This Kid Is All Right

Will life imitate art? A mother wonders if her daughter will ever want to seek out her "donor dad."

My daughter and I saw The Kids Are All Right the other day. We went at my insistence, even though she was knee-deep in unpacked boxes in her new apartment. For her, it was a few hours’ distraction and a free flick. For me, it was a mission.

I assumed my agenda was obvious. Kids was not just a movie. It was our life. And I wanted to gauge her reactions to it in real time.

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as lesbian moms of two teenagers, each conceived through artificial insemination from the same anonymous donor. When the kids track down their “donor dad” (Mark Ruffalo), the family equilibrium is shattered.

My daughter, now 24, has two lesbian moms. She was conceived through artificial insemination by an anonymous donor. We always told her the truth about her conception, starting when she was a little child. It didn’t seem to make much of an impression, except on Father’s Day.

By the time she reached high school, however, she began asking questions about her “donor dad.”  What did he look like? Would she ever meet him? Like any teenager, her curiosity waxed and waned, depending on her mood. Mostly, it waned. We left it alone, knowing it might resurface when she came of age.

Now that she has, she understands that legal documents were signed to ensure his anonymity — to us as well as to her. She also understands that times have changed, the culture has evolved, and should she decide to pursue it, who knows?

After the movie, we headed to her apartment nearby. I asked her if she liked the film. She said yes, as did I. “The family with lesbian moms was just a regular family,” she said. “And they didn’t kill off the lesbians or give them some horrible disease.”

I hesitated before asking her the most important (to me) question.

“Did it make you want to find your donor dad?”

“Not really,” she said. “It wouldn’t be fair to him. He may not want his life disrupted.”

I exhaled. Truth be told, the prospect of a total stranger parachuting into what was already a complicated family paradigm made me shudder. Way too much drama. I mean, what if he were a tool? Or a homophobe? Or a

Even if he were fabulous, it couldn’t help but be a soap opera when menopausal lesbians were involved.

Geek or god, it’s naïve and presumptuous for any outsider to think he can suddenly adopt someone else’s family because his genes preceded him in a Petri dish.  It takes a village to raise a child, and villagers share common histories.

In the end, of course, it may turn out that I am the naïve and presumptuous one. It wouldn’t be the first time. But in my heart of hearts, this much I know is true: Whatever my daughter does, or doesn’t do, the kid will be all right.

GAIL SHISTER, TV columnist for the Inquirer for 25 years, teaches writing at Penn and is a columnist for She writes for The Philly Post on Tuesdays.