meant to have one.
The mystery that constitutes half of my life doesn’t define it.
If he’s famous, I hope he’s never been involved in a sexting scandal. Maybe he does write too, or maybe this talent belongs solely to me. Maybe he’s the man with the Tony the Tiger patch on his backpack who I see walking to work everyday. If I have his nose, I’m grateful.
Let me share with you the only thought I’ve ever had about this person called my father: I hope he’s a good man, and I’m thankful for whatever circumstances lead him to donate his sperm that day.