“But everyone has a dad.”
Lined up to enter our London primary school after a break, a red-faced classmate turned around and spat the words in my face. Like a glob of phlegm hacked from his throat, these ugly words splattered across my face, souring my smile.
“Well, I don’t have one,” I responded. “I have two mums.”
“That’s impossib—,” which is right about when I punched him in the face. He lost a baby tooth.
It was not anger that raised my fist; it was embarrassment. At the age of 5, society had already taught me the formula: 1 mum + 1 dad = 1 child.
It is true that at home, my parents were explicit about my beginnings — they socialized me with one or two other families with lesbian parents to normalize it.
But it is not their fault that at 5 years old, a few similar anomalies don’t justify a gaping difference. Everyone in the classroom apart from myself and the Lego Nativity baby Jesus had a dad. I was embarrassed.
Luckily enough for my ego, I became acquainted with sperm donation as an explanation for my existence before understanding the concept of the Second Coming. In my teens, my shame subsided for confidence. I was an only child with lesbian parents and my genetic donor father was somewhere out there. In reaching a clear understanding, I also reached acceptance.
Many years later, I received an Instagram DM request. It was from a stranger in Florida.
Is your name Stanley?
Is your surname Stott-Hall?
Hi! I’m your half-brother.
As with many sperm donors, my father’s genetics were transported to many families. As a result, I have several half-siblings living around the world, the majority of whom are situated here in America. My genetic father, himself, is based across the bay in San Francisco. As sperm, I was parceled up on a London-bound FedEx flight, much like your new Depop dress.
Growing up in the same country, my siblings met up a few times without me. I remember the fraternal Instagrammer sending me a photo of six or so young adults clad in snow gear, grinning on an American ski slope around a tall, middle-aged man. Their eyebrows had a familiar darkness, their smiles made a shape that I recognized. Like moving old furniture to a new house, something completely alien was doused in familiar whispers.
When I tell this story, most people follow a predictable pattern of reactions.
First: “Can I see a photo?”
Then: “Oh my god, they’re so American!”
I can’t deny this. From volleyball players to U.S. Navy soldiers, my intensely British existence feels diametrically opposed to such American lives.
Given that I have moved to Berkeley for an exchange year, a recent addition to the canon of reactions is: “Oh my God! Are you going to meet them?”
America could already very easily be my “Land of Opportunity” — and I understand why those at home infer this. Though its allure has morphed from roots in Hollywood celebrity to Bay Area big tech, Brits still synonymize California with success. UC Berkeley is considered very reputable across the pond: “the last great campus university in the world” was a rather questionable remark quipped by a family friend over dinner.
But aside from professional prospects, this land presents much more opportunity for me than it would for the average Brit. My voyage to the New World could also be a voyage of familial development — building sentimental connections on the back of sibling relations. Speaking with others, they exclaim, “How wonderful. You’ll finally get to know your family!”
Yet the truth is that my own lack of curiosity surprises me. Yes, I will meet them and get to know them – but on my behalf, there is no preconceived sentimentality. I will afford them the same cordiality and openness that I would afford any stranger.
This disinterest doesn’t stem from the cultural crevice between my British-ness and their American-ness. Nor is it a leftover relic of any playground embarrassment.
Instead, it is borne of a faith in nurture before nature. I only share blood with these strangers. And what is blood but a liquid — a solution of plasma and cells. As humans, we overplay the parental pertinence of genetics.
Family is those with whom I’ve shared countless arguments over untended dirty dishes. With whom I shared a paintbrush at age 7 as we drew a world map on my bedroom wall. With whom I shared the car home after every parents’ evening, rugby match and road trip.
We share the feeling of missing each other, clutching at a taut elastic band stretched across the Atlantic, knowing that the tension felt means the other person, too, is still holding on.
So no, for me, America is not the land of opportunity to find a new family. Instead, it’s an opportunity to feel my true family’s absence, and in this, come to appreciate them more. And as much as I enjoy Berkeley, I look forward to the day this trans-Atlantic elastic band no longer leaves white marks on our fingers.
Stanley Stott-Hall writes about finding his Berkeley bearings as a Brit. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.