Monday, July 13, 2009
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
Friday, July 10, 2009
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.
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.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
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
Monday, July 6, 2009
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 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.