Jason Patric

Viewpoints: Separated dads aren't just sperm providers

Published: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 - 12:09 am

I am a father. I miss my son. I miss the milestones and subtle changes that happen in a young child's life. I will never get those moments back.

It has been 24 weeks since I have seen my son. Gus is a miracle resulting from a long relationship I had with his mother. His mother and I had our ups and downs and painful doubts after suffering crushing treatments and disappointments in an effort to have a child.

Ultimately, after much soul searching, and trusting that the respect we had for each other would translate into a partnership to lovingly parent our baby, we underwent in vitro fertilization. We both signed an "Intended Parent" document. I signed that document because I wanted to be a father.

It worked, and for almost three years I was daddy. Suddenly, Gus' mother decided to shut me out of his life. It was direct retaliation for us breaking off our romantic relationship; and she was able to do it because of flawed language in a statute that is depriving men who have been part of their children's lives of the same legal protections as other involved fathers.

When I sought legal help, a judge reluctantly decided that because of the way the law stands, I was classified a "sperm donor" with no rights whatsoever. A sperm donor. I have not been able to see Gus once since that decision. I am paralyzed with sadness when I wonder what he must think about the daddy who sang the Beatles and Elvis songs to him and then vanished from his life.

Consequently, I am supporting Senate Bill 115 by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

Without the modification to the law, my relationship with my son is not protected even though his mother and I expressly agreed to participate in his upbringing. In fact, we were in discussion over shared custody when her lawyers discovered the sperm donor clause.

Presently, legislation written earlier by Hill in 2011 inadvertently allows a mother in cases like mine to decide at any time, for any reason, to exclude the father from the child's life. Under the quirk in Hill's law, she could summarily dismiss me from my son's life at any time, taking him away at junior high school or at the beginning of high school if that was her notion.

SB 115 is Hill's cleanup to his previous bill. Evidently, it is not unusual to modify legislation once it has been in the light of the real world.

Specifically, SB 115 will protect men who provide sperm to an unmarried partner to pursue parental rights in certain situations where they have always intended to parent. The protection comes in the form of allowing the courts to take into consideration an intended parent document and our active, paternal role in the child's life.

This bill will not give carte blanche to sperm donors to start making outrageous demands, nor will it undermine the rights of single mothers or lesbian couples who choose assisted reproduction. It simply will allow for a careful review in certain cases to determine that a father like me, who was recognized by mother and son as daddy and not merely a donor, and has actually parented his child, to continue to be dad.

The bill will not wrest control away from women who never intend to co-parent in the first place. Those women still have full control and are fully protected in their reproductive choices. The Hill legislation does not spring sudden responsibilities on unsuspecting sperm donors.

I bristle at the suggestion that my quest to help tighten this statute to protect fathers in California is just some actor trying to get special treatment. I did not ask to be the face of this bill. I am not asking for anything outrageous. I have a son I love deeply. I will do anything to try getting him back.

Can you blame me? Would you blame any parent?

I've never met or spoken with Hill. This bill is not written for me. There was an error in his original bill that he discovered is negatively impacting fathers, and he is trying to correct it.

The current law is not fair to fathers. It is profoundly unfair to our children. Someday, when Gus is able to speak for himself I don't want us to grieve about lost years.

A public battle for Gus is the last thing I ever expected. It is all that really matters now.

Jason Patric is an actor and California resident.

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