It’s been an interesting week, as the original story I wrote about a boy who might or might not be my biological child caused a minor kerfuffle in the blogosphere. My friend Katie sent me a text Monday night, saying “it’s spermgate!!!” I liked the term, and so I started using it, even though I risk ridicule for naming my own little scandal rather than waiting for someone else to do it.
Spermgate has been popular at Good Men Project and Jezebel; at this blog, I’ve had my best week of traffic since last fall. (When this became my most popular post ever.)
I’ve done two follow-ups to the original column, including one that was reprinted at Good Men Project. The best summary of the story comes from one of the few bloggers to write approvingly of how “Jill” and I handled the original situation. Zach at 8BitDad writes
Long story short (and apologies to Schwyzer for summarizing everything in a couple sentences), he met a gal, and the gal met someone else as well. She got pregnant somewhere along the way, and Schwyzer never really resolved whether the baby was his, or the other dude’s. The gal ended up getting engaged and married to the other guy – possibly because he was more stable and wanted to be a father, while Schwyzer partied and lived his single life. The gal had more kids with her husband, and they live a presumably happy life.
That’s about the size of it.
The reaction has been both gendered and generally hostile. Google my name and you’ll find the blogposts and stories out there; the one discussion I found that was worthwhile and balanced took place here. The rest have been nearly all godawful.
Nothing I’ve read this week has changed my feelings about what happened with Jill, Ted, and Alastair. This was a complicated ethical situation of the sort that eludes easy answers. I was absolutely in the wrong to have been as sexually reckless as I was. And given my recklessness, I don’t have any position from which to criticize my old friend Jill. I might have chosen differently had I been in her shoes, but that is a moot point. I was in no position to do much of anything constructive back in the mid-1990s when this story began; all these years later, the most destructive thing I could do would be to reinsert myself into the lives of this family I have every reason to believe is happy. In other words, while there might be some ambiguity about what the right thing to do was back in the day, there is no such uncertainty now. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it 10,000 times again: in every imaginable way that matters, Ted is Alastair’s father. There is no doubt of that whatsoever, even if (and it’s a huge if) Alastair was conceived with my sperm.
I wrote this snippet of autobiography to illustrate a complex moral and emotional dilemma, and I wrote it to make a point about fatherhood. I’m pleased that it’s fostered a lot of discussion, even if a lot of that discussion has been unconstructive and tinged with violent invective. I’m grateful to the friends who have been so supportive in person and in writing — and grateful to the friends who’ve trusted our relationship enough that they can feel comfortable publicly or privately criticizing my stance. I’ve been around along enough to know the distinction between a thoughtful challenge and mean-spirited invective. I’ve had lots of opportunity to be reminded this week of that distinction.
My friend Harmony sent me a quote last night, from the artist Madelon Vriesendorp: “If you’re hated by the right people, it’s a compliment.” When someone says something hateful to me, I often ask myself, “Who else — or what else — do they despise?” While it’s not always true that the enemy of one’s enemy is automatically a friend, there is something to be said for being lucky in one’s opponents. I am indeed fortunate in my enemies!
I stand by the position that confessional writing matters. It’s certainly not the only kind of writing I do, and it’s not the only kind of writing I enjoy reading. But it has its place in fostering discussion about how it is we can construct happier lives for ourselves. Reading the intensely personal stories of other writers has helped me understand my world and myself. Of course, too much of a focus on individual experience is unhelpful; endless navel-gazing isn’t constructive. But it is a serious mistake to refuse to place personal experience alongside reason as a vital tool for understanding how to live.
I’ll leave the comment sections open on the older spermgate posts, at least for a few more days. But I’m ready to move on to other discussions, and with a few exceptions, I’d imagine most of my readers are as well.