I have a few things on my mind this Tuesday morning, the last day of February 2023. These things are kind of loosely related to each other, but maybe I can make them fit in today’s blog post. I beg your indulgence, because I probably won’t have a second original post in me today. On the other hand, it’s only 7:30am, so who knows?
A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about how a picture of a defunct brand of beer led me to an unexpected place. That post hasn’t generated a lot of reads. At this writing, no one has commented on it. I suspect maybe one or two of the few people who read it might have quit before they got to the end. I can’t blame them for quitting. I quit things, too. Like, sometimes I’ll start watching a YouTube video and quit because something about it is annoying. Maybe the announcer isn’t human and speaks like a robot. Or the content might not be what was seemingly promised in the title.
Time is money for a lot of people. Sometimes, if a person takes too long to get to the point, the point will be missed. The receiver will stop engaging and walk away.
When a person quits too soon, they might miss out on something they might not have expected. My guess is that those who finished the post from a couple of days ago might have been surprised by the ending. The ending is not like the beginning, which was, admittedly, kind of ugly. I reread last night, wondering if I should cut some of the ugly part out. Maybe people would get the wrong idea about me. But then I decided that the ugly should stay, because it was part of the story.
Nowadays, people are so quick to dismiss others without a second thought. I think the response to the quick dismissal has been that people are more reluctant to be authentic. They’d rather quickly say what the other person wants to hear than be rejected or dismissed.
I could weigh in on the recent controversy involving cartoonist Scott Adams, who writes and illustrates a comic strip called Dilbert. I have never read that comic strip myself, so I can’t call myself one of Adams’ disappointed fans, dismayed because the cartoonist is in the news due to his recent racist tirade. I didn’t even see the rant that is getting him canceled right now. It sounds like it was pretty bad, though, and now Dilbert is being dropped by many newspapers. Maybe it’s inappropriate for Scott Adams to have platform anymore, since the job of cartoonist is one that is kind of dying. He’s been very privileged to be able to turn his talents into such a successful career.
Still, to me, it’s sad that an artist’s work is being dismissed because he said or wrote something people didn’t like. Sad that he uttered hateful, racist remarks that were hurtful to others, and sad that the backlash has been so brutally instant, seemingly without a second’s hesitation. I don’t agree with what little I’ve read about Scott Adams’ views, but I do realize that he must have done a lot right to be where he is today. Obviously, he was also very lucky. I don’t like to think that a person’s total worth is less than an unfortunate or unpleasant action. I’m sure Scott Adams, as a whole, is much better than his very offensive comments.
Since I don’t read Dilbert and know very little about Scott Adams or his political views, I think I’ll just say that I find cancel culture disturbing and kind of dystopian. Regular people can and will vote with their wallets. I think allowing them to make up their own minds is better than encouraging everyone to pick up figurative pitchforks and torches and actively seeking to kill someone’s livelihood. At the same time, I can see why some people are now completely turned off of Scott Adams. I don’t blame them.
That post that I wrote the other day, started off kind of “ugly”, because I wrote about how I got unceremoniously kicked out of my very first dorm room during my first week at college. My former roommate of just a few days, “Margaret”, went “ugly” early. At the time, it was devastating on several levels. I was brand new at Longwood, living in a room that was just as much mine as it was hers. And yet, I knew that if I tried to stand my ground, Margaret and her fraternity loving friend would make my life a living hell. So there I was, 18 years old and brand new to college, just days after arriving at Longwood, having to move to what was considered the “worst” dorm on campus.
You know what? A lot of the people I met after that move are still my friends today. That ugly, unpleasant, humiliating situation all worked out well in the end. In the long run, I was better off for moving across campus. If I had stayed in that room because it was “half mine”, it would not have been a good thing. Margaret was the type of person who would have done all she could to drive me out. Maybe I would have even ended up unhappy enough to transfer to another school , or quit altogether.
I could even say that about attending Longwood in the first place. It wasn’t my first choice college. And yet, it turned out to be a great school for me. I did very well there. I discovered talents and passions I had never explored before I went to college. I made some incredible friends. I only have a few regrets about going to my last choice school, and they are pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things.
Here’s a more recent example of this theme of “going ugly early”… Three years ago, Bill and I tried to adopt a dog from a German dog rescue. Our attempt to give a dog a new home ended in tragedy, when a disastrous string of events led to the dog escaping his transporter and getting killed on the Autobahn. That was a senseless and devastating event, and it made Bill and me feel like shit. But then, Noyzi the Kosovar street dog came into our lives and stole our hearts.
The fact that we have Noyzi doesn’t negate how awful it was that the other dog got killed thanks to the sheer negligence of the pet transporter. That was still a terrible thing. But if it hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have our Noyzi, who reminds us every day how thrilled he is to have a home in Germany with us. Noyzi was destined to be in our family. I really think he was, especially since his rescuer, Meg, is a student of Carl Jung’s, just as Bill is. What are the odds?
And now for the last part of this post… This part might not seem like it fits very well, but I feel compelled to write about it, anyway.
I often read Lori Gottlieb’s advice column in The Atlantic. I knew who Lori Gottlieb was many years before I read her advice column. About twenty years ago, she wrote a book about her experiences with anorexia nervosa. It was titled Stick Figure. I read and reviewed that book for Epinions.com. Since then, Lori has become a therapist, and she writes articles for the magazine.
Last night, I read the following letter in Lori’s column, which caused some people to immediately react with disgust…
When I married my husband, he had two adult children, and I had none. We both wanted to have a child together, but my husband had a vasectomy after his second child was born—too long ago to get the procedure reversed.
We didn’t want to use a sperm bank, so we asked my husband’s son to be the donor. We felt that was the best decision: Our child would have my husband’s genes, and we knew my stepson’s health, personality, and intelligence. He agreed to help.
Our daughter is 30 now. How do we tell her that her “father” is her grandfather, her “brother” is her father, her “sister” is her aunt, and her “nephew” is her half-brother?
My husband and I are anxious, confused, and worried about telling her. This is also hard on my husband, because he wants our daughter to know that he will always and forever be her father.
Thank you for any advice you have to offer.
Most of the people commenting were completely turned off by this scenario. I suspect most didn’t make it beyond the “ugly” headline, “Dear Therapist: My Daughter’s ‘Brother’ Is Actually Her Father”. Of course, most didn’t read further because they don’t subscribe. Plenty of people who didn’t read the letter had plenty to say about it, though. Quite a few folks were judging the letter writer for making this decision, and now being in a situation in which she was asking Lori Gottlieb for advice. After a few minutes’ thought about this situation, I came to a few conclusions.
In my opinion, it really makes no sense to be disgusted by this scenario. This woman’s daughter was born in the early 1990s. In those days, we didn’t conceive of things like Ancestry.com or 23&Me being a “thing”. Childless couples who hoped to conceive via sperm donor weren’t encouraged to know much about the donor. This couple wanted to have a child together. Using a sperm donor was probably the most expedient way for them to get what they desired.
The letter writer’s husband happened to have an adult aged son who was willing to serve as the sperm donor. Unusual? Yes. I wonder about his mother and what she might have thought about this scenario. As the stepson was an adult when he made his donation, it wouldn’t have been her business. Or, perhaps she’s dead. We don’t know. It sounds like stepmom never played a maternal role to her husband’s son, though. She sounds more like his father’s wife than his “stepmom”.
This isn’t a case of a stepmom having sex with a teenager. This situation involved sperm donation between two consenting adults who happen to know each other better than other donors and recipients might have. Would it have been better for the woman to conceive a baby with a stranger? Maybe in some people’s minds, that’s better. In my opinion, it’s not really ideal, though, because the other bio parent is much more of a mystery.
Moreover, since the letter writer’s stepson was obviously an adult when he donated sperm, stepmom could have married him, instead of his father, and had the baby the “natural” way. Far fewer people would have batted an eye at that scenario.
After thinking about this some more, I remembered a high school friend, whose mother was actually her grandmother. Her older sister was her bio mom, because she got “knocked up” in high school. Mom/grandma raised my friend instead. I pointed this out, and a woman conceded that that scenario is kind of common, but this one involving a sperm donor is somehow “different” because it was done deliberately, rather than being the result of an “accident”. I can tell you, having been an “accident”, albeit to an adult married couple, it kind of sucks.
And yet, nowadays, it’s not that uncommon for family members to do extraordinary favors for their relatives. I’ve read more than a couple of articles about mothers carrying babies for their daughters, who aren’t able to maintain pregnancies. I’ve seen sisters or cousins acting as surrogate mothers for their relatives. People often frame the women who do those kinds of favors as heroic. How is a stepson donating sperm to his father and his wife that much different? At least it doesn’t involve morning sickness.
Then I started thinking about how I would feel if I were the daughter in this case. I imagined that, for 30 years, I didn’t know the truth about my origins. I’m completely healthy and otherwise normal, except all my life, my biological father has been posing as my half brother. Now, perfect strangers on the Internet are grossed out about how I was conceived. If you think about it, that’s a lot “ickier” than the unusual circumstances of how I was conceived. Again… stepmom could have used a stranger’s sperm, and I wouldn’t know much of anything at all about my bio father. At least, in this situation, the young woman will be able to ask questions and have a chance at getting some honest answers.
Finally, I arrived at my conclusion. This situation sounds, on its surface, kind of “weird”. But, at the end of the day, what matters is that this couple desperately wanted to have a child together. They’re still married. Their daughter is still much beloved and was very much wanted. That, in my view, should be the focus. We should all be so lucky to have parents who wanted us that badly. The main idea is that this couple wanted to raise their daughter, and they chose the stepson as the donor, because they knew that he was healthy. It was a way for the father to contribute to his daughter’s genetic heritage, since he could no longer get his wife pregnant.
Instead of focusing on the “ick” factor of this situation, consider these points:
- Everyone involved in the donation was a consenting adult.
- It wasn’t a situation in which the stepmom and her stepson had a physical relationship. He simply donated sperm.
- Mom could have just as easily had a relationship with the stepson and gotten pregnant. No one would have cared.
- Mom could have used a stranger’s sperm and been faced with a lot more mystery regarding her daughter’s genetic heritage and potential medical or educational issues.
- They made this decision before the advent of home DNA tests and probably figured they could keep the secret forever.
- Thanks to reproductive technology advancements, family members are doing things that would have been unthinkable in previous generations. We’re seeing moms carrying their daughters’ children, for instance. Sperm donation, to me, is less earth shattering than being your sister’s or your daughter’s gestational carrier.
- THIS WAS A WANTED CHILD. Her parents love her. She’s grown up healthy, well-provided for, and very much beloved by her family. That should be more important than the source of her father’s genes. I hope the couple broke the news to her gently, and she was left realizing that her family loves her.
To sum things up… things that begin negatively or distastefully can eventually lead to things of beauty. Sometimes, when we “go ugly early”, we can end up in unexpected and amazing places. I could even say the same thing about Bill and me, and our marriage. We met under unexpected and unusual circumstances, but it all worked out beautifully. Sometimes when something starts out “ugly”, it might just be a situation in which the ugliness just needs to be chipped away from the surface and polished until it becomes something better… and beautiful, like the stone in my featured photo.