A college professor discovers that his father may not, in fact, be his father.
In June 1981, Davis (English, Disability Studies, Medical Education/Univ. of Illinois at Chicago; Obsession: A History, 2008, etc.), in his early 30s, received news that his father, Morris, had died. Shortly thereafter, his uncle Abie phoned him and said, “Well, I don’t know how to say this, but I am your father.” At first, Davis didn’t believe him, assuming that artificial insemination did not exist in 1949. (He was also upset at the realization about his conception: “So that was how I was conceived? No candles or flowers, no romance, no glint in the eye—just a quick jerk-off in a rank toilet?”) After researching the subject, he found that the procedure had indeed been performed in the ’40s, and in fact had roots stretching back further, to an instance in 1884 in which an American woman was artificially inseminated with the sperm of a man who was not her husband. Davis spent the next several years on a quest to uncover his genetic origins, investigating the history and science of artificial insemination and DNA testing along the way. The author also examines his complicated, difficult relationship with the man he thought was his father. When doubts were raised about Morris’s fatherhood, Davis reevaluated his childhood. He remembers how, when he misbehaved, his parents told him not to act like his black-sheep uncle Abie, and how his father often used the phrase, “Good father, good son.” Davis’s quest also affects other members of his family; his brother disapproves, saying, “It’s better not to know something like this.” But Davis persevered, and his book is a capable record of his journey and a serviceable overview of reproductive science.
Ably explores the intersection of science, family and identity.