Monday, July 13, 2009

crisis of purpose over

My friend Alana wrote a post about struggling with a crisis of purpose in her life. I responded with an open letter that i had been meaning to write to her anyway- and now she has returned the favor with a letter that is sweet enough to make me uncomfortable about showing it to anyone else....

However, i have been planning to use this space as sort of a note taking platform for both the film and the book about donor issues so i posted it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

surrogacy article in the times

there is an article in todays times that deals with surrogacy. Mostly if focuses on when to tell the kids and how to tell them. The answer is sooner than later...

Friday, July 10, 2009

re: cold hearted

As i mentioned in an earlier post a current donor wrote in to the dsr listserve with issues concerning contact with families that has used his sperm. I'll post his note here- and the response that i sent in to the listserve.
I feel a great deal of empathy for both parties and this is one of the reasons that I feel compelled to wade into this discussion- and this film.

title of post was "am i cold hearted"

I havent been a sperm donor for that long. Recently i told this lady by email i want no contact with the child after AI or NI...except for a few pics. Then she goes off on me about being cold hearted and mean. I've spent lots of $ travelling to help couples & singles get pregnant and never received a thank you.

my response

As a former donor who has been following the subject for a couple of years I would say that you aren't cold-hearted- but you are probably not as well informed about the emotional implications of what's going on as you could be.

i dontated 20 or so years ago and was not made aware in any way that there would be emotional implications. I thought of it all in an abstract kind of way- and didn't have a sense that the children born from my donations would feel any connection to me- nor me to them. Then I had kids of my own and .... well- there's no denying that they are partly me- and that is an intense fact.

As i have followed the subject I have also found that the children born of donor fathers are often intensely interested in knowing more about where they came from. I don't imagine that all of them have this desire. Of course everyone is different but i have talked to a number of donor kids and they feel cut off from a part of themselves- as someone who recently lost my father i can totally relate to that feeling- as someone who has children i can totally relate to that feeling.

As such- if i had the ability to do it over- i think that I would still consider donation- but i would only do it if it was a much more open and supportive process for all concerned- taking into consideration the emotional needs of everyone involved-

You are clearly giving these people a gift- and it should be lauded and supported. At the same time that gift has hidden emotional time bombs attatched that you need to be aware of - and think through- in the best interest of the child that will come from your gift. I can completely understand why you might not want to have a relationship with that child- at the same time- closing the door on that possibility may not be the best thing for them or for you in the long run.

Obviously it's a complex issue and I don't mean to preach at you in any way whatsoever- when i donated there was no contact with the clients- yet now i wish there had been- as it would have made me ask myself the hard questions that you are asking yourself now. your actions are far more generous than mine were at the time- as you are giving not only the gift of your self - but also of you identity.

If you can take the point of view of these parents for a moment.

They, like you- probably entered this realm with less information than they probably should have had. Now they have a child and they are becoming more informed about how to best handle things- what they are hearing is that donor kids can benefit emotionally from having a better sense of where they came from- from their roots- and you are a big part of their roots. perhaps they are overstepping lines in their desperation to provide what they now find is neccessary. I hope that you can find a way to give them a little patience, and I hope that they can find it in themselves to appreciate what you have done for them.

you might also find that 10 years from now you want to know more about these children- because these children can help you learn a lot about yourself. i know that i am a very different person at 40 than i was at 20- i probably wasn't emotionally mature enough to accept the responsibilites that came with donating at that time.

I listed myself on the dsr about a year and a half ago and I haven't been approached by any donor kids. however, a couple of weeks ago I posted an op-ed about this issue on a blog and through that I met a 23 year old donor kid who has spent many years thinking deeply about her roots- I wish that she was my daughter, and I look forward to meeting my donor kids some day.

here's a link to that op-ed i hope that it helps to clarify some of these issues- and i am happy to discuss any of them with you - just email me directly.


michael

Thursday, July 9, 2009

that speech by my father

i posted that speech by my father at rumur

a crisis of purpopse

i wrote an open letter to alana

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

alana got deported

you can read about it here.
i am posting more on rumur.com/news/category/donor67

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

stages of life




One thing that i have been thinking a lot about the last few days- and something i have thought a lot about over time - is the stages that we go through in our life. I know that the psychologist Erikson went into detail on some of these stages (more on this in a moment)- but i've been thinking about them in terms of my own life- and especially in relation to this film.

About 10 years ago I tried to work with my father on a book about parent child relationships that focused on helping adult children and their parents transition from a strictly parent -child relationship to one that was a bit more peer based- one that relied on mutual respect and moved away from sticking to the roles that had developed over time.

My father was extremely cynical, and it's something that I picked up as well. That cynicism clouds my view of both authority and religion. While I did grow up aware of jewishness as a cultural concept I had very little connection to the religious aspect. There was a dearth of ritual in our household. My mother liked to try to embrace certain rituals like Hanukah, but my father's dismissal of these issues, while subtle, was powerful. I must have had an innate curiosity about ritual as I ended up taking enough religious studies classes in College to make it my major without even meaning to. I was fascinated by the way different people and different cultures structured their lives, yet I still have trouble grounding myself to this day.

I regret that I too am bringing my children up without a strong sense of tradition or history. I wish that I had more of an ability to embrace these things, and I think a lot about it, but I'm not so sure how to go about it. i went to college without clear goals beyond simply learning as much as I could- which was great in many respects, but didn't really prepare me for life. I imagine that the process helped me to understand that the lack of ritual in my life had made it difficult for me to move forward in some ways.

When I was in my 20's I struggled with my father a great deal. I loved and respected him- and we talked on the phone a few times a week. While on some level he respected my desire to live a creative life, it also made him uncomfortable. He had a rebellious streak yet he had managed to work within the university system and spent many years as the head of the psychology department where he taught. He couldn't see me as a musician, and even if he thought i was a good photographer he understood that being good at something was only part of the equation. He knew that if I wanted to work as a photographer i would have to play the game so to speak. The trouble was that even if I had wanted to, i was terrible at it. if i made a portfolio i would sabotage it by not paying attention to details- or rebelling against the expected details. If I got a photo job i would wilt under the pressure- often times i would try to be too conventional- or try to do it the "right way" and screw it up- because I didn't know how to do it the right way. When I followed my instincts I made great work- unfortunately there wasn't always a market for that work. On one level i didn't want any part of that market, and in fact completely rebelled against it.

As a parent myself now, I can understand my father's desire to steer me towards stability. At the same time he tended to do it with sidelong comments that stung. As and example, he would end most of our conversations with "write when you get work". In some ways i understood it to be a riff on the way that my grandmother always ended every conversation with "well that's the story there". On another level though it was a reminder that i didn't have "real work" or a real career path. Sometimes I reacted with anger, sometimes i could ignore it, and sometimes it would leave me depressed for days. Other times i would calmly and patiently describe why I found the comment so hurtful. To his credit he would listen and understand. However, the next week he would do it again.

Through the process of discussing this little tic of his i worked hard to have empathy for him, to see him as someone other than "my father" and also worked to help him understand that i wasn't the same person that I was at 10, 15, or even 20. Over time we worked through some of the issues and had a much stronger relationship because of it. At some point i suggested that we work together on a book about the process of transitioning to a more complex relationship. One of the most important parts of the process was that both the parent and the child had to be committed to making the change together. In reality it was complex unwinding of unconscious behaviors and we felt that a book could be a useful tool for both parties.

I envisioned something that was light and easy to read and while he agreed with that approach he found it hard to let go of his academic identity. I found his prose stiff and off-putting, filled with references to people like the above mentioned, Erikson that would make sense to psych majors but might be difficult for the average reader to wade through. After an initial burst of creative energy our efforts faltered. I was a bit upset at the time but realized it was best to let it go.

At a memorial service for him when he passed away, a former student of his approached me with a folder. My father had asked her to type up his notes for our book, and she still had the original papers. She told me that he had been extremely excited about the idea and hadn't heard that we'd dropped the project. I still think I might try to write that book someday. Thankfully I have his notes and can see him as the co-author.

This brings me back to the idea of stages of life. i imagine that for the first decade of ones life in our society we identify as a child. For most of us the next decade is where we self identify as a student. The next decade is where i think we tend to go off in a myriad of directions. In my early to mid 20's i was a musician/photographer/filmmaker/struggling artist. After that I became simply a filmmaker and father. The second half of my 30's was even more father than filmmaker. In fact for the last few years i would say that I have felt more like a father than anything else. With my older daughter having turned 7 and my younger daughter 3, I feel like I am starting to move past this and back into the mode of filmmaker. The lines between these stages are very fluid but at some point i think we can all look back and find areas of transition and areas of solidness between those transitions.

When we are young we often have a strong idealistic streak. it's been refreshing to spend time with Alana and her friend Brian. They hitchhiked and hopped trains from New Orleans to NY via Nashville, Chicago, etc. They busk (play music, juggle, etc) on the subways and in the streets to make a few bucks for lunch. Alana has played her heart out to under 10 people at both of the shows I've attended - but made a few bucks selling cd's. Spending time with her I can easily reconnect to the sense of myself as a 20 something musician. While my band mates and I certainly wanted to make money at what we did, the idea of playing music with the goal of making money was anathema to us. The music world that we were a part of wasn't about fame or fortune, but at the same time it was cliquish and self referential. For almost a decade it was my world/ community. I am still in touch with a lot of the people that i knew but with kids one tends to spend a lot of time with people that also have kids.

Last week we were out of town visiting my mother. it was one of the better visits we've had since my father passed away. We both try hard to work together but we clash a lot. My mother has been working on her mindfullness and it was clear that she's made progress. She kept trying to get my wife and i to go out by oursevles and leave the kids. We actually got to go out to dinner by ourselves twice. i kind of felt like i was pretending to be an adult but I could get a sense of having a life that included time independent of my children. I remember growing up that my parents went out to dinner almost every Saturday night. Somehow that still seems a long way off for us, but by the time it does happen on a regular basis, i will be on to another stage of life

building collapse

the day that Alana arrived a building collapsed on our street.
i shot a little video of it as i thought it might fit in with the story.

Monday, July 6, 2009

the lab

I just called my old lab to ask once again about filming there. I get so nervous when calling them it's really kind of funny. My hands shake, my breath gets short, and my heart races. I'm not even sure what I'm nervous about. maybe I'm nervous that they'll say no?

I first called them over two years ago to find out my donor number. 9 months later, after 5 or 6 calls they finally got it for me. I was so nervous when they finally gave it to me that i almost didn't remember it. At that point I wrote a letter to the lab requesting permission to shoot some footage there-which seems important to me as it's so central to this story. i was told that they needed a letter to present to the board. That letter was sent in November 2007 and I never heard back from them.

This morning i started to try and write up something about how i came to visit the lab, and i honestly can't remember when i first went. Was I still in college? i don't know. I realized it would help me out a great deal to see my file, so I called them back up. I don't think i ever followed up on the letter back in 2007.

I think that one of the reasons I'm so nervous is that it was always such an awkward experience to visit the lab. There wasn't a separate entrance for donors so we would buzz into the office, which was on the ground floor of a midtown manhattan brownstone. Upon entering, the receptionist would either buzz the inner door to the back hallway or nod for us to sit down and wait as the room was in use. So there we would sit, donors and clients. It would have been clear from my appearance at the time that i wasn't a client. I was probably in some kind of cut off shorts, and most likely sweating from riding my bike. I had long somewhat unkempt hair that might even have been purple or bright red. When the other donor, or wannabe father, left I was buzzed in to march down the hall of shame to the masturbation room.

Frankly i always felt like everyone looked down on the donors; the staff, the clients, even the doctors. We were the people who were going to do that thing that we weren't supposed to do and we were going to do it for money, and everyone knew it. i wouldn't say that i felt like a prostitute, but I didn't feel real welcome. It was an emotionally awkward experience to say the least, and the lab didn't work real hard to cushion that weirdness.

In any case, the woman that i talked to today was pretty nice, and she explained that the lab moved down the block in 2007, so that might explain the lack of proper communication. I'm re-faxing the letter and hopefully i will be able to go in and film myself reading through my information, and perhaps hear about what I heard at the time and what they do differently today. I just want to be able to explore my own story.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

alana's gone to europe

Alana was our saviour yesterday. F has finished school for the year and was home all day. I had a lot to get done before leaving for vacation to see my mother in NC. Alana hung out with F and did a few projects- like making a movie poster for the movie that we have been working on.

F is still just a bit too young for us to get into the ins and outs of where babies come from. We’re getting close to explaining it but we want to set it up properly. Alana made a poster with the title “How Many Kids?” She combined a 4 different face types to make a composite person. F didn’t fully understand the concept but it made it clear that I need to have that discussion with her. It hasn’t been an issue yet because no one has reached out to us, but if and when they do I want her to understand what’s going on. She loves her cousins, who we’re visiting now, and she loves having family. The day after I jokingly “adopted” Alana, she told everyone she knew that she has a new adopted half sister.

Hanging out with Alana has been really good for her. She has an insatiable need to feel special, and getting special attention on her day off from school satisfied that need a bit.

That night F and I headed into the East Village to watch Alana perform at an open mic. I had been under the impression that we would be able to beg for her to go on early so that F could see her. Turns out it was a mad scene with over 70 people waiting to play. F was bouncing off the walls as the place filled up. When it came time for the musicians to pull a number Alana got 38. While it was sad that we didn’t get to see her, it was probably a good thing that we left early because the first band was way too loud for F so we split. It was kind of anti-climactic and sad that we didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. Two weeks ago we didn’t know Alana, but within about 15 minutes of meeting her last Sunday it was apparent that she would be around for a long time.

I loaded the 9 hours of footage that we shot with her and i’m going to start working with it next week.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

rock

When i was in my 20’s and playing in a rock band i never thought about having kids- or even really growing up myself. i spent most of my time chasing creativity. i worked as a messenger, a typist, a production assistant and a sperm donor. As a messenger i reveled in the anonymity and the purposefulness of walking into strange massive buildings in midtown manhattan delivering packages. i would read henry miller on the subway and nod to my fellow messengers in crowded elevators. A lot of the time we weren’t allowed to mix with the office workers and were instead shuttled to messenger centers that invariably didn’t access the glitzy entry way that the real workers passed through. i didn’t mind, i felt uncomfortable in the office buildings and identified as an outsider.

I always had my camera and i took pictures in the empty sterile hallways, crowded streets, and the subways filled with crazies. During the middle of the day the subways weren’t as populated as they are now, and a lot of the people on them were on journey’s to nowhere. My most vivid memory is of a guy who was probably in his late 20’s. he had a long blond beattles haircut and he was wearing a skirt as he smoked a cigarette and hung off the pole in the center of the car. An older woman told him not to smoke and he responded in a drawling English accent, “I’m the queen of England honey.”

A lot of the time i felt a bit like a ghost, somewhat invisible as i floated through the city taking pictures and delivering packages. My pay was 65 dollars a day- and i got 3 dollars extra per delivery to pay for the subway. A lot of the time i would ride my bike to increase my take home pay. if i did three drop offs on one ride i would pocket an extra 9 dollars. If I stopped off at the sperm bank as well i could make 150 dollars that day, and cover my entire rent for the month.

While I tried to work at a job for someone else as little as I possibly could, on the days that I wasn’t working at a job i didn’t sit around watching TV or doing nothing. I wrote, read, took notes, and played music. I also had band practice two or three nights a week. The band was the major focus of my energies, and most of the art that i was working on was related to that. I hand painted t-shirts to sell on tour and i a silkscreened and woodblock printed other shirts.

{ i was working on these thoughts a few weeks ago- before i started the blog- I was doing a lot of reflecting on this time- trying to connect with the person that I was then. Then Alana came over - and sat down at the kitchen table to burn cd’s and make covers out of paper-bags. It’s been very fun to re-live my past through her exciting life these past couple of days.}

I had started my band with two friends three years earlier, when i was a junior in college. i didn’t really know how to play the bass but was fairly obsessed with music. The guitar player, Chris, knew more than me, and he had taught his friend Rachael to play drums that summer. Chris and i listened to a lot of the same music and the first time that we played it felt like we could be a band.

I had started playing bass in high school but never really found anyone that i played well with. I had terrible musical self-esteem. My father didn’t help with this at all. He kind of ridiculed my efforts to play, and the people that i did play with in high school had better skills, so i always felt like the weak link. When I got to college I met Gene, Tom, and Pete, and they all mentored me musically. Gene was the most extreme about it. In the first semester of college he introduced me to literally hundreds of records and dragged me to shows several nights a week. A lot of the music that he and I listened to was based less on musical chops than pushing a musical envelope- music that thought about music in new ways. I found myself re-inspired to make music but it still took me a couple of years to find a situation that worked.

When I came back to college for my junior year I searched out Chris. We had bonded over music the year before and had talked about playing together the next year. He too was excited to give it a try and right away we headed down to the basement to make noise. For the first several months we made played a couple of nights a week. The cinderblock room amplified our already loud exertions and my ears would buzz for hours after we played. Laying in bed. bone tired from too much studying coupled with an exhausting music session, and i would listen to the echoes of the practice as the sound bounced around my head.

After a few months we recorded a few songs and played a few shows. Our first show was in our dorm - we played to about 10 people. Adam Sandler, who also lived in the dorm, opened up for us. As the school year came to a close we made a collective decision to really focus on the band. We decided to move to Providence for the summer and practice a lot.

That summer we lived together, fought a lot, and managed to practice a little and play a few shows. Moving to a smallish town that was had a strong music culture helped us to truly become a band. For many years after that people thought of us as a Providence band. When school started up in the fall, we started to play out a couple of times a month in NY. We would load our equipment into carts from the dorms and push them deep into the East Village to play. We even made a couple of trips to Providence and Boston in a beat up station wagon. A few labels expressed interest in the band and we put out a 7 inch single that got a lot of airplay on college radio. It was time to tour.

I finished school a semester early so i had some free time to work on booking the tour. I had started working at my various jobs, but it was the first time in my life that the responsibilities of school didn’t carry over into my evenings. In addition, my low rent and lack of expenses gave me an incredible sense of freedeom. This was before the internet , so trying to connect with people in other cities took a lot of cold calling and sending out packages. After a few months of trying i was able to book 5 or 6 shows over a two week period. Some of those shows seemed tenuous, but we figured that we could make it work. We rented a van from some friends and set out in late July on an adventure that would change my life.

Our first show was in East Lansing michigan. We played at someone’s house and it was awesome. I don’t think we were paid anything and no one passed a hat- but we sold a bunch of singles and t-shirts - and we were able to stay in the room that we played- so we broke even on gas money.

A couple of summers earlier i had driven across the country with a friend. It was a tough trip. While it was exciting to experience the country, we were aimless and disconnected. We had no way to meet other people, so we floated from town to town on the outside as observers. We stopped at a lot of thrift stores and had a few adventures but i think we were both frustrated rather than enlightened by our journey. I was working on a photo project where I shot photos in malls across the country and it was depressing because they were all so similar. When our car was broken into in San Francisco my friend decided that he wanted to head straight back. The next day we started a driving and went all the way to St. Louis before we stopped- 40 hours straight.

On our first tour as a band we ended up driving straight to the one place in town where we met people that we got along with almost every night. We always found a place to stay, got enough beer to drink, and enough money to pay for gas to the next town. On that trip I met 10 people that are still friends of mine 20 years later.

Hanging out with Alana has been bringing back a lot of memories of that period but also a lot of that energy. I have been shooting a lot and thinking about the film even more.

Alana Sveta

The full post is up at rumur - but here is the video.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

father's day 2

video

here's a little video of me with my girls this morning shot partly to be possibly used in the film.


it's 9am on sunday - father's day and i have just woken up. With our kids this is a rarity- usually i am up at 7:45 and my wife is up at 6ish. I get up and take the kids to school or out to play and she goes back to sleep for awhile.

since it's father's day they are making me coffee and pancakes. they don't know i'm up yet and i can hear them noisily working on it. It's so disgustingly cliched but it's making me happier than you can imagine.

when i woke up i checked my email. One of the first people to respond to my first post was a musician who also happens to be DC. I went to the link she provided and was blown away by her music. As i read about her and her work i was immediately struck by the fact that we would have been friends - and our bands would have played together 20 years ago. One of the things i have been working on writing wise is that period of my life- and that part will play some small role in the film- specifically because that's when i was a donor-

As i further looked at her site i realized that she is going to be playing in brooklyn this week so i reached out to her and she got back to me. I hope that i am able to film with her tomorrow to really jump start the process of making this film.

now i'm going to go downstairs and appreciate being a father.

oops- they yelled me back to bed- i got the breakfast in bed treatment- i had to get them to do it a second time so i could shoot a little video on my photo camera.

Later
we had a fun day- and headed back to brooklyn. On the way back we got a phone call that a building near us had collapsed. We were worried that the girls would be freaked out- F was she got very emotional about the fact that people lost their homes and that they could have been hurt. Also when we got home then singer that had contacted me came over. She's great and we did some heavy discussing that will certainly end up in the film.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

father's day



http://www.rumur.com/news/2009/06/20/fathers-dayfathers-day/

just posted an essay about father's day on my site
It's an odd coincidence that i chose to start this blog a couple of day's before father's day. it's also ironic that ever since i started working on this my older daughter F's attitude and behavior have deteriorated so rapidly. While taking a break from thinking about this essay just now, i read a headline that screamed, "obama asks men to be better father's than their own". I'm a pretty good father, and in many ways I do struggle to be better than my own. At the same time, i struggle with many of the same faults that he had- and i wonder how much of this is learned and how much is just in my blood. My father died nearly three years ago, and I have never properly mourned his loss- i know that. I used to talk to him a couple of times a week- and in some ways I still do.

As a father I often project myself into the past and have this odd experience of feeling that i literally am my father. At these time i feel a powerful sense of dejavu and almost feel that i am inside him looking out. Sometimes this happens when I am playing with my kids in the way that my father would play with us. I only have a few photos of being with him when i was young but they trigger powerful sense memories. He would sometimes lay on the floor and flip us over his head with his legs. My twin brother and i screamed with excitement and fought with each other to do it again. My children are the same way, and as I am giddy with joy in these situations I viscerally step outside the experience and feel that i am him- That i am him watching my children- or that i am him playing with me as a child.

On the flip side of that joy is the experience of his rage. My father was a loving parent and a real mensch. However, he wasn't perfect. He was cheap beyond reason and while he was usually pretty good at keeping his temper in check there were times that he would simply lose it. He would explode with rage when pushed on issues that he didn't want to be pushed on.

I identify with my father more than my mother, despite probably being a little more like my mother than my father. It might be the fact that I am more innately like my mother, but tried to model myself after my father, that i can get more inside his behaviors than hers- that I can see him in me more so than i can see her in me.

In many ways I'm a lot like my father and my daughter is a lot like me. So when she's being difficult in a way that I was difficult as a child, I will often concentrate with all of my energy to keep my anger in check. I try to step outside of the situation and realize that she is a child and i am an adult and that i have a powerful responsibility to act like one. A lot of the time I'll be able to do it. As I groggily changed her sheets when she wet her bed, i was conscious of not even appearing angry because I could remember the shame that I felt as my father threw a towel on my soggy sheets. He wouldn't yell at us, and was understandably annoyed or tired and probably wasn't aware of how his mood would affect us in a long term way, but i can still feel his sense of frustration as he got me ready for bed again. As an adult I could totally connect with that energy and I would have to correct myself and make a major effort to be positive. I knew deeply that the negative energy at that vulnerable moment wasn't insignificant. I knew that i still carried scars from that unconscious behavior. I worked hard to connect with my own childhood feelings to find ways to mitigate the damage that my unthinking adult behavior might have on my child.

Yet there are times that I will lose control and yell at my daughter with a force that simply isn't fair. When my rage takes over, I find that I can feel empathy for all three of us at once- my father, my daughter, and myself, which helps me to calm that rage. Still, it's hard to stop the feelings that arise, and at times i simply lose control with F.

There was a period last fall where her defiance got out of control. She was 6 and a half and acted like a 14 year old. She refused to do her school work. She screamed at us, refused to get ready for school, refused to eat what we made for dinner, ate candy when she was told not to, hit her sister and snatched things from her. She refused to take responsibility for anything. It felt like were were in a constant battle with her, and it was almost impossible to have calm in the house. I knew that losing my temper in these situations was the wrong way to go, but i was also at the end of my rope all the time, and my temper got shorter. Regrettably i lost my temper and yelled with way too much force more times than i care to remember.

I also knew that it was our responsibility as parents to fix the situation. One night, a few months into "the terror" she was trying to goad me into fighting with her but i wouldn't do it. i breathed in deeply and simply asked her why she was trying to get me to fight with her. She screamed and threw things, yet I felt an odd determined calmness. instead of reacting i kept telling her that i wanted to understand what was going on because her reactions made no sense in terms of what i was asking. Finally she broke down crying, and made it clear that she hadn't felt listened to in a long time. Things had spiralled into a bad place. It was true that we weren't listening so well, but i tried to help her understand that she also had to be responsible for communicating in way that we could hear her. She seemed to have had a 100 lb. weight lifted from her 45 lb. body by the end our talk.

The defiance leveled off and we got an explosion of anxiety to replace it. A week after our breakthrough, F refused to leave the house because she was afraid. She wouldn't go in the diner because there were cops in the diner and cops had guns and she was afraid of guns. She wouldn't go anywhere. It was a difficult situation to handle. We didn't want to be prisoners in the house but the feelings were clearly real so it was hard to force her to do things without ignoring the reality of her terror. She wasn't putting on an act, she was literally terrified. She started to pick at her fingers and soon they were raw and bleeding all the time. She looked like she'd just seen a ghost most of the time.

The fear quickly spread to school. She was sick with a fever the following Monday and despite being well the following day, refused to go to school. The difficulty of the situation was compounded by the fact that we had a 2.5 year old to get to daycare as well, and F's reaction to being pushed to do something that scared her was extreme. I knew that some of the behaviors/ issues stemmed from the existence of her sister, but that understanding didn't make things any easier to deal with. There wasn't so much anger in the house anymore but there was a lot of frustration.

That day i finally got her to school, but the nurse called within the hour to send her home with a stomach ache. I knew enough to realize that i couldn't let her stay home. The following day i literally dragged her screaming into school. Everyone had a hard time understanding what was going on because they knew F to be a powerful leader. The behavior baffled everyone from the teachers to the administrators to the the other students. The principal heard the commotion and offered to make F her assistant for the day. After that i was able to get her to school but every day was a struggle. She was terrified of seeing a TV because of her fear of guns, and they sometimes watched movies at lunch when it was cold. Every restaurant and store has a TV now so navigating the city became more difficult. Over the next several months the anxiety and defiance ever so slowly diminished with the occasional powerful flare up.

it has been a tough year emotionally. the desire to be a wonderful father smashes up against the realities of life. Time constraints, financial pressures, creative pressures, and other family pressures conspire to make even the best laid plans go a little haywire. In addition to struggling to stay calm and positive while being buffeted about like a matchstick in a hurricane by F's powerful emotions, i tried to read what i could about the best ways to deal with the situation. In addition to helpful advice, these books that dealt with defiance made me feel a little bit less alone in my struggle.

One friend suggested that we get F evaluated by a HANDLE expert. Handle is an acronym for something that i can't remember. The quick explanation is that it's a way of evaluating how the mind and body are working - and where there are weakness's that might be contributing to emotional and behavioral issues. The evaluation very quickly revealed simple things like the fact that F's eyes were not working well together, and in fact were competing. When she put on glasses with one red lens and one blue one she saw red and blue rather than purple. when the eyes are working well together they mix the colors. The extra work needed to process information from the separate sources can be exhausting. So we were given some simple exercises to help strengthen that ability. There were also issues with balance. F is incredibly graceful yet the tests revealed that if she wasn't either at rest or moving at the speed of light her fight or flight response was triggered. It took a month but last weekend the exercises seemed to be taking effect. it was the calmest most pleasant weekend we had had in as long as i could remember. i found myself going hours without being frustrated. it wasn't a perfect week but it was as good as it has been in a long time.

As I stated at the start of this essay, F's behavior issues have flared back up a bit, but they seem to be getting back on track already. Tomorrow is father's day. i look forward to it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

moving to my own site

in my haste to start blogging i threw this up at blogger.

i have moved the blog to my own site
rumur.com
the blog can be found at
http://www.rumur.com/news/category/donor67/

i will continue it from that location

Thursday, June 18, 2009

couldn't sleep

Last night i couldn't sleep because I kept having ideas about how to put things together. i got up and wrote a lot of it down and it still made sense in the morning.

This morning my younger daughter refused to get in the car to go to school. She is a bit clingy but in general much more easy going than my older daughter. As such, when she gets resistant to something we try to patiently work it out. didn't happen. After about 10 minutes of complaining my wife had to simply strap her into her seat and close the door. She wailed for the whole 5 minute drive to her sister's school. I ran my older one inside, and when i got back my younger one was smiling. it was over. I wasn't all that surprised because she does that. she gets focused on an idea and resists, but at some point she just gives up and isn't any worse for wear. most of the time we can get her to give up before the screaming fit- but in the end she usually comes around.

The point is- this is how she is and who she is- and while we certainly get better results if we stay calm, positive and firm- she's going to react to situations the way she's going to react and it's going to be different from her sister.

The issue of identity seems to be coming up a lot- a new book came out recently by a gentleman who was donor conceived by his uncle but didn't find out until he was in his 30's and didn't deal with it until he was in his 40's. He was on the radio today and I heard it in the background as i dealt with my kids. the amazing thing was that a stream of people were calling in to tell their stories. A lot of these people were long time listeners- first time caller- so his story really struck a nerve.

I went to a rock show tonight and it was a bit like a high school reunion- tons of people i hadn't seen in years - if not a decade- some of them had seen my post via facebook- and a few mentioned hearing this same guy on radio lab yesterday- the media really has a powerful effect especially when it's magnified by having more than one outlet hit on a similar subject- and this subject seems to really be in the air.

one of the people i hadn't seen in a while reminded me that he had gone to the lab too. i had totally forgotten that.

i have a lot of thoughts to organize but this process has kicked up so much.

i plan to start doing some shooting next week and will update on the progress of the film.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

how and who

Until my friend Lois brought it up, I really hadn't thought about having been a sperm donor for some time. Perhaps it drifted into a conversation every couple of years, but it wasn't front and center in my conciousness. As I write that I realize that some-possibly many DC (donor conceived) -people might be hurt by that- the idea that their donor doesn't care about them or think about them. On one level that makes perfect sense- and i can understand how that might hurt someones feelings.

At the the same time there are several factors going on in this situation that have a huge impact on how I felt (or didn't feel) before become more aware a couple of years ago. At the time that I was donating, the donor's role was completely minimized by the lab, and by those around me. I was pretty open about the fact that I was a donor, yet i don't recall any questions about the consequences or the ethics- only the process. To the donor it was presented as a good deed for others. We were helping out desperate infertile couples, or helping to further research. I simply didn't have any sense that anyone would feel a connection to me. I was young and frankly somewhat naive. I'd never babysat or spent much time around young kids so I didn't understand that parents watch their children for signs of themselves. I didn't realize that my offspring might not only look like me but cough like me, squint like me, talk back to her parents like i did, or make us songs like my brother did. It never occurred to me that they might BE like me.

In addition, in the 20 odd years since i was a donor i have become a very different person. In many ways I feel only a vague connection to the person that I was then. My post earlier today connected me with an old friend who I used to work with at a restaurant around 20 years ago. He brought up someone we worked with together, and I can't remember that person at all. In fact I can barely remember anything about that place or what it was like to work there. Even looking through my old photos I have a hard time feeling connected to the place and time that they were taken- they often seem like clues to someone else's life.

This evening i went to a house warming at an old friend's house. He and I knew each other 20 years ago but only recently met up again. We are both profoundly different people than we were 20 years ago. We are connected by who we once were, but communicate in such a different way now because we are simply different people.

To continue on the earlier thought- until Lois brought it up - I hadn't thought about it in a serious way. However, as soon as she did, I immediately became concious of the fact that I had a responsibility to those kids that might be partly me. It wasn't Paul getting struck down on the way to Damascus but it was a profound realization.

I spend a lot of time with my kids, so i am in touch with the ways in which they are like me, or their mother, or their grandparents. I also know that much of that "themness" is simply who they were when they were born. I am curious about my possible older children who might now be in college. A woman wrote to me today helpfully wondering about how my wife and two daughters might react to having new family. I imagine that things would be pretty smooth. My daughters love to see their cousins and feel connected to them. I think they would appreciate having more family.

It's been a fairly intense day and i have heard from old friends as well as a good number of DSR folks. Some of the old friends who are adopted have expressed a desire to find a birth parent- and others have no interest. It's clear that not everyone has the same needs or desires.

It's been exciting for me to get so much feedback on all of these thoughts that have been pinging around for a couple of years. As i had hoped this process has jump started a huge creative wave. i have ideas for countless things to write about - and i'm going to do that-

again i apologize for bad grammer- and incomplete thoughts- i'm just trying to put the ideas together- and doing it in this quasi public manner - with helpful dialogue is great.

michael

what kind of film.

A note on what this blog is and is not.

This blog will not be polished. I will not spell check, and i probably won't be doing a lot of refining of ideas (and a lot of i's won't be capitalized because the shift keys on my mac both broke off). Instead this will be a way to get some of my ideas out of my head- and help me kick start the process of editing these ideas into a coherent film. I have a broad yet defined sense of how the film will play out. I can see it as shapes, as groupings of ideas, as footage stitched together. I have a lot of films like that in my head- and it's kind of a stretch to turn that stew into a moving river.

I haven't ever made a film like the one i want to make. I have played around a lot with images, words and sounds, but not in a film like this. most of the filmmaking that i have done has been pretty straight forward. At the same time i see this film as an extension of the work that i have done with photos and writing. At the time that i was a sperm donor I was in a very creative state. One of the most powerful things about my second job was that it gave me so much more time to be creative and I took advantage of that time. I wrote copiously in journals, I painted, i photographed, i played music, i walked the streets to simply walk the streets, i stayed up all night just to see the day come, and i stayed up all night to enjoy that special hour between 5 am and 6 am when the night people had gone to bed and the morning people hadn't yet risen, i listened to music, i read, i drank, and i lived simply. i needed very little and i had very few responsibilities. i did not think too deeply of the future and i forgot my past. it was a pretty fantastic time.

At that time i was doing a lot of documenting of a segment of the underground music scene in NY, and I almost never went anywhere without a camera. I took pictures all the time and used these photos in letters and other projects- and i thought of them as materials for some project that was to be determined.

In all of the films that i have worked on I have always remained behind the camera. I have had some sort of personal connection to most of them, yet the films have been only tangentially personal.

I used to take a lot of photos of myself- documenting that i existed at a fixed point in time in some ways- i knew that a lot of this work would need to age to have value. Very few photos resonate immediately- they need the patina of age to give them weight. By patina i don't mean scratches and brown spots- i mean the details of a time past- sometimes it's simply the way the color looks- the colors that are used- the shape of the letters on a sign. these small details date and image and give it a deeper meaning.

One way that i survived on little money and little sleep was by being incredibly cheap. I lived on the 1.95 breakfast special, rice and beans, found furniture, cheap rent, and cheap beer.

Things started to shift a little bit when i started to date my future wife. She didn't always want to rush to breakast by 10am in order to save a dollar on the breakfast special, and she sometimes wanted to eat at a real restaraunt. She also expected me to show up by noon if I told her i was coming by at 11.

things shifted even more when we moved in together. I had to become a bit more domesticated. When i started to date my future wife i stopped going to the lab- and began to work a bit more often. Sometimes i did photo jobs, sometimes i did production assistant work.

my fw (future wife) and i made a film together, we toured with that, we fought, we worked things out, i toured with my band, i toured with other bands, and at some point i had to get a job.

having a steady job crushed what was left of my creative spirit. i had to learn to think in a totally different way. I only lasted at the job for about a year and a half. Since that time- which was 10 years ago- i haven't had the same power to think creatively- through this project i want to try to bring back some of that creativity-

when my fw and i toured with our film we formed an improvisational band to play before the film. we had screened it enough times to know that we would go crazy simply watching the film over and over again. Our mantra at that point was "daring to suck". we knew that if we didn't take chances then we would never come up with anything incredible. I would love to find a way to re kindle this mantra- to take some chances- try out ideas with this film.


The first part of the film will be about the birth of my first daughter and our experiences with that.

now i have to run and pick up that 7 year old.
and that's the way this blog will roll.
At the bottom of this post is an op-ed of sorts that I have written that relates to a film that I have begun to work on about the nature of family. I have been taking notes and talking to people about the issues but i feel like this is a film that can't really form in a vacuum- so I've decided to start this blog to force myself to work through these ideas.

As it states below i have always taken a lot of photos. For many years i worked on somewhat elaborate photo book letters. i would get photos back from the lab and select some of the better ones and then paste them into a book format. i would then riff off of the photos and write rambling philosophical letters to a few good friends. In a sense I want this film to feel like that. while it will be exploring some charged issues- i want it to flow in a graceful way- and like those letters i want it to be personal.

At the same time I value a certain level of privacy. This is one of the reasons that I haven't charged ahead with the project in as vigorous a manner as i might have liked to. In addition it's not just my own privacy that I have to be concerned with.

When my father was alive he would get livid if I took his photo. One time he chased me and hit me with a magazine when I dared to take his photo. At the same time he was a total ham who would steal the thunder at any gathering he was at. I assume that on some level he didn't appreciate the lack of control. I can see that already i am rambling off topic- which I enjoy- but as this is the first post and it's designed to launch this op-ed I'll save more rambling for a future post.

On that note I will end here- but begin to post about issues related to how we become who we are.




Are You My Father?

Stems cell research, in-vitro fertilization, egg and sperm donations, and the ethical implications that surround them have been all over the news recently. These are thorny issues and as a filmmaker I am compelled to throw myself and my story into the debate.

Before I made films I played bass guitar in a rock band. To support myself I worked as a messenger for a commercial production house, and a couple of times a week I donated sperm. While on my way uptown to deliver videotapes to the edit house I'd sometimes stop by the sperm bank to make a deposit. 50 bucks might not sound like a lot of money, but it was almost as much as I made for a full day of work as a messenger. My rent was only $150 a month, so between a few days of working as a messenger and 4-6 donations a month, I had enough money to live and enough time to focus on music, photography, and writing.

Despite the fact that I was a religious studies major in college I didn't think too deeply about the ethical or long term implications of my second job. I also didn't keep my work a secret. In fact when people asked me what I did for a living I'd say, "I'm a sperm donor". They either laughed or recoiled in horror. Invariably I would get along well with those who laughed or were intrigued; it was kind of a litmus test.

All humor aside, when I started donating I had the sense that the sperm donor was a pretty unimportant part of the equation. I'd read or seen many sob stories about adopted children searching for their birth mother, but I had never seen anything written about the search for a birth father, let alone a donor father. I donated on and off for probably a couple of years when I wasn't on tour with my band. When I started to date my future wife in a serious way I simply stopped going to the lab. I didn't think about it too much after that.

We got married and after several years my wife and I had a red haired, wild eyed, explosively charismatic daughter. I spent a lot of time with her and was fascinated by the reality of watching her become who she is. There were things about my daughter that simply couldn't have been formed or changed by my parenting style, skills, or lack of thereof. She was who she was when she was born, and she was a lot more me than her mom.

When my wife was 6 months pregnant with our second daughter my father was struck by a car and killed instantly. I was very close to my father which made it a gut-wrenchingly painful experience. While we had our conflicts we also had good communication and as such I didn't feel like we had unfinished business to deal with despite the fact that he was snatched from us so violently. I was pleased that my older daughter had gotten to know him because both of my grandfathers had passed away before I was born and I had the sense that I had missed out on something by never meeting them. Even though she was just shy of 4 years old when he passed away I believe that knowing him had a powerful effect on her life. I have a picture of her on his lap being read to that is, for lack of a better word, precious.

My father handled almost everything in my family and I fell into his leadership role in arranging the funeral. Although hastily put together, it brought many of my relatives together from all over the country. Some of my cousins came that I hadn't talked to in over a decade, yet I felt deeply connected to them. Over 100 people crowded into our house for an impromptu afternoon of remembrance. As I spoke to this group about my father I wore his shirt, which was too small and his watch that didn't work, because I needed to feel connected to him. The room was filled with people who had felt connected to him, and I in turn felt connected to them.

Three months after my father passed away we had our new baby girl. Within weeks I could tell that she took after my wife, and not just in the way that she looked, but in her calm and observant presence. My older daughter shares a hyper energy with myself and my mother, while our younger daughter has a quiet reserved nature like my wife and her maternal grandfather.
It is one thing to understand that there are parts of us that are shaped by nature and parts that are shaped by nurture. It is another thing completely to have two small children and witness how powerfully nature wields it's brush.

When our little one was a couple of months old I was showing her off at the hair salon on the corner. After cooing over her for a few minutes my friend Lois eyed me fiercely and harumphed, "Mike, now you gotta go for your boy."

"Hell no. I'm finished. I can't handle the two I have." I shot back.
"Mike you gotta have a boy." she drawled as she went back to washing her clients hair.

As I left the salon I was struck by the thought that I must have a boy somewhere, probably a lot of boys and a bunch more girls to boot. I stood holding my baby with one hand while trying to contain my older daughter's manic energy with the other and I was dumbfounded by the reality of the situation. Some of them might be 18 years old I realized, and they probably want, even need, to know who I am.

At home, as I googled "sperm donor children father", I noted the fact that when I was a donor the internet was not a part of our daily lives. Information moves so differently now than it did then. If I was a 20 year old now and considering donating sperm there's no doubt that I would be doing this same web search before I signed up. Back then the only easily available source of information was the lab itself, and they weren't particularly forthcoming. Immediately I found donorsiblingregistry.com. Wendy Kramer and her teen-aged son Ryan, who was donor conceived (DC), started the site in 2000 as a way to connect DC people with each other and possibly even their donors. It has now turned into the lifeline for a rapidly expanding community of DC children and their parents. Increasingly former donors are finding the site as well. At last count it had over 23,000 members and 6,000 recorded sibling and donor matches. As i paged through the site, as well as other articles on the net, I quickly realized that the ethical implications of sperm and egg donation were coming home to roost. The site makes it possible for donors and DC people to list their information allowing them to find each other. As I searched further on other sites I found that a lot of the stories that I came across were about donor conceived individuals desperate to find their hidden fathers. Some of these people are livid about being kept in the dark. Many of them direct a lot of anger at the thoughtless donors like myself who helped create them but aren't there for them. Having just lost my father I could relate to their pain. It was clear to me that I had a responsibility to make myself available to those people conceived from my sperm. It was a bit overwhelming to imagine having 5, 10, or even 20 new additions to my family but frankly, also kind of exciting.

I immediately called the lab that I had donated at in order to find out my donor number so that I could list myself on the site. That is, I called the lab after talking with my wife about the possible implications of the Pandora's box that might open. As I had never kept my "job'" a secret she wasn't surprised to hear about the registry. However, she did pause to think about what the implications might be for her and our children. However, she too understood that some people might need to know about me so she gave me her blessing. 9 months and 15 to 20 calls later I was finally able to get the lab to give me my donor number. There was, and is no real standard for record keeping and it seemed that all my information was in a box in a storage facility that wasn't easy to access. I also imagine that the facility kind of hoped I'd just go away. Secrecy, and anonymity make their job a lot less complex and the industry isn't too happy about that growing cry for openness. They argue if that a national registry existed it would raise serious privacy concerns, and likely limit the number of donors who are willing to feed the growing industry. Recently the UK joined many other nations in banning anonymous donations and it has led to a shortage in available donors. However, the number of donors is beginning to climb back up. As we've learned from current financial mess sometimes caution and solid information trump convenience.

With my number in hand I logged onto the donor sibling registry and listed myself and waited. For the first few days I nervously checked my email to see if I had been contacted. That was a year ago. I still haven't been contacted, but I have been tracking the issue very closely. As a filmmaker and a serial documenter of my own life I felt compelled to explore the issue through a film of my own. For the past year I have followed the discussion in both the media and on the list serve of the DSR. As the DSR community grows, it's collective voice becomes louder and one of the most powerful messages emanating from that community is that anonymous sperm and egg donation has severe negative consequences. As an anonymous donor I completely agree. Would I have donated if it wasn't anonymous? Frankly, it's hard to say, but I imagine so. I might have thought about it a little harder but both the financial and moral reasons would have still existed. I needed a way to support myself as an artist and I believed that I was doing a mitzvah for those in need. My father, who was desperately anxious about my lack of defined career path, was pleased that I was paying the rent with the world's oldest pastime. When he tried to end each of our weekly conversations with, "Write when you get work..." I could shout him down with the fact that I had a job even if it was somewhat unconventional. If the option existed at the time I think that I might have chosen to be a known donor. However, at the time that I donated there was no mention of anything except anonymous donation, so my thoughts didn't go too far in that direction

After a screening the other night I was talking to a filmmaker I'd just met and he was telling me about a documentary he was going to work on about people who subject themselves to medical experiments as a way to make money. When I was a donor I had considered doing medical experiments as well for similar reasons; decent pay while doing something for the "public good". I mentioned my project and he excitedly informed me that he too had been a donor in the late 80's. We both remembered that our role was completely minimized by the sperm bank. I can't say that I felt "ashamed" at the time, but we laughed about how awkward it was checking in with the nurse at the front desk to let her know that you were going to head to the back and masturbate into a little cup. When I mentioned that I had listed myself on the DSR he was a bit dumbfounded. I don't think he'd ever thought too much about the kids that might be out there.

Recently the Boston Herald ran an article about a 10 year old girl who was looking for her father for both medical and emotional reasons. She had a cyst in her brain and everyone thought it was in the best interest of the child to find out information about her biological father's medical history. When her mother called the lab that provided the donor sperm she couldn't get anything beyond the basic information she was originally given, and they refused to make any effort to contact him. The article was in part an attempt to reach out to this individual to see if he might come forward. The girl was open in her feelings; she needed the medical information but she was also interested in knowing who this man was. There was a robust thread on the online comments section of the article. These comments were either empathetically informed and supportive of her search or combative and accusatory. The combative ones cried, "A deal's a deal! How can this mother go back on her word... etc etc". On the DSR listserve the girl's mother expressed her daughter's horror at the comments (she mentioned cradling her sobbing daughter). At this moment I moved from observer to advocate. I posted a comment which ended,

"I signed up as an anonymous donor- because really that was the only option at the time. Yes, I signed an agreement that kept my identity secret- but that was 20 years ago and I wasn't given another option- things change- times change- people change-and as such, the idea that someone is at fault in the situation described in this article is ludicrous. I wouldn't be surprised if this nervous 20 year old who said he wanted to be anonymous might not be a confident gregarious 35 year old who would love to meet his daughter."

Basic common sense should allow us to extrapolate from the adoption rights movement that while openness may be more emotionally complex at the outset, if handled properly it can lead to healthier outcomes. In the dark days of adoption a young pregnant person would disappear from town, have a baby that was whisked away from her, and slip back into her own life as if nothing had happened. Secretness and stigma ruled the day. Times have changed. I have a good friend who gave birth to a child when she was in no position to care for it nearly a decade ago. She gave the child up for adoption but has remained in touch with the adoptive mother and her son and gets to see him every few months. I think that it was a bit awkward for all involved at first but in the end it has been wonderful. My friend now has a loving husband and a 2 and half year old that she is raising. Her son has met his half brother and my friend can't imagine the pain she would feel if she had no connection to her son.

While there has been significant research concerning the emotional welfare of those involved with an adoption situation there has been much less involving donor conception. From my year of following this issue the "street chatter" is making it clear that children have a need to know about their biological background. It's clear that the people most affected by these decisions are the ones with no voice whatsoever. In addition, as I have followed this issue the last year I have noticed that for the most part the donors are largely still in hiding, we're simply not present enough in the discussion. I am sure that there are some donors who want to stay hidden. At the very least prospective donors need good information about the implications of their participation.

Recently several groups from around the world that are involved in issues surrounding donor conception formed an umbrella group (International Network of Donor Conception Organization) and put forth the following list of suggestions for a more reasonable and healthy approach to donor conception. for more information you can visit http://www.inodco.com/

1. End donor anonymity.

2. Track all recipients, donors and births and safeguard all records in a central, government data bank indefinitely. Information to be accessible by all involved families.

3. Mandate reporting of donor conceived live births from each donor.

4. Limit the number of births conceived with the sperm or eggs from any given donor

5. Require donors to regularly update their family medical history. Medical information to be included in donor data bank.

6. .Mandate genetic testing for donors and include genetic information in donor bank.

7. Push our respective governments to inquire into followup health histories of egg donors.

8. Require mandatory third party counseling for all prospective donors and parents.

9. Require legal and financial protection for anonymous donors so that they may feel safe to come forward.