"The Entrepreneur" Speaks
A donor tells why he gave the Repository for Germinal Choice his Grade A sperm.
Click here for the editor's explanatory introduction to this new Slate feature.
A day after the first installment of " Seed" appeared, a repository sperm donor e-mailed me and said he would like to tell his story. He's worried that Americans are too alarmist about new reproductive technology and thinks that telling the whole story of the repository might help calm them.
The donor and I spoke for more than an hour on Friday, and he told me why he donated sperm to the repository, how he feels about it now, and whether he ever thinks about the babies his sperm created.
Who is the donor? Repository founder Robert Graham generally confined himself to scientists: Our man was one of the first businessmen Graham signed up. In the repository's catalog, he was described as an "entrepreneur," so that's how he asks me to identify him. The Entrepreneur, who's now in his late 40s, says he's no genius—his IQ is 149—but he otherwise lives up to Graham's hype about his donors. The Entrepreneur is an extremely successful businessman, someone who has launched several companies, including one that's almost a household name. He's rich, accomplished, athletic, and driven. He also has no children of his own.
(How do I know The Entrepreneur is not a faker? Click
Slate: How did you get involved with the Repository for Germinal Choice?
The Entrepreneur: I was doing some speaking at a Rotary Club in 1985, and this guy—Bob Graham—comes up after and says I would like to meet with you. I did not know who he was, but I had heard about the repository. He took me to lunch and corralled me about it.
So were you interested?
Not really. I told him, "Hey it sounds great but we are not in trouble, and you're not going to line up enough people to make a difference. This is proverbially pissing in the ocean. And besides I don't think the gene pool is really in danger. We're not lacking leaders or scientists. And there is no assurance that if you put me together with someone else, that the child will turn out above average."
But Graham was a passionate guy. He was very persistent. He worked on me for probably three months. He played on the fact that I had never had any kids. He would say, "You haven't had any kids. It looks like you aren't going to have any." And I would say, "I don't care that I'm not going to have any." And he would say, "I do." I felt like the dog at the dog breeders meeting.
Why did he want you as a donor?
Bob liked me because I was a lot similar to him. I was always starting companies and doing things. He liked that I was a hardscrabble entrepreneur.
He was fixated on people who were athletic and smart. He wanted both. That's what the mothers were into. I tested pretty high IQ wise—149—but I was not a genius. But he liked the drive part of it. By then he wanted to get out of the mode of the little bald professor, the Nobel Prize winner. "Those Nobel laureates are not going to win a basketball game anywhere," he said.
He also wanted musical ability. He kept badgering me if I had musical ability. Mothers really liked that. I told him that I played a mean stereo.
How did he finally persuade you?
It was flattering. He was so interested. He was so devoted to it. And my girlfriend was working it really, really hard. She wanted to get married and have kids, and she was trying to steer me into the mode of having kids.
I just felt if it was so important to him and not important to me, I could give it a trial for a little while. I knew it was not going to turn the world around, but if you make a couple of mothers happy, what's wrong with that? A little flattery, a little guilt, a little girlfriend pushing on it. Even though I knew it was not going to make much of a difference, I was happy that Graham was happy.
And did you believe in Graham's general principle, that your good genes could help create better children?
Yes. I absolutely believe that genes matter a great deal. You start out and you stay the same. You can modify maybe 7 percent to 9 percent.
Once you agreed to donate to the repository, how long did it take till you gave?
There were a lot of hoops to jump. I had to go through background and IQ tests. He interviewed my parents and their parents.
So how often did you give?
I would do it maybe five times a year, and one donation would have perhaps 20 vials. He would complain vigorously about that. He would say, "Look, you are a little bit more popular than the others. Help us out." He was trying to meet the mothers' demand. I went on giving almost up to the time of his death in 1997.
Did he ever introduce you to any of the other donors? Or mothers?
I got to see him quite a bit socially at his house, and he was always cagey about it. He would intimate that other donors would be in attendance. But he was always very careful about it. He would describe the physicists and the symphony conductor. It was a game he would play.
But he was precise that the mothers never had any contact with the donors in any way, shape, or form. I never saw anybody. And he made it very clear to them that they waived in perpetuity the right to come back and sue for the names of his donors.
From what you've been saying, it sounds like Graham was obsessed with the repository.
He was extremely warm, almost emotional about it. He was absolutely focused on it. He was always trying to get me to recruit other people. He was a missionary. He had that kind of unbridled enthusiasm. He endured all criticism, the armed guards at his estate. It did not deter him at all. But I never could really understand why he was so fixated on this idea of breeding—especially because he had such an average mix of kids himself.
Did he see the repository as a science experiment?
Absolutely, and he wanted to find out what happened. He was very disappointed that a lot of people had kids and would not contact him. Parents were disassociating from it. That bothered him. He was very scientific person and he wanted to have the feedback. But he did have one heckuva collection of photos.
And he absolutely thought it was a success. He would point to the whole wall of baby photos. He was adamant that he had proved the point, would rattle off all matter of statistics on the children in their initial testing. He was very into that.
Did you ever find out how many kids your sperm had produced?
They told me I was very popular. In 1987, I think, they said there were three or four already. But I never asked after that.
The repository was perfect for me because I was not responsible for the kids. I really did not care. That is why I did not want to know how many kids I had.
I have not had children. I have never been interested in children. I acknowledged it and decided not to have the child suffer my disinterest. I left home very, very young. I left home after high school and never went back.
So you never think of your repository kids?
No, I guess I don't think of them. They are so anonymous to me—I guess because I have never been really interested in children anyway. I never followed up that much.
But you believe in genes, so don't you want to know if the sperm bank kids ended up like you?
Not really. Because Graham would give no indication of who the mother was—absolutely nothing, not even in a general sense. So you never knew half the quotient, so it's hard to think what the kids would be like. It would have been more interesting to me if he had gotten a little bit more profile on the mother.
Are you afraid that one of the kids might manage to find you?
I would expect that they destroyed any documentation on that. But I might be thrilled. It would be nice to have it all turn out well. I would probably get immediately emotionally involved. It might be a bit of a kick.
If you, too, have a connection to the Repository for Germinal Choice—whether as a donor, client, child, or employee—and you would like to share your story anonymously, please contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at (202) 862-4889.
The Seed Series
Part 3: The first responses
Part 5: An update and a preview
Part 7: An update on the donor list
Part 9: The Nobel sperm bank celebrity
Part 10: The donors
Part 11: A look at the parents
Part 12: The rise of the smart sperm shopper
Part 13: The genius babies grow up
Click here for Michael Kinsley's explanatory introduction to Seed.
Join the Discussion
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.