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Elizabeth Howard: A daughter’s detective story for Father’s Day


Dear Dad

Happy Father’s Day!

How amazing it feels to be able to think of you on this day. For the first time in my life, I know who you are. I know your name. I know what you look like.

I am sorry you don’t know about me. I’m sorry you don’t want to know of my existence, and you don’t want me to know about yours.

I used to be really angry with you and with Mum for putting me in this position. I really wished I were like everyone else, born to a normal mother and father: normal family, normal origins, normal problems.

I once remarked bitterly that the only thing I knew for certain about you was that one day you went to a fertility clinic and were paid for a deposit of your DNA. In fact, I put it rather more bluntly at the time, but I prefer to gloss over the technicalities now.

I thought I would never know you. I thought I would go to my grave as the daughter of an anonymous sperm donor. I thought my children would always have a gap in their family tree where their grandfather should be.

Well, Dad, now I know that you’re a doctor. You’ve done well. You’ve got impressive qualifications. That must have taken some determination. Perhaps you passed it on to me, because last year I heard about people tracing their relatives via DNA testing on genealogy websites. Once there was the chance that I might be able to find out who you were, I was like a dog with a bone.

Last September I submitted DNA samples to all three main testing companies. I checked daily for new matches on there – matches which, if they were close enough, would lead me to you.

I got almost nothing. The closest relatives I had were fourth cousins – people with whom I share great-great-great grandparents. I researched those family trees, built them up and down and combed them for that elusive male relative who could be my father. My only clue was that he was a medical student around the time of my conception.

We don’t know each other, so I’m too embarrassed to reveal how many hours I squandered looking for that minuscule needle in that gigantic haystack.

I lost heart. I gave up. But one evening, out of sheer habit, I did fitfully check the websites. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that, at last, I had a close relative match – a half-sister! I was cautiously excited as I messaged her, asking her how she felt having discovered a half-sister, and how she felt about being donor-conceived.

To my amazement, she replied telling me that she was not donor-conceived – she was the child of her parents’ marriage. She was having trouble taking everything in. I gave her time – of course. She could have told me your name right then and there. I knew I was so close, but I didn’t want to scare her away.

After a few days she got back to me. She’d spoken to you. You would neither confirm nor deny being a sperm donor. You did not want her to pass on your details.

At first the news ran like iron through my blood, but I came to my senses fairly quickly. I’ve been preparing myself for this outcome ever since I started my search.

Meanwhile – my cup runneth over – another DNA testing site revealed another close relative match. A second cousin, approximately. This cousin was a keen genealogist and his family tree was available online. Using that, I was able to trace his cousins and grandparents. There was a cousin born at the right time. I checked the GMC website. This cousin qualified as a doctor around the time I was born. He later worked in the place where my half-sister was born, and around the time of her birth. I searched on Google images for his – your – name. And there was your face.

Dad, we are like peas in a pod. I have your smile, your nose, your face shape. I even have the same, shall we say, generous ear lobes. More than that, my children look like you – especially my middle child, whom we nicknamed our changeling because she didn’t look like anyone else in the family – until now. It must be some visceral genetic narcissism which makes me think your face is absolutely lovely.

You don’t want me to know you, and I understand that. When you were a sperm donor as a student, you weren’t thinking about being contacted by your daughter many years later. You have other children, children you have named, and held, and known – you don’t need a theoretical “DNA daughter” like me.

I don’t have a relationship with my social father, but that’s perhaps a story for another day.

So, Dad – that’s it. I hope you might one day change your mind. You might like to know me, and even more so my five wonderful children, your grandchildren – all happy and healthy, thank God. You also have two more children from your donating days, my half-brother and half-sister. They are fine people. I think you must be, too.

Your daughter



(Image: Stéphane Moussie)

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Elizabeth Howard
Elizabeth Howard
Elizabeth Howard is a home educator from London. She was previously a commissioning editor for Cambridge University Press.

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