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A few weeks ago, the Washington Post carried a story about so-called "Donor 401," the anonymous sperm donor in Virginia whose seed has fathered 11 children so far, and whose single mothers have formed a support group. The women met through the website www.donorsiblingregistry.com, which offers information on the man and his children, however far-flung they may be.
The story has since been picked up by everyone from talk radio hosts to Anderson Cooper. (Most popular T-shirt: "My Daddy Is Donor 401.") To get some perspective on the father's side of the story, we caught up with "Donor D," a 43-year-old Minneapolis native who donated sperm while attending Stanford University in the early '80s. He's tall with shaggy graying hair and he works in the arts. Several years ago, Donor D became an adoptive parent when he brought home a baby from China. He chose to speak anonymously.
City Pages: Did you read the story about Donor 401?
Donor D: I haven't yet, but last fall somebody clipped a story for me about a 20-year-old kid who found his father by doing some genetic research. His genetic father hadn't registered or anything, but the kid managed to do some sleuthing.
CP: How did that make you feel?
Donor D: It made me feel excited. It's been in the back of my mind, more as a party joke than anything. I've been curious though, especially now, as part of an adoptive family. I understand the need. Everybody wants to know where they come from. So I feel if somebody's out there wondering, it's like, 'Here I am.' I don't have any problem with that at all.
CP: Tell me how you did it.
Donor D: It was a good way to make money. I did it over the course of junior and senior years. I don't remember how I found out about it. I think I just answered an ad in the college paper. At the time, I thought, 'They're suckers. Here I am, regular college kid, drinking beer, smoking pot, experimenting with whatever. And they'll take my sperm.'
They took my basic information and a picture and put me in a book, and prospective donees would shop. I would get called during the prospective mothers' fertile time--three times a week--and [I] would get paid per set. I can't remember how much money, but it was significant. I wanna say 50 bucks a time. Or "shot," as I used to say.
It was always early morning. You'd be at the bar at 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning, and you'd go, 'Oh my God, that's right, I have to go masturbate at 6:30 this morning.' I remember setting my alarm. I could do it at home. They said (the sample) had to be there within 30 minutes [of ejaculation]. I remember putting it in a paper bag with a sock around it, because it had to stay above a certain temperature.
It was in a generic medical office building near the Stanford University Medical Center. I tried to look it up on the donor registry. I can't remember the name of it.
I'm absolutely hoping to register. I have no reason to withhold that information. Obviously, if there's some kid out there with Down Syndrome or something, it would be weird. But I think I'm at a point in my life where I could accept whatever that is.
CP: As the years have gone by, have you thought about having offspring out in the world that you might not know about?
Donor D: Absolutely.
CP: And how has that felt?
Donor D: I'm constantly checking the Twins draft picks, looking for California addresses [laughs]. No--I've been thinking about it more recently. [That] started when it occurred to me that these kids are graduating high school. I probably did it a dozen times, so there's a possibility of 12 kids out there. I don't know how real that is, given the technology back then.
That's why I think the DNA registry thing is going to be huge. By the time [my adopted son from China] is an adult, there'll be tens of thousands of families having registered their DNA in China. We had infertility problems before we adopted. That's to be expected when you're in your late 30s and you start trying.
CP: Being an adoptive father, has there been a pang there for you--the biological child versus the adopted?
Donor D: I kind of feel like I did my job. I contributed to the gene pool. I've got my kids; I don't have to see 'em. I'm busy raising somebody else's kid. No, I have no problem with that.
CP: Can you put yourself in this Donor 401's place and understand why he would want to remain anonymous?
Donor D: If he's a recent donor, he's in his late '20s. Most donors are 20 to 25 years old. I have to say, when I was in my late 20s I wasn't ready to be a father. I guess maybe that's why I'm thinking about it a lot more now: I'm now ready to be a father. I wasn't ready to be a father when I jerked off into a cup, and I certainly wasn't five years later.
I'm going to register, and it would be cool if someone found me. Now's the time. I think about Stanford, Palo Alto, and I think about a bunch of rich business-lawyer types with infertility issues, and this kid being raised in a totally fucked-up suburban rich place. And I really wanna be that guy that [makes a kid say] 'My real dad was cool, man.' I wanna be that guy.
Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or firstname.lastname@example.org