By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Richard demanded Herb's release. State home officials agreed, with one proviso: Herb would first have to be sterilized by vasectomy. State law, they said, gave them the authority.
Faced with the alternative, Herb chose the operation. As he later told Betty, he just wanted to be free.
Within a year of his release from Beatrice, Herb was drinking coffee in a Lincoln drugstore when he fell head over heels for Betty Moen, a twenty-year-old farm girl from Minnesota. Betty certainly wasn't the prettiest girl in Lincoln. She had lost nearly all of her teeth in a childhood accident and was a hundred pounds overweight. But Herb thought she was beautiful.
"And I was pretty desperate for someone to love me," Betty recalls. So she was willing to overlook the fact that he was several inches shorter than she was and wasn't the brightest guy on the block. "But he was gentle and kind," she says, "and I liked him."
Betty says she even shrugged it off when Herb tearfully confessed that he wouldn't be able to give her children, though he didn't say why. They were married six weeks after they met.
Marriage seemed to agree with the Wiatts. They saved their money and fixed Betty's teeth. She shed her extra pounds. He worked himself to exhaustion doing menial labor for minimum wage, but never complained.
The couple bought a home in a little neighborhood northwest of Lincoln. It looked like every other house on the block--a cracker box laid on its side, differentiated only by color. The houses were prefab jobs, thrown up in a day on tiny pieces of barren prairie. No trees. No grass. Nothing much except hope.
It was the 1950s, and in the booming postwar economy, even a day laborer like Herb could afford a mortgage of $75 a month, as well as an old Chevy parked at the curb. The neighborhood was a great place for kids. Tricycles and bicycles littered the front yards. The baby boom was in full swing, and it seemed to Betty that every woman in the neighborhood was pregnant or already had a bushel of kids. Every woman, that is, but her.
As her frustration grew, says Betty, she began asking her husband about his sterility. Ashamed and embarrassed, he finally broke down and told her about his years in Beatrice and the price he had had to pay for his freedom.
"It wasn't his fault," Betty now says of that turning point in the marriage. "But I wanted children, and I guess I took it out on him. I could be pretty demanding, and looking back, we probably shouldn't have been married. But he wouldn't ever fight back; he just sat there and took it."
Herb even remained quiet when, after she read a magazine article on artificial insemination, his wife announced that she would be going to a doctor to get pregnant.
So one day in the fall of 1954, a bright graduate student from Holland who was working on his doctorate in soil sciences at the University of Nebraska received a call from a local doctor. He had responded to dozens of such calls and was donating sperm to help pay his way through school.
Nine months later, on June 8, 1955, a blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned baby boy was born to Herbert and Betty Wiatt. They named the child Greg.
The first recorded case of artificial insemination in humans was in 1890. Its proponents heralded it as a means to breed a more intelligent, congenitally superior and better-behaved human being. Toward that end, most donors were physicians, successful leaders of the community or promising graduate students. But the records were locked away or destroyed, donors remained anonymous, and women like Betty Wiatt were told to keep the means of their conception a secret, even from their children.
From the time he was twelve years old, however, Greg Wiatt knew something was amiss. He was already taller than his father, and his fair Dutch features stood in sharp contrast to Herb's darker visage. It was also becoming evident that he was smarter than his dad.
"I couldn't get over how different we were," Greg recalls. "It wasn't just the way we looked, or that I could read and he never learned. It was something I couldn't really put my finger on, but it made me feel distant from him, and that made me feel guilty. One day, I just flat-out asked my mom. Was I the product of some love affair? Was I adopted?"
Betty hesitated when her son asked his questions. Her husband adored Greg. When the boy was an infant, Herb spent all of his free time playing with him. And she had often found them snuggled up on the couch sound asleep. But as Greg grew up, things changed.
"Herb was aware of their differences," she remembers. "And I knew that it hurt him that he couldn't find a way to stay close. I think he was intimidated, and the older Greg got, the less like a father Herb acted.
"Herb and I were drifting apart, too, but I didn't want to see him hurt. So I told Greg, `There was no affair. And I gave birth to you. You are my son.'"
For the time being, Greg accepted his mother's assurances. But, he says, they didn't relieve the guilt over his increasingly distant relationship with his father, or his distress at the disintegration of his parents' marriage. The couple adopted two Korean orphans to assuage Betty's desire for more children after several later attempts at artificial insemination failed. But the marriage continued to falter.