What is a father?

Too much going on this week to be able to write thoughtfully about anything, but I did want to draw your attention to an article in Bio-News titled, “My Life was a lie: What does Emma Cresswell’s story tell us about donor conception and fatherhood”.

Emma is a donor conceived adult whose father separated from her mother when she was very young and played no part in her upbringing.  Emma was unfortunately not told about being donor conceived whilst she was a child and only learned of this fact when she had a row with the man she had always assumed was her biological father.  Emma has now achieved her wish to have this man’s name removed from her birth certificate and now claims that she is ‘fatherless’.  As Jonathan Ives, the author of the Bio-News article says, this is a bizarre statement.

The term ‘father’ means different things to different people but genetic progenitor is certainly one, the person who has accepted paternal responsibility is another and for DC Network families, the guy who loves and cares for you is the strongest contender to be the most important.

As I said, very sadly I do not have time to write about this issue in depth, but will leave you with Ives summing up and encourage you to read the article, “My view is that this is a sad and powerful story about a daughter and a father becoming estranged ˆ a family break-up. It is not an edifying lesson on donor conception. There are some good arguments for children being told the circumstances of their conception ˆ but this story does not provide one, and the message it gives about what fatherhood is, and ought to be, is at best bizarre.” 

It is also interesting to note that the only legal basis for Emma being able to remove her father’s name from the birth certificate is that he and his ex-wife both gave permission for this to happen.  As Ives says, this is a powerful personal story.  It is highly unlikely to be repeated.

Off to France tomorrow for eight days and hope to resume more regular blogging on my return.



About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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19 Responses to What is a father?

  1. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Father ‘unknown’: SA donor conceived man applies to change birth certificate

    “DAMIAN ADAMS: It’s not a certificate of ownership because we don’t own children. It’s something that some animals have a more accurate birth record than I do and I find that completely dehumanising and wrong.

    It’s not just for my kids but also my descendents in that if anybody in the future was to conduct genealogy research on our family, I don’t want them to go down the wrong path and if they have an inaccurate birth record, they will basically believe a lie.”

    Read more:

  2. gsmwc02 says:

    I get where Emma is coming from and to a certain extent get why she did what she did. Based upon her story I think it’s justifiable that she feels fatherless. Even though she will always have a biological father she never had a father in her life. I agree with her on what can be done regarding a birth certificate and every birth certificate containing two pages. It is the method that gives the child the information they need and allows a parent to parent unlike an adoption decree which is not universally accepted.

    However, in the case of Damian Adams I don’t understand why he is trying to change his birth certificate. To me it’s a slap in the face to his dead dad, who despite Damian’s feelings I doubt wouldn’t be hurt by removing his dad from any existance in Damian’s life. The reality is it won’t change anything in his life or make any of the pain he has from being donor conceived go away. If anything it will teach his kids that family is only defined by blood and that the man who raised him until he died is not family.

    Two very different situations. In general I think that everyone at the very least has a biological father. Whether they have a man in their life raising them or who raised them is a different story. It seems like those who feel they are “fatherless” are place more value on whether they had a man in their life raising them. Which is interesting when it comes from a perspective that on the surface places infinite value on the man who provided the sperm that conceived them and ignore any man that raised them.

  3. My name is Stephanie, I am from Belgium and a donor conceived.

    I have read this article you referred to and I am appalled about the judgements and false assumptions it contains.

    The reason why Emma wanted to change her birth certificate is because she want a piece a official paper about her that reflects the truth. And I can understand her. She wasn’t set out to hurt people or trying to make a point, she just wanted an honest piece paper about her. Birth certificates should contain more then just the registration of the legal parents because we all know that the legal parents do not have to be the biological parents.

    For me: I still don’t get it why it would be such a big deal to let birth certificates reflect the truth. If donor conception is about accepting the fact that donor gametes have been used, why can’t it be truthfully registrated on a piece of paper about the child itself. It is information that concerns the child. Sometimes it seems that is more important to make the parents feel at ease with a piece of paper that isn’t even about them, it is about the child.

    In the British Vancouver the first birth certificate with registration of the legal parents as the biological father, was handed out. In Australia there is a DC who justed started his legal battle to make his birth certificate reflect the truth. Here a bit of his story. I hope you will a see it not about resentment it’s about finally granting the persons that are being conceived way the right on official and truthful registration about information that concerns us.

    Extract from Damian Adams
    I am donor conceived. Sperm donors in the 70’s were anonymous and one of the only things I know about my biological father is the donor code RE.

    I do not need a piece of paper to tell me how much my dad meant to me and how much I love him and will always love him (he passed away when I was 10 – 30 years ago this month).
    What I do need is an accurate and factual record of my conception and birth. Apart from originally being instigated for taxation purposes, they are supposed to be a factual record of genealogy. Mine does not, nor does the majority of other donor conceived people’s birth certificates.

    By enshrining deception in the law and allowing this to occur the state government is complicit in enabling recipient parents to actively deceive their child about their origins. Something we know from research that the truth is often found out later in life with devastating consequences.

    My dog has a more accurate birth certificate than I do, as do a lot of livestock. How is it that animals can have a more accurate birth record than a person? Now that is dehumanizing and wrong.
    A birth certificate is not a certificate of ownership, we do not own children. We merely love and nurture them to adulthood.

    Now I was lucky and blessed that both dad and mum always told me the truth about my conception. Something that was extremely rare in the seventies as the doctors told them to keep it a secret from me. Modern research shows that my parents were correct and made the right decision for which I am forever grateful. They both taught me to stand up for what I believe in, and this is what I am doing. I strongly believe that I am continuing on my dad’s legacy of seeking and telling the truth by making this stand. His legacy also still lives on in my name, Damian HEDLEY ADAMS. This will not change.

    As it currently stands if any of my descendants do genealogy research of my family they will be lead down the wrong path. Yes they will still be linked to the Adams’s and this is still important, but it is not their flesh and blood.

    Birth certificates need to be reviewed. They should contain all of the biological parents as well as any legal parents (if different), that way parents will stop deceiving their children and the truth about their kinship will be available to them.

    As far as I am aware this is the first time this has been attempted in Australia, and I may not be successful, but it is time to make a stand not just for me but for my descendants and other donor conceived people.

    Kind regards,

  4. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Damian stated why he is doing this in that article. It’s about Truth. Also, in S. Australia, their is a ‘Family Relationships Act’, which recognizes the husband as a legal father regardless as to whether or not he is listed as the father on the birth certificate. A name on a piece of paper is not required to love and care for someone. No other assumptions about the nature of his relationship with his social father can or should be made.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      I read the article and why Damian is doing it, but I don’t buy it. If it’s about truth he should go all the way and drop the man who raised him last name since that man never legally adopted him and thus there are no records of him ever being his dad. He’s continuing to live a lie by his logic by keeping that man’s last name when the reality is he was never legally or biologically a part of that man’s family. Damian needs to think about the logic he’s using behind this decision.

      You’re right that a piece of paper isn’t required to love and care for someone. But it is required to recognize and legitimize a person’s relationship to another.

      The question I ask is that if a piece of paper isn’t important to Damian, Emma, yourself and others why are you spending so much time and effort to try and change it?

      • My parent's donor is my father says:

        “But it is required to recognize and legitimize a person’s relationship to another.”
        Sigh. This is the crux of the issue. Obviously Damian does not agree. You can always ask him this questions, directly, yourself at his blog (he may answer):

        • gsmwc02 says:

          Again I ask if that is the case then why would you yourself want to have it changed?

          I think we need to understand the purpose of a birth certificate because the name of the document is deceiving. The purpose is to prove where and when a person was born and parentage. It’s not a conception certificate. That is why I understand Emma’s reasoning for having the change made and don’t understand Damian’s.

      • Alana Newman says:

        And take what name instead? Should he just make up one? Must he be penalized by having to pay the exorbitant legal fees to replace the last names of all of his children and wife too? There is a Truth penalty and the children are forced to pay it.

        • gsmwc02 says:

          Let him take his mom’s last name. That would be him going all the way in making his point.

          • Liz says:

            Changing his legal last name to the maternal maiden name makes the most sense, if he’s concerned that his descendants will be unable to trace his genetic heritage.

            A different last name could confuse any future researcher. If he keeps his mother’s name it will match the birth certificate.

            But if he keeps a name unconnected with the public record — future descendants could get confused trying to match the record.

  5. My parent's donor is my father says:

    International Donor Offspring Alliance

    “Summary of Aims

    We assert that people have a moral right to know the truth about their personal history. Where the state has custody of relevant information it has a duty not to collude in deceiving or depriving individuals of such information.
    It follows that:
    *The truth about a donor-conceived person’s genetic and social parentage should be recorded on their relevant public documentation.
    *In the normal course of events of life it should be impossible for a donor-conceived person to fail to find out that they are donor-conceived.
    *The principal legal instrumentality of this should be the person’s birth certificate, which should make it clear that donor conception has taken place. The genetic parentage should be recorded on the certificate itself or associated documentation available to the donor-conceived person concerned.”

    Read more:

    • oliviasview says:

      I think this is written by British lawyer and donor conceived person David Gollancz and in essence I believe it is absolutely right. It refers at the end to ‘associated documentation’ and this is exactly what is being explored in the UK. The idea is that everyone’s birth certificate – which is a document that records the fact of a birth and the person/people who are the legal parent(s) – should contain a reference to a second document which may contain information of relevance to the person named on the certificate. This second document would be held by a registry and would contain information about donor conception or adoption or any other circumstances where the legal parents were not also the bio parent. The reference to the second document should be sufficient trigger for parents to feel that they could not keep the fact of donor conception from their child. Also not having the information on the main certificate gives privacy to all parties (not all donor conceived people want the fact of donor conception to be available to anyone researching birth certificates to see). In the UK birth certificates are public documents, available for anyone to research and gain copies of.

  6. Alana Newman says:

    The reason they are estranged is because of The Cinderella Effect. Men don’t like being cuckolded. Step-parents are notoriously negligent. The majority of families are not successful in living out a lie.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      Step-Parents are notoriously negligent? Just because your Step Dad was Alana doesn’t mean all Step-Parents are. In fact I know Step-Parents who are more parent like and have stronger bonds with their kid’s than the biological parent. Yet people like yourself look to remove those people from families just to prove a point.

  7. Liz says:

    “My view is that this is a sad and powerful story about a daughter and a father becoming estranged ˆ a family break-up.”

    Agreed. And very sad that a father & a daughter became estranged to this extent.

  8. Liz says:

    The linked article was quite eloquent. These paragraphs struck me in particular:

    “This was undoubtedly a very personal decision for Emma Cresswell, and I have no intention of criticising her for it. She found out about the circumstances of her conception in a less than optimal way, and she has taken action that allows her to reconcile what she felt to be a threat to her sense of self.

    But that is exactly the point. It is a personal decision, and her actions are more a statement about her relationship with Faint, and to finding out the way she did, than a statement about how we should deal with donor conception and fatherhood in general.”

    And this:

    “It may well be that Cresswell is now fatherless – she no longer has a man in her life who plays the role of a father. That is, however, a product of her relationship with that man, rather than her donor-conceived status.”

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