The Nobel Sperm Bank Celebrity
Since his birth, brilliant, precocious Doron Blake has symbolized the Repository for Germinal Choice. Now the "superbaby" is an 18-year-old college freshman, and he's longing to be normal.
Afton was not the kind of parent you'd expect from the Nobel Sperm bank. She wasn't forcing little Doron to study ancient Greek then take harp lessons on weekends. Quite the opposite. Doron learned because he loved it. Afton enrolled him in "anti-intellectual" preschool, but he demanded more rigor. He soon revealed himself to be a math prodigy and a talented musician. (Is this DNA at work? These were Donor Red's skills, but not Afton's.) Doron qualified for a Los Angeles school for the gifted then won a full scholarship to Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire, one of the nation's best high schools. Repository founder Graham delighted in every evidence of Doron's brightness. He huzzahed Doron as his pride and joy, sending the boy books and treating the Blakes to dinner.
How do we know all this? Because Afton turned her son's life into the Truman Show—brainiac version. She did Good Morning America when he was a newborn and posed him for the cover of Mother Jones in a sailor suit when he was 1. California magazine rode the school bus with him a few years later. Prime Time Live followed him to Exeter, so did 60 Minutes. Foreign TV crews visited the house. British tabloid journalists stopped by his dorm. Doron estimates he has done 100 interviews in his 18 years. His love life has been discussed in print. So have his difficulty making friends, his stammer, his tendency (as a lad) to brag about his IQ.
So, why did the reclusive Afton permit her child such a public life? Afton is both a psychologist and a child of the '60s: She believes emphatically in openness. She never thought she had anything to hide (which is why Doron has always known he was a sperm-bank baby). She also believes it is her obligation to tell the world that using a sperm bank is great. Plus, she was often strapped for cash, and the media bucks helped.
It doesn't seem to have occurred to Afton that this media frenzy might stunt her son. It has occurred to Doron. "It would have been much better if Mom had not had me microprobed. It was not the best thing for me to grow up in the spotlight. This is something I realized recently. I never enjoyed the media appearances, and I did not really understand the effects on me till now," he says.
"I have always been a shy, spend-time-alone kind of person, and being in the public has made me very uncomfortable. It is one reason why now I feel that people are not going to like me. I always feel like people are examining me and probing me. It is much better for kids to grow up in a safe environment."
Indeed, the other repository families who have contacted me about Seed are horrified by what has happened to Doron. All cite Doron's exposure as the reason they crave anonymity.
(So, why does Doron still talk to reporters? He needs the cash, and I think he figures the damage has been done—the story is out there. He also thinks he has a duty to educate the public about sperm-bank kids, to show they are like everyone else.)
Despite Doron's annoyance at being overexposed, he's not at all mopey or depressed. He is fiercely independent. Though he says he fears being judged, he actually seems wonderfully indifferent to what's expected of him. He's a cheerful contrarian. He has struck out entirely on his own, and he seems very happy with himself.
His mother wants to preserve the tight bonds of his childhood, but he fights her off. ("She has been a great mother up until now, but she does not know how to let go," he grumps.) He was supposed to be a math-science whiz, but he has shucked those subjects for ones closer to his heart, music and religion. (Though he concedes that "if I had not been a math-science genius as a kid, maybe I would have been drawn to math and science now.") He rejected the usual-suspect colleges for Exeter grads—Harvard, Yale, etc. Reed was the only school he even applied to.
And now that he has got to Reed, he won't conform to its culture. Doron exudes a sweet, old-time idealism. He says his image of Reed was a "dream of loving hippiesque people." Instead, he says, it's more "punk than hippie. It's full of people who, rather than wanting to change the world in a positive way, say the world sucks." There is too much drinking, too much smoking, too many drugs. He is thinking of transferring, maybe to Bates in Maine, or Evergreen in Washington state—somewhere where there are more people "filled with love."
Doron possesses a disconcerting uncuriosity about his origins. He certainly doesn't resent the repository. He is happy to be a sperm-bank baby, and he is emphatic that parents who use banks must tell their kids where they come from. "It was never a big deal for me. But if I had been sat down when I was 12 and told, 'Doron, the man you think is your father is not your father,' told that I had been lied to my entire life, that would have been awful."
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.
Photograph of Doron Blake by Dave Luchansky © Liaison/Newsmakers/OnlineUSA.