23 comments

Drama

I never thought I would want to be a father to 92 children, but something changed the year after I was injured climbing Long's Peak, and now being a father is the thing I dream of more than anything else. The first family willing to meet with me has invited me for the weekend to Upper Michigan. The rustic charm of the local restaurant with its exposed wood ceiling and fireplace envelops us as we sit down for our first introduction to each other.


“Jake, it's nice you could join us,” the dad, George, says in the tone of a person trying to be polite in a difficult situation.


“I’m happy I could barge in on your family vacation.” I'm giddy with excitement.


“Every summer we come up to Mackinac island,” he says, his gaze encompassing the others sitting at the table. His wife Liz, and their child Noah, who’s 12 years old, are looking at the menu. I’m trying not to stare.


“Dad, can I order a steak?” he asks.


Hearing the word Dad, I can’t help but jump in my seat a bit, but Noah is looking at George.


“No.” George shakes his head. He looks apologetically at me. “We just moved to a better public school district last year. We're on a tight budget.”


“Ughh,” Noah groans with displeasure.


“You can get a steak for your birthday,” George says. "Next week.”


“Ok.” Noah sticks his face back in the menu.


After we order, Noah looks at everyone around the table before he speaks. “Mom. Dad. How did it happen that he…” He points his finger at me, then realizes that's rude and puts his finger down. “That, Jake, is my father?”


His mother smiles tightly. “Let’s not talk about that tonight, Noah.”


Noah looks back and forth between me and his mom, scrunching his face in thought, or in disgust.


I can handle pre-teen angst. “Well, it's great to be here, and I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you better,” I say.


Liz chuckles. “Well, all we know you have a master’s degree in physics and no history of medical problems.”


“That’s true,” I say. “Does anyone here have an interest in physics?”


They all stare at the tablecloth.


“How about mountain climbing?”


George apologizes for everyone. “Sorry, Jake.” 


When the waiter arrives at our table to take our order, I go for the chicken cordon bleu. It's on the top of the menu. I offered to pay the bill tonight, but I'm predicting George grab it as a power move, and I don't want to make the wrong impression. I understand how he could feel a bit threatened by my presence.


While we wait for our food, George and I talk about how the Green Bay Packers played last season. Liz and Noah watch us talk, and whisper to each other now and then.


When the food arrives, I try to broaden the conversation. “The food here is amazing. How's your burger, Noah?”


“It’s ok.”


This is like pulling teeth, but Noah seems to be a good kid. And he looks like me.


The rest of the dinner proceeds in awkward conversation. It's like a ballroom dance. I take one step forward, and they take one step back. The more I tried to lighten the mood, the more they glance back and forth at each other conspiratorially. The more I ask about Noah, the more they protect his privacy. They dodge, parley and deflect my questions. To sum things up, they don’t want me there.


“Noah will let you know his decision tomorrow,” George says, at the end of the dinner. We had discussed the goal of this weekend's meeting in advance.


“Thanks George.” I shake Noah’s father’s hand and look him in the eye. “Tonight was great.”


I think George hates me. But to break through the miles of male ego between us, I need tenacity. I think about it from his perspective, and I'd hate me too.


After they refuse dessert and excuse themselves to return to their room at the Elk Lodge Hotel, I head to the bar. I need a drink.


Beer in America has improved the last ten year. I take a sip of the Keweenaw craft brew IPA. The smell of the hops takes my mind to a different world, the cool mist of the mountains. The whisper of wind through pine needles. The smell of mountaineering in Boulder.


Someone is staring at me. I look down the bar, a woman turns away, her eyes staying on me just an instant longer than they should have. Why is it men always need to make the first move? I stare back her way. She acknowledges my presence and gives me a subtle smile.

“Can I buy you a drink?” I ask.

“Sure. A gin tonic.” She taps the rim of her cocktail glass with a pink fingernail.

I move closer. “Jake,” I say to introduce myself.

“Well, Jake, you're the best looking man who’s showed up at a bar in Mackinac Island in a while.”

“Thanks.” Inside, I’m disheartened that my appearance must be what gets me selected as a sperm donor so often. The world is shallow. “And your name is?”

“Beth,” she says. “And what do you do, Jake?”

“Mountain climbing.”

“Not a lot of mountains around here.” Beth takes a sip of the gin and tonic the bartender places in front of her. “Can you make a salary from that? Mountain climbing?”

“No. But I have a few side hustles.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing glamorous.” I take a sip of my IPA and stare at the backlit bottles behind the bar until she asks a different question. 

“So, what are you doing up here?”

“Some personal business.”

“You’re a tough nut to crack.” She winks. “We’ll see if we can open you up later.”


Four IPAs and about twenty classic pop songs later, she gets back around to asking, “Now, what is that personal business you are up to?”

“Meeting my son for the first time,” I blurt out before realizing this might be the wrong answer.

“First time? Wow! You’re a negligent dad.”

“I’m a sperm donor.”

Beth breaks out laughing. “Wow!” She’s on her fourth gin and tonic.

“So, how many?”

“How many children?”

“Yep.”

“92.”

“92! I’ve never met a sperm donor before.” Beth’s eyes are shining with curiosity. She laughs. “If you have sex with the mother, would that be cheating? You’ve already been there before...”

“It’s different.” I frown. She's not taking parenthood seriously.

“Sorry Jake. I’m just a Northern Michigan gal trying to figure this all out.”

“How about we get the next drink in my room?”

Beth gives me a hard stare. “You seem like a good guy, Jake. But I think this is all too much for me.”

“Not the first time I’ve heard that.”

“Sorry.”

She pays the rest of her bill and waves me good night.

I finish the rest of my IPA and think about where I am in life. I wonder what it’s like to have sex with one woman and have one baby. That seems simpler and more romantic than the medical center visits and cash payments.


Vivid dreams fill my mind as I sleep, yet I can’t remember them a few seconds after I awake the next day.


As I wait for the meeting at 10am with George and his family, I feel a tightness in my chest. Suddenly, not knowing anything about my 92 children has left a hole in my heart. Where are they right now? What do they think about me? Do they even know I exist?


At the hotel patio, George says good morning, and says I should go for a walk with Noah, and discuss things man to man. Noah is 12, but I get where he’s coming from.


Noah and I walk to a copse of pine trees overlooking Lake Huron. Out of earshot of his parents, Noah says. “I already have a dad.”

“I’m your dad.”

“DNA is just a string of proteins. Like chemicals. You are not my Dad.”

I don’t have an answer to this. I feel a tear well up in my eye, while I think of how to respond.

“But, you can follow me on Instagram,” Noah says.

“Can I DM you?”

“Sure. And I’ll send you photos from my birthday party.”

It's a good start.


September 07, 2023 16:10

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23 comments

Lily Finch
03:23 Sep 08, 2023

Scott, Hi Scott, I thought your story was pretty good. Such a cool premise. You got my suggestions on how to improve so I'll just tell you what I liked about your story. What I enjoyed in the story was your word choice and direct sentence structure. It was deliberate and stood out to me. Very easy to read and understand. Just a great story. LF6

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05:39 Sep 08, 2023

Thanks so much for the feedback. It a scene I had thought of, good to hear its readable.. I'll do some edits and add a bit more before tomorrow;)

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Danie Holland
22:34 Sep 14, 2023

I really enjoyed reading this. I loved this — “The rest of the dinner proceeds in awkward conversation. It's like a ballroom dance. I take one step forward, and they take one step back. The more I tried to lighten the mood, the more they glance back and forth at each other conspiratorially. The more I ask about Noah, the more they protect his privacy. They dodge, parley and deflect my questions. To sum things up, they don’t want me there.” It ran together so well. I’m a bit jealous of your ability to paint characters and dialogue so we...

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03:53 Sep 15, 2023

Thanks so much for reading, and giving such a nice comment! Reading that paragraph again, I'm not sure I got all the tenses exactly right, but happy to hear the metaphors worked. I've got a very different story this week, but also feels very much like guiding the plot gently toward the finish. Will see if I can finish it today.

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Martin Ross
14:36 Sep 14, 2023

Terrific, emotionally genuine story. I’ve always had mixed feelings about disclosing information between donors and recipients and children, but though I don’t know that I’ll ever change my view (err on the side of family safety and respect for the functional parents), you did a wonderful job showing Jake as a dimensional man.

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03:55 Sep 15, 2023

Thanks! happy the nuance I had in mind when writing about this situation came through in the final story.

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Michał Przywara
21:14 Sep 11, 2023

Great premise for the prompt! This story conveys two things quite clearly: how unwanted he is at the awkward dinner, and his deeper sadness. The former would almost be comical, except he has enough self-awareness to realize he's not wanted there, and enough empathy to agree with it, if the roles were reversed. Thus, it also feeds into the latter, the sadness. This isn't just based on rejection - by Noah, by the woman at the bar (and perhaps, we assume, by other women historically) - but it seems to have an aspect of broken dreams. Once upo...

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03:58 Sep 15, 2023

Thanks for reading! Yeah, the donor MC probably has to learn a lot of humility to get what he wants out of this situation. I've read of young people doing this purely to make money, but think it must feel a lot more complicated in the long run. Agree on the ending, I always struggle a bit filling in some of the scenes between my plot points.

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Nina H
16:13 Sep 11, 2023

This is a great “unwanted” guest, awkward situation for the prompt! You really got across the emptiness the MC felt as he tried to connect with his son and even the failed connection with the girl at the bar. Sidenote: I went to Mackinac Island when I was little, but still remember how beautiful it is there! When I was there, no cars were allowed on the island. Not sure it that’s still the same now, years later. Anyway, I liked this take and the questions it brings up! Great job!

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04:00 Sep 15, 2023

That for reading and commenting. And interesting you went to Mackinac Island! I've never been there but my parents always talk about a trip they took there. It sounds like a really historical gem. And no cars makes such a different environment.

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Philip Ebuluofor
10:27 Sep 11, 2023

Fine work. Some don't need fathers, and some need sons. Planet Earth worries.

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04:00 Sep 15, 2023

Thx for reading. Yeah I don't think a young child needs two fathers, that would be so confusing!

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Kevin Logue
13:45 Sep 10, 2023

That was an interesting premise and I see from your other comments its based on a news story. Stranger than fiction and all that! This was really snappy and solid in both its tone and plot, there is a lingering unsaid sadness that this man now is at a different stage in life and is searching from deeper connection, solidified by the fact he dislikes the woman at the bar pointing out his good looks first. Nice story Scott.

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15:40 Sep 10, 2023

Thanks so much for checking this out. Nice to hear the MC's feeling of something missing I had in mind when I was writing this came through. When I read something about how donors are chosen it seemed pretty shallow tbh.

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Mary Bendickson
21:40 Sep 08, 2023

So sperm banks really keep track of who begats who?

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03:21 Sep 09, 2023

Its something I saw in the news, and opened up a lot of ethical questions in my mind. I think it was supposed to be anonymous, I couldn't open the link but saw a few headlines like this: https://www.wsj.com/lifestyle/relationships/sperm-donor-family-children-146617c8

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Delbert Griffith
14:27 Sep 08, 2023

Ninety-two kids! I wonder why he's such a popular choice as a donor. Trying to connect with your biological kid, as a sperm donor, sounds odd. I think that you might need to explain why he wants to connect now, and why this kid in particular. Also, why did he decide to become a donor? The answer to those questions might smooth this out a bit. The dialogue was great, as was the tenseness in the dinner meeting. You have a great way with dialogue, my friend. Cheers!

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03:27 Sep 09, 2023

Thanks Delbert. And I really appreciate you taking the time to give me some pointers to things that can be improved. I am still tinkering with the plot mechanics on this one... was inspired by a headline "A Sperm Donor Chases a Role in the Lives of the 96 Children He Fathered" and then thinking... that could really ruin a family trip ! And possibly lead to great comedy. But sometimes tough to get everything in a story working within a week.

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AnneMarie Miles
02:03 Sep 08, 2023

Hey Scott, This is such a great premise for a story, and absolutely perfect for this prompt! We never do get to hear the side of the story from the donor's perspective, and I wonder if there are any donors out there who actually do regret not being around for their children. This was a good exploration of that, especially adding the bar scene. I imagine telling a woman that you have fathered nearly 100 children is not helpful for getting a second date. But who knows? Maybe someone out there doesn't mind it. I think you did right by ending i...

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05:41 Sep 08, 2023

Thanks so much for reading, and all your comments. I'm pleased to hear the teen character felt about right. I had the scene in my mind and am still working on the plot, and will add some more about Jake and how he came to be on this trip. That's super useful feedback.

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AnneMarie Miles
12:49 Sep 08, 2023

It's a great story, Scott, and I enjoyed reading it! Good luck with the edits and with the contest! 🤞

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Amanda Lieser
00:15 Sep 29, 2023

Hey Scott! Oh my gosh! The title threw me for a loop. I thought geriatric story. However, I like the way you chose to go so much more. You did a wonderful job of capturing your diverse cast of characters-their hopes, dreams, fears, and questions. I admired the way they all managed to express themselves, despite the one main narrator. Nice work!!

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16:14 Sep 07, 2023

A silly situation I imagined after seeing a news item this week about a donor wanting to meet his 98 children. (Wow. that must get complicated !)

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