By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Greg couldn't help wondering about his genetic father. "I mean, I was relieved that I wouldn't inherit [Herb Wiatt's] tendency for strokes--many of the men in his family died young," he says. "At the same time, I knew nothing about this other guy. What was his genetic history? Did he have to deal with the depressions and anxiety like I did?
"I began to think that if I could just talk to my genetic father, I could satisfy this huge curiosity and maybe learn to deal with what happened to my `real' father at Beatrice."
Betty had not been able to tell her son much about his genetic father, only what she had been allowed to know: that he had been a graduate student at the University of Nebraska. But she gave Greg the name of the doctor who inseminated her. It was enough.
In November 1984, says Greg, he contacted the doctor who inseminated his mother. The doctor, who had retired, was kind and understanding; he had his wife go down to the basement and pull up the old records, and then told Greg what he ethically thought he could. Over the next few weeks the two men established a friendship as Greg gently pushed to know more.
Unfortunately, the doctor soon died of bone-marrow cancer. Greg attended the funeral, believing his quest was over. Several days later, however, he received a letter in the mail.
"Inside was a single piece of paper, and the only thing on it was the name of a man," he says. "But I knew it was the name of my father."
Using records at the University of Nebraska, Greg tracked the man, Wybe Kroontje, to the small town of Blacksburg, Virginia, the home of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, where Kroontje taught chemistry. Then Greg returned to Colorado and asked a group that conducted searches for the birth parents of adopted children to play intermediary.
At first the possibilities seemed good. The professor had seemed curious, according to the intermediary, and asked for a little time to think it over. But a week later he called back and left a message on the intermediary's answering machine. He wanted no further contact.
Greg asked for the message tape and spent hours listening to the heavy Dutch accent of his father. He waited a few months before sending a polite letter asking for a few minutes of the professor's time. This time the reply came in a letter from the man's lawyer:
"We appreciate your interest in pursuing this matter, but my client does not share that interest. We extend to you our very best wishes and hope that having made this contact, you will now be willing to accept and honor my client's request."
For years, says Wiatt, the rejection festered: "Every time I thought about it, I got angry," he says. He knew that it would be healthier to drop the whole thing, but he just couldn't let it go.
If anything, Greg now felt more alone, more angry, more out of place than ever. His moods, he says, swung between manic highs, in which he would begin grandiose projects that he could never complete, and dark depressions that left him trapped in his apartment. He turned back to drugs and alcohol to ease the stress.
He might have stayed numb for the rest of his life had he not discovered Lethal Secrets, a 1989 book by Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor that examined the consequences of artificial insemination. The book noted that donor offspring often internalized the anxiety of their parents and felt somehow responsible for it.
"It was like the book was talking to me," Greg recalls. "Every page, every story, seemed to have something that had happened to me or described something I had felt. I learned that I was not alone and, in fact, was just one of millions."
Armed with the book and his own extensive research, Greg became an activist for the rights of donor children, adopting the authors' position that artificial insemination should not be kept secret from donor children--that donor children had a right to know their genetic history. He joined Donor's Offspring, and soon became its president.
The founder of Donor's Offspring, Candace Turner, says she started the group in 1981 to counsel children and families and establish a registrar of children, their parents and donors to effect reunions "and put an end to the secrecy." According to Turner, Wiatt's anger and guilt are common to the children of artificial insemination.
"Every one I've met or been contacted by, including myself, has experienced the same basic emotions and questions," says Turner, who learned at the age of thirteen that she was the product of what she calls "donor insemination" in 1962. "But because of the secrecy, we often didn't know the cause, and therefore some spend their lives trying, and often failing, to cope."
Wiatt's efforts to locate his father were a "marvelous" bit of detective work, Turner says. "But it shouldn't have been necessary. Why all the secrecy?"
Though Wiatt says his work with Donor's Offspring was rewarding, he adds that his volunteer efforts and occasional appearances on talk shows to discuss the politics of artificial insemination weren't helping him deal with his anger. He needed some sort of closure to let him get on with his life.