My Dad's not my biological father. Now what?
July 1, 2008 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I just found out from my parents that my dad probably isn't my biological father. It's not a particularly dramatic situation, as these things go (it was a sperm donor situation, we're all living happily ever after), but what do I need to do now?

Even though it was just a "by the way, we thought you should know that..." moment, I'm still reeling a little bit, so I can't think of what to do next. I have no interest in meeting my (probable) biological dad, but should I worry about medical history? Should I be trying to figure out genetic disorders and all that? What about legally (documentation, inheritance, etc.) -- anything to worry about there?

I'm in my mid-twenties. Parents are still married. Um, what else...? If I've left anything out, you can email me at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you're in shock and you need some time to process the information. So, chill a little. No need to "do" anything at all here, really.

Your dad is still your dad, he just had some faulty plumbing, which he may have felt kind of badly about. Your parents deserve your thanks for telling you; they could have easily kept quiet your entire life without you knowing a thing. Dealing with infertility may have been tough on them back then, and dealing with your (hopefully not too upset) reaction may make them anxious now. So be sure to reassure them a little, please, and thank them for their honesty, tell them you love them, and all that.

That being said, when you're ready -- and preferably a few months after that, even, just to make sure you're really ready -- you might be able to find something out about the donor, from either your parents or the fertility clinic, if they're still in business. Your parents probably picked the donor out of a catalog, to get someone who might be a physical or ethnic match to your dad, so there may be some basic information on him out there, like height and weight and ethnic background and education level, and stuff like that. Hobbies, too. And sperm donor clinics tend to carefully screen their applicant pool for genetic diseases, including asking about their parents, siblings, and grandparents, so you should be pretty safe on that count.

If you're really serious about tracking down the donor, you could also go the slightly-unethical route, too.

By the way -- anecdotally, there's a somewhat higher than average chance that your donor was a medical school student.
posted by Asparagirl at 5:34 PM on July 1, 2008

you don't necessarily NEED your medical history--many, many adopted people do not know any of theirs, and you at least know your mother's--but if you want, you can probably contact the clinic where the sperm came from and see what kind of medical information is available.

otherwise, i would just chill and let the information settle for a week or a month. there's nothing about this that requires immediate action, so just sit tight and let everything sink in.

assuming your (nonbiological) father is listed as your father on your birth certificate, you have nothing to worry about. in the eyes of the law, he is your father and you are his daughter. if he'd had to adopt you to legally be your parent, that's something they would have been advised of at the time and surely would have taken care of. that might be the only thing to check out, if you're concerned.

relax, have a drink, sleep on it. you'll get your balance back.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:36 PM on July 1, 2008

I think the most important thing you need to do is make sure your dad knows that nothing has changed for you.

And you need to make sure of that for yourself, too.
posted by Class Goat at 5:58 PM on July 1, 2008

Take some time to process it. As much time as you like. And probably even a little more time beyond that.

Down the road, you can decide on the medical history angle. There certainly can be advantages to knowing and disadvantages to not knowing. For example, my mom knows very little about her biological father's medical history (he and my grandmother divorced when my mom was an infant, and my grandmother married my mom's adoptive father the next year). This eventually posed some moderate difficulties for me, as it turns out that I have several disorders with genetic components, but could never account for that one side of my family history. It's possible -- though by no means certain -- that had we known more about his history (both medically and even ethnically, as one of my disorders is associated very strongly with a specific ethnic group), my own medical issues might have been diagnosed earlier or more easily.

Having said that, I wouldn't let the issue of medical history be the deciding factor for you right now. Just sit with it for awhile. I suspect, in time, you'll have a gut sense of what you'll feel is best for you.
posted by scody at 6:09 PM on July 1, 2008

...should I worry about medical history? Should I be trying to figure out genetic disorders and all that?

In general sperm donors are screened for that sort of thing, so any risk is minimal. It sounds like you have parents who wanted you enough to go the extra mile to conceive you, love each other enough to stay together and raise you, and love you enough to be honest with you. That puts you pretty high up in the hierarchy of good parenting.
posted by TedW at 7:26 PM on July 1, 2008

IANAL but I'm quite sure that legally absolutely nothing has changed - your father is still your father. Check with your mother, but your father is probably already listed as your father on your birth certificate. (i think that is the default in most states when a child is born to a married woman - but again IANAL)

If they went through a sperm bank, then the sperm donor intended his contribution to be anonymous so your lack of interest probably fits with his preference too.

so, mostly you just need time to get used to the idea - and frankly it is pretty weird to suddenly find out that your father of your whole life wasn't the one contributed the sperm. Once you adjust, it will seem pretty minor but until then it OK to feel a little disoriented.

Finally, I agree with others that the most important thing to do is to let both your parents but especially your father know that you love them and you truly appreciate everything they have done for you.
posted by metahawk at 7:36 PM on July 1, 2008

1. Should I worry about medical history? Should I be trying to figure out genetic disorders and all that?
For a donor, almost certainly not. Those folks are pretty well screened.

2. What about legally (documentation, inheritance, etc.) -- anything to worry about there?

Nope. Dad is Dad. Sperm donors are no more of a legal relation to you than kidney donors. (I am not your lawyer. Free advice is worth what you pay for it.)

As previous posters have said, the only things you NEED to do are to make sure that this doesn't mess up your relationship with your real Dad... you know, the one who raised you.
posted by mikewas at 8:15 PM on July 1, 2008

CBC did a two part show on their "Best of Ideas" podcast a while ago, called "Brave New Family" covering the issue of donors and their children. If nothing else you can get an idea of how others have dealt with it.

Brave New Family Part 1.
Brave New Family Part 2.

I had a girlfriend a while back in a similar situation, and although she was taking it in stride it took it's toll. Be cool.
posted by monocultured at 2:55 AM on July 2, 2008

My dad isn't my biological father either, only I found out when I was eight. It will take some time to get used to the idea, but the important thing is that your dad is still your dad, and he needs to know that nothing has changed. The fact that you aren't biologically related, and yet he has invested so much of his resources in you, must mean that he's really devoted to you. That's something not everyone gets from their biological parents, never mind non-blood. Any man with functioning bits can be a biological father, but it takes love and hard work to make a dad, and that's a much more important role to have filled.

Like others have said, you have nothing to worry about in terms of genetic illnesses or inheritance or anything. Just messy feelings. :)

Email's in the profile if you want to talk.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:54 AM on July 2, 2008

I am pretty sure I know who my biological is (at least for now) and I could tell you I have no idea of his medical history (i know he hates going to the doctor and only grudginly goes once a year), genetic disorders (he really wouldnt know either)....I am not only in perfect health but because I am really not sure of how that can turn in the future, I try to eat healthy, work-out a lot (more than 5 times a week) and try to sleep as much as I can....think about it...whether you know your history or not, isnt that the only thing you can do?
posted by The1andonly at 10:11 AM on July 2, 2008

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