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.
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.
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.