Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Father Longing

An article in Sunday's Washington Post caught my attention this last weekend. The story is of a 15 year old boy who tracked down his sperm donor father through research and the help of a DNA database. The article raises questions of privacy and bioethics. The main focus of the article is on the plight of unsuspecting (really?) young men who donated sperm "as an easy way to make money" and now will be "quite perturbed" by the prospect of being found by their offspring. I have to agree with Boston University ethicist George Annas who is quoted as saying, "If you're worried about it, you shouldn't be selling your sperm."

I mean, really, these guys knew their sperm was at least potentially being used to create life, to make babies. Making babies, however impersonally it is done, carries logical and natural consequences. Why we are suddenly, with a generation of sperm and egg donor babies finally growing up, surprised by their longing to find their genetic parents is a mystery to me. Kids who are adopted, even those adopted into loving homes with a mom and a dad who surround them with security and all good things, long to know their origins. I have a friend who is adopted. When her parents were gone--to work or out with friends or shopping--she searched patiently and thoroughly through the house until she found the paperwork from her adoption. She had an insatiable need to know who her genetic parents were, how and why she was adopted, who she really was.

Isn't this a universal human quest? We want to know our beginning. We want to know where we belong, how we fit in, and our parents are an integral piece of that puzzle. It's hardwired into each of us. And this isn't by accident. As I discussed in an earlier post, the idea for fathers, for parenthood, is modeled on God's relationship with us. Pascal once said, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every human being." In the same way, there is a parent-shaped hole in the heart of every child. If each of the genetic parents are present in the child's life, that hole is full, fitted neatly and snugly with the proper puzzle piece. When a genetic parent is absent, however, the puzzle is incomplete.

I like puzzles. There's a great satisfaction in finding the pieces that fit properly together. In a box of hundreds of tiny, odd-shaped cardboard pictures, each one fits easily and naturally into only one spot. I can't give up until I find that one. And there's a sense of loss, of somehow being cheated, when you get down to one last piece and find that somehow it's been lost. Every other piece may be there, but the one that's missing sticks out like a sore thumb and ruins the overall effect.

Little wonder, then, that a 15 year old boy would search relentlessly for the missing piece of his own genetic puzzle. The only wonder is that we're surprised by his need to know.

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