When Donor White Met Joy
Slatehelped the Nobel Prize sperm bank's "Donor White" and his biological daughter find each other. Here's what happened when they met.
They brought a whole suitcase filled with photograph albums and scrapbooks to fill us in on Joy from her birth up to the present time. I also had photos to show them, including baby pictures of 10 of Joy's half-siblings [which were sent to Donor White by the Repository, no names attached], so we spent a good deal of time at home looking at photos and becoming better acquainted.
In looking through a scrapbook, I saw where Joy had written her name in neat and uniform printing at age 4. She had also composed a song then that had made such an impression on her kindergarten teacher that she had her repeat it so that it could be copied and given to her mom. The song dealt with the care and feeding of a favorite stuffed animal and I would love to quote it exactly, but if any of this should ever appear on the Internet it is certain that her teacher would remember such a unique song. Joy now plays a difficult musical instrument, but rather than her own playing (with which she is not yet satisfied) she brought me a CD of professional performances of the same numbers on which she is practicing. She said that she thought that I might like to use this as background music on my computer while I sent e-mail and visited Web sites. I had no idea that music could be played at the same time that one did other tasks on the computer, so Joy showed me how this was done.
There were many things about Joy that made me realize what a sharp and quick mind that she had, but I will take time here to tell of only a few of these. I told her about how much she reminded me of my much younger sister, who spoke in complete sentences well before she was 2 years of age. Joy said: "Yes, but she was mostly around you and other adults and never heard much baby talk." I also spoke of having earned two master's degrees in technical subjects by going to school part-time at night while working but never having been financially situated to take a year or two off to be able to earn a Ph.D. She said: "When you have the knowledge, a Ph.D. is only a piece of paper." This is not true in the real world, of course, as a piece of paper can mean a great deal, but it was a surprising thing to hear from one so young, and it would be rather nice if it were true.
I have enjoyed genealogy as a hobby for many years and have been able to identify 28 of the 32 great-great-great-great-grandparents that Joy has from my side of the family, with knowledge on some of these family lines going back 11 generations to 1635. I had summarized all of this in a fold-out diagram and had no idea that she would be interested in this at present, but thought that she might like to have the information later on. By the end of her visit here, much to my surprise, she had figured out how many of these ancestors had received their given names from earlier ancestors, and how surnames of others had become part of the given names of their descendants. These are just a few of the many examples that made me realize how well she could process information to reach conclusions that were well beyond what should be expected for one her age.
When speaking with Joy, it is easy to forget that she is only 12 years old, as conversations with her are much more like those with an adult. About all that gives her away and brings one back to the reality that she has not yet entered her teenage years is the youthful enthusiasm that shines forth from her sparkling blue eyes when she speaks of things of special interest to her. There was also no question about her age and love of life when she visited the beach, as she loved to catch big waves and body surf onto the wet sandy beach, where she turned cartwheels one after the other, before racing to leap high over a collection of kelp that had washed ashore.
I had the opportunity to see Joy under about as many situations as could be squeezed into portions of four days. Still, I was not able to find one thing about her that I would wish to change, even down to the smallest of details. Let me attempt to list what I liked best about Joy, in order of importance: 1) she is healthy, happy, well-mannered, modest, unspoiled, and is considerate of others; 2) she has obvious talent in dance and music; 3) she is athletic and does well in several sports; 4) she has a sharp and quick mind that allows her to take new facts and rapidly use them to make interpretations that are truly surprising for one only 12 years of age; and 5) her appearance is very pleasing. Indeed, I believe that most people would agree with me that she is beautiful, but Joy herself says that appearances are unimportant and that it is the quality of the person within that really matters. Needless to say, she has captured our hearts forever, and my wife is just as impressed with her as is her proud biological father.
I believe that she has the potential to be and to do almost anything that she wishes, but she has so many interests that it is impossible to know in what direction she might go. I do not mean to imply from this most favorable of impressions that Joy serves to demonstrate the validity of Dr. Graham's ideas regarding outcomes that could be achieved by his sperm bank through the careful selection of donors and recipients, because Joy has received the best of opportunities that could be provided by a family of moderate income living in a small town without the resources of large cities. Whatever the relative importance of the various factors were that have given Joy so much potential, there is no question that she is a fine example of what Dr. Graham had hoped to achieve through his sperm bank, but certainly the major credit for this must go to the influence of her mom and the man whom she considers to be her real father.
Joy and Beth have been gone only a short time, but they are greatly missed in our home, which seems more empty and lonely now. We will be forever grateful to Beth for being willing to share Joy with us, and the beautiful background music to which I am listening as I type this message (thanks to Joy's instructions) will keep her and her visit fresh in my mind until we are again able to meet. A very slow recovery from extensive surgery presented difficulties in my travel and made it better for them to visit us for our first meeting. However, our meeting has now motivated me to be well enough by next summer to visit them in their hometown.
In the meantime, despite a very busy schedule after the start of school, Joy and I plan to stay in touch by e-mail. My meeting with her has given me much more reason to wish to get better and stay around long enough to see her reach more of the potential that I know that she has.
Donor White, proud biological father of Joy
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.