Feature Stories

Hippie Hal: The Three-Peat Known Sperm Donor, Part II

If you missed it, read the first part, "Hippie Hal: The Three-Peat Known Sperm Donor," first.


The Kids Are All Right

I like to think of myself as a fairly progressive person — I like free love and patchouli as much as the next hippie — but it’s hard for me to conceive of serving as a sperm donor for multiple women. As soon as I agreed to become a donor for Tori and Kelly I felt … what was the word? Taken? Off the market? Betrothed?  Call me old-fashioned, but I guess I’m more of a “one sperm donor, one lesbian couple” kind of guy.

But even if I were to consider donating to another couple someday, it’s hard to imagine my doing so without some pretty lengthy conversations with Tori and Kelly about the impact it would have on them. In essence, I’d be creating a biological sibling for their daughter, one who’d grow up in a completely separate family. And in Hal’s case, his children grew up not only under separate roofs, but in different cities —Huckle in Wisconsin, Yeshi in Northern California, and Sam on the East Coast. So what did each of Hal’s wives think about his serving as a donor to multiple women? Were the moms all on board with this arrangement, like some sort of queer, progressive version of HBO’s Big Love? Or were there problems with “sharing” Hal in this way?

“They’ve all taken a similar perspective: it’s family building,” Hal said. “Our kids have benefited from multiple relationships and multiple lineages. These kids can end up sometimes with four sets of grandparents. How great is it that there are that many people who care about you? It’s only a blessing. I think they’re happy with the situation.”

Okay, sure. Despite the complications that might arise with managing three donor arrangements simultaneously, I could see the appeal in this. There’s clearly nothing wrong with having more love in a child’s life. But how was this arrangement for the kids? Wasn’t it strange for them to grow up knowing they had siblings out there in the world being raised in other families and cities? How often were they able to interact with one another?

Hal thought a moment before answering. “They didn’t see each other a lot growing up,” he admitted. “And now that they're adults, much of their communication is on Facebook. But there’s affection there. I’ve been around them when they proudly introduce each other to someone as their sibling.”

Hal’s characterization of his kids’ relationship struck a chord in me; it could very well describe the relationship I have with my siblings. I have two brothers who grew up with me in the same household. But as adults, we all live in separate cities and don’t see or talk to one another all that often. I also have a half-brother, the product of my father’s second marriage, who I have never lived with, and see only once or twice a year. But we’re all still very much family, and there’s a lot of love between us all. Siblings don’t need to be in constant contact with one another or grow up in the same household in order to have a strong sense of family.

As far as Hal’s own relationship with the kids while they were growing up, he made an effort to see them all as much as possible. “I spent part of summers with each of them, and traveled to Wisconsin and New York quite a bit. I tried to do lots of fun things [when they were] growing up,” he said. “I took them camping and on other adventures.” But Hal also feels his relationship with his children has deepened the older they have gotten.  “Some people are drawn to babies. They can spend hours cooing and carrying on over them, and that’s just not me.  Now that they are fully grown, I’m delighting in our relationships more than ever.”

By way of example, Hal referenced a trip several years ago when all of his children and his parents came to stay with him near the end of his mother’s life. “Everyone stayed in my house,” he said, which wasn’t really set up to sleep large crowds. “I just put beds everywhere,” he laughed. “It was a wonderful time. I’m so glad we did it because my mom died maybe a year later.”

It certainly sounded like Hal has a meaningful relationship with each of his children, despite the complexities involved in their relationship and the physical distance between them. But I was curious: What, exactly, did he see as the role he played in their life? Did he think of himself as their donor? As a father? A friend?

“Well, for me, my father meant the guy who parented me, who lived in the house with me, who supported me, who drove me crazy,” Hal said. “That’s not who I am to them. But I think we’ve redefined what it means to be a father. We could tell the kids that these are your parents, these are the moms who raised you. And I’m your dad.”

And for Hal, what matters is how the kids turned out. “They’re terrific, lovely people,” he said. “They’re an asset to the world.”

Donating in the Disco Era

I find Hal’s story so interesting not only because he’s something of a known donor Casanova, but also because he entered into these donor arrangements during such a different era from me. Did he face much opposition donating within the contexts of the 1970s and 1980s? This was the era, after all, of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, when over half of the states still had sodomy laws on the books, decades before terms like “marriage equality” had entered mainstream discourse. You couldn’t just help some lesbians get pregnant in this context without anyone noticing, right? Wasn’t Anita Bryant foaming at the mouth trying to save these children?

“You know, it’s interesting,” Hal said after thinking a moment. “I can’t remember any opposition.”

“None?” I said skeptically.

“None,” he repeated. “Remember, this was San Francisco. It was the free-loving 1970s! I think most people just thought it was pretty cool.”

Though Hal hasn’t encountered any opposition personally, he also isn’t blind to the fact that there were people who clearly opposed what he was doing. “I’ve always been amazed and astonished by the paradox of gay people being accused of not caring about the future of kids,” he said. “Children that are conceived by queer people: it’s such an intentional process! It involves keeping charts and tracking cycles and having conversations well in advance. There are no accidents with gay parents. Talk about planned parenthood!”

In Hal’s case, it was planned parenthood, indeed; three times over.

***

Though everything is going remarkably well in my own arrangement with Tori and Kelly, I’ll admit there are moments when I still get nervous when thinking about what the future may hold for us all. Our adventure has just begun, and there are still a lot of “what-if” doomsday scenarios that play in a loop in my head.

When I start to get overwhelmed, though, I often think of my conversation with Hal. Here was a man who was able to maintain not one but three successful known donor arrangements in an era that was far less friendly to LGBTQ families. And in the end, he played a part in helping to produce three healthy, happy adults. Surely, then, I can make it work with just this one arrangement to worry about, right?  Right?

In the meantime, I’m looking into where to erect Hal’s statue.

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The "she" his is talking about is Finlee, one of Oscar's two daughters who, along with sister Bowie, he raises with husband-to-be Nick. Unlike in other professions, artists are in a unique position to manifest incorporeal concepts into something relatable and are renowned for radical changes in their styles before and after certain events. But it is not like Nick, who works in the much more rigid financial industry, was immune; in fact, Oscar and Nick both see their lives as "BK/AK" — "Before Kids" and "After Kids."

"It was like a totally different life that we had before we had our daughters," says Nick. "I spent a lot of time at work. That was a large part of my identity; it was a large part of my professional ambition."

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Like many prospective parents, Oscar, 43, and Nick, 39, asked around, seeking the assorted do's and don'ts, tales from the trenches, and other assorted nuggets of wisdom of parenthood from people already on the journey. A recurrent theme was the importance of creating strong foundations, of all sorts, before children are even a topic for discussion.

"Some of parents were younger, some older, but a lot of them had voiced they wished they had waited a couple more years because parenthood really changed things, emotionally and financially, for them," recalls Oscar.

But once they made up their minds to become fathers, it was full steam ahead. Opting for surrogacy, however, ushered in a very modern conversation that all the advice in the world would do no good: Of the two of them, who is the better genetic option to father a child?

Oscar gives the straightforward answer: "Nick's family has a better genetic history than I do, concerning cancer and heart disease. His genetic strand, in terms of having children being at less risk, looked more promising than mine."

If you think this sounds eerily like eugenics, think again. Genetic history is just one of many factors even run-of-the-mill sperm banks (and egg donation facilities) take into consideration when it comes to donors. One company requests men be at least 5'7'', others push that number to 5'9''. All require donors have at least a bachelor's degree, and have an age limit. Mental illness, a high prevalence of cancer in the family, and even myopia can knock a sperm donor out of the running. The now-defunct Repository for Germinal Choice was founded with the idea of accepting only those donors with Nobel Prizes to their name. With the advent of DNA testing, science gained a strong say in the baby-making biz, and as societally uncomfortable it is to say this or that person's genes are "better," medical technology reached a level where parents can actively try to minimize gene-based disorders being passed on to their children. And let there be no doubt: outside the scientific sphere, people have been choosing potential mates based on certain characteristics for...well, ever (even if those relationships never result in the birth of a child).


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And if the conception was hard, to say nothing of the birth, just you wait till the parenting starts.

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"We're not big disciplinarians or anything like that," admits Oscar, going on to say how the responsibilities of fatherhood, and Finlee, now three, and Bowie, nine months, are experiencing it, is an organic process. "It's OK for them to figure things out with us. We're figuring it out, and they're with us on it. We're learning, they're learning. I think that is the best thing for our family."

Gay Dad Life

Gay Dad Creates a New Kind of LGBT Children's Book

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For more information about Mark Loewen and his upcoming projects visit his website. Mark is also the founder of www.bravelikeagirl.com, a website that helps parents who are raising girls.

"What Does a Princess Really Look Like?" is available on Amazon, or anywhere books are sold.

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