Not quite a “dad,” more than a “donor.”

Q:

I am the donor father for two of my best friends. These friends are both women, and we have decided that I will father a child for both of them. We have also decided that, because we are so close now, I will develop a special “familial” relationship with the children, but not be their “parent”, and they will know that I am their father. We have a one year old little girl now, and we are currently in the process of trying to conceive again. The difficulty that has arisen for us is finding a kinship term for my role in this chosen family.

My friends are uncomfortable with a term such as “dad” or “papa” that, for them, equates with parenting. They feel that such a term would undermine the commitment that both of them have made to parenting these children.

Our difficulty has been trying to find a term that is familial and unique–something that validates and reflects the special connection I will have with these children, and the uniqueness of my role as their father (especially during their formative years), without using a word that equates with parenting.

I’m interested to know if you have heard of any terms that others in our situation have used, and if you would have any advice for what would be best for our children.

A:

The lack of kinship terms for families of choice is a common frustration among queer families. There are no right or wrong answers. (See related column When Language Fails Our Families.)

Many kids call their donor — and sometimes also their same-gender parents — by their first names. (See side bar). For people who were raised with a “Mom” and “Dad,” calling a parent by a first name might seem too formal or distancing. But to these kids, referring to their parents and other important adults by their first name in no way diminishes the value of the relationship.

I’m particularly interested by this idea that your being called a “dad” would “undermine” the two mothers’ role as parents. It sounds like the moms are most concerned about how outsiders will perceive their “rank” as parents compared to yours as simply a family friend.

In a homophobic society, it happens all too often that the (non-biological) mom is overlooked (for example, at a parent/teacher conference) when there has been a mention of a “dad” in the child’s family. While broader society continues to have trouble grasping the concept that two women are both the “real moms,” I hope your friends’ concern will become secondary when they learn that the people who matter most — their kids — fully comprehend the family they have created. Children are able to distinguish those relationships with or without conventional kinship terms.

As families of choice become more visible, our language will evolve accordingly. Someday, we will probably have a kinship term that means “close male friend who donated sperm to loving mothers and is present in the child’s life but not a caretaker.”

In the meantime, your biological offspring are likely to chose an option that makes sense to them. It might be your first name, it might be a special nickname, and — despite their parents’ reservations — it might even be dad.

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Related Resources:

This donor writes that he is “so close now” to the children’s parents. This might not always be true, but children should not suffer if this should change. Please plan ahead.

Protected Rights: Standards of Child Custody in Same-Sex Relationships
A family agreement would hold all adults accountable for maintaining consistent relationships with the children, regardless of how those adult relationships might change in years to come.

Alternative Family Matters
Building the ground work for prospective parents in all sorts of combinations.

Suggested Reading: The Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy, and Birth by Kim Toevs and Stephanie Brill (Alyson, 2002). Chapter One (Creating New Family Models) urges prospective parents to examine their expectations, including their relationships with donors.

6 thoughts on “Not quite a “dad,” more than a “donor.””

  1. Having your donor kept annonymous keeps a donor just *that*, with no worry of paternity suites, no more than two parents in a child’s life, and no confusion about parenting roles. The only downfall to this, however, is the inability of a child to meet his or her biological father.

    Is this a big deal? Maybe for some. I would choose this, however, over legal and emotional battles any time.

    -Chris
    Lesbian Mother of 3 year old son (who has two moms).

  2. While my situation is quite different because I actually will be a dad, in addition to my two lesbian co-parents, I suppose that I feel the need to write in because of the statements regarding how referring to a bio-father as “dad” or “papa” would undermine the mothers’ roles.

    One of the definite problems that we continue to encounter are questions like “who will be the mother?” and other such things that assume that the non-bio-mother is not “really” a mother. This is a problem that a great deal of work needs to be committed towards in order to ensure that the non-bio-mother is definitely considered just as much a parent as both of the bio-parents are. Negotiating this is a difficult process, particularly in a heterosexist system which assumes that there is always simply one father and one mother, and that no other parental systems can possibly be in place.

    However, there is another system of invisibility that is beginning to emerge and take place. In the past two years, since we first began planning our family, we have noticed that queer families themselves maintain a system of assumptions that need to be displaced. This is the assumption that there can be only two parents. In most gay and lesbian circles, there is always the “couple” mentality that seems to point out that only people who are romantically or sexually involved with one another count as parents. As such, in most gay and lesbian circles that I have been present within, my own role as a father is quickly dismissed as merely a donor. Since I plan on being just as much a parent as the two women who I live with will be, I find this as problematic as heterosexist culture’s dismissal of non-biological parents.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is. Until heterosexist culture begins to recognize that non-biological parenthood is still parenthood and gay and lesbian culture recognizes that people outside of a couple can be parents as well, we will always need to negotiate and re-negotiate our roles, names, and positions. Eventually, perhaps, we may all simply give up and recognize that at least we know who we are to our children. But then again, don’t we also fear that one day our children will utter those dreaded words “you aren’t really my father/mother/other parental figure?” So as long as those fears continue to reside within our hearts, we will always need to reconsider how we view our relationships with our children and with one another.

    Sincerely,
    Brant

  3. Personally, I call my donor by his first name. He is not my father in any way and I only met him when I was 9. I also call my mothers by their first names, however. I know that they (my mothers) are my parents and don’t really feel that calling them by their first names takes away from this.

    Personally, I don’t like calling people by names that are misleading as to their status (i.e. “Uncle Joe” and the like) but if the donor doesn’t want his bio-kids calling him by his first name, he can always come up with a special nick-name that is just what they call him. One of my mothers has a nick-name that I call her that is different from what most other people call her (only her close friends and family call her by the nick-name) and therefore I call her by that nick-name. The nick name could be something like what I used to call my grandfather when I was little … I don’t really know how [the nickname] came about, but it was a mark of affection).

    ~naomi (daughter of 2 moms, and some other assorted parents)

  4. I think its a touchy subject and the donor has to respect the child’s parents’ wishes. I would say let the kids call him by his first name and then after a while see how it goes. The parents probably feel threatened and the child will know who he is. Just because they won’t call him dad doesn’t mean he isn’t. I call my bio-father by his first name like I do my two moms. Since it isn’t a ‘normal’ situation I think he will just have to relax and be called by his first name.

    16 y.o. daughter of lesbian moms (and a donor)

  5. My family has never been big on parent nicknames – meaning I always called my moms both mom and my grandparents – grandma and grandpa. I never used names like my friends did like nana and papa or anything to distinguish one set from the other. I call my donor by his first name. For clarification around other people I sometimes call him my donor or bio father. I guess my best suggestion would be to use the title “Uncle Joe” (or whatever his name may be). I think that is kind of a good way to show some relation
    and relative significance…..yet it does not establish him as a parent.

    I have kept in touch with my donor, but I didn’t meet him until I was 18 so he isn’t a huge part of my life. He also has young kids, so I don’t want to be a matter of confusion for the 5 and 7 year old.

  6. My family and I decided to use cultural fatherly names, which sounds silly but it happened to work out well. So, my other mom I call Mima which was orignially supposed to be (EEMAH = mother in hebrew) and my father I call Papa instead of dad (my father is french)

    The thing is, of course it depends on this man’s role in the child’s life, but even if he is only going to visit the child occasionally, he is still the father, so it shouldn’t be threatening for hte child to call him dad or another fatherly name because eventually when the child refers to this man, he will be refered to as the child’s father anyway.

    :o) haha I wouldn’t encourage the child to refer to him as “My Sperm Donor” The fact that the man is the child’s father really won’t take anything away from the mothers, at least it didn’t in my family’s experience or in any other family’s experience that i know of.

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