Family Vacation

Rubino and the McGhees get to know one another.
Rubino and the McGhees get to know one another during dinner at Paco's Tacos in Los Angeles. (Ross Wauters)
By Michael Leahy
Sunday, June 19, 2005

His name is Mike Rubino, but until recently none of the women who bought his sperm to get pregnant had ever seen him or known him as anything other than Donor 929. Rubino left the sperm business for good a few years ago, thinking it would be another decade at least before any children found him. Now he is standing inside the Los Angeles International Airport, staring at an arrivals gate, awaiting the appearance of two children he has fathered but never met, along with their single mother, a Massachusetts psychotherapist named Raechel McGhee.

At that moment, 44-year-old McGhee and her children are descending toward him in blackness and rain. "It is kind of unbelievable that this is about to happen, but I'm relaxed," Rubino says, not looking so relaxed, fidgeting with his brown hair, anxiously surveying an airport monitor until he's found a status report on the McGhees' flight. "On approach," he reads, craning his head toward the arrivals door. "I think their mother said she'd have the kids in slickers," he says, "and she said that she would be in a raspberry slicker." He falls silent. "Maybe this is going to take a while," he says, but then he glimpses a sliver of a raspberry-colored garment moving amid a horde of travelers, spotting a tall woman. He mutters, "There she is -- there they are."

He hurries forward, calling out to the woman, "Hi, hi."

The woman changes direction, veering toward him, smiling. McGhee looks Rubino up and down as he gets close, hugging him casually. She turns to her kids, gesturing at Rubino, and says, "Look who's here."

The children -- a brown-haired boy one month shy of 7 named Aaron, and a 3 1/2-year-old blond girl named Leah -- stare up at him, mouths agape. Rubino turns to the boy, crouches, and hugs him gently. The boy's arms hang stiffly at his side. He tentatively wraps a thin arm around this man's neck, glancing up at his mother for some sign of approval. But she hasn't noticed his glance, open-mouthed herself, drinking in the 45-year-old Rubino, this slender, fair-skinned artist in jeans and a gray T-shirt. Rubino comes out of his crouch, simultaneously lifting the boy a few inches off the floor, then putting him down the way he would a fragile package. Everyone is smiling, the boy broadest of all. "Do it again," he mumbles. Rubino reaches out for little Leah, who jumps back as if his arms might swallow her up.

"What do you say to this guy?" McGhee asks her daughter. "Who is this man?"

"This is California," the little girl says, dancing away from him toward baggage claim.

Rubino watches her, thinking, This is my daughter -- the moment so extraordinary for him as to be slightly surreal. This all began for him a decade ago in a small locked room of the California Cryobank, where, amid soft-porn tapes and magazines, he produced semen that was sold around the world. Only in the late 1990s, about five years after he had made his first deposit, did he acquire any sense of his sperm's appeal, when he was lured out of donor retirement by the flattering news that at least two unidentified women had contacted the cryobank and requested that Donor 929 provide additional semen so that they could have more children by him. This was done successfully -- his final specimens enabling McGhee to bear her second child.

"She's cute," Rubino says, pointing at Leah.

"Well, thanks," McGhee responds brightly, "but those aren't my blue eyes she has."

There is silence for a few seconds before Rubino fills it, glancing sideways at her, looking at her hair, which is the color of wheat. "You're very pretty," he says.

He turns back, looking at the children. McGhee can't get out the words she wants to say, which are Thank you. She has self-esteem issues when it comes to her appearance, having been obese once -- and her hair is a dye job, and she can't remember whether she's mentioned that to Rubino. By contrast, she tells herself, he is beautiful. She unabashedly checks him out in profile, though she already knows his physical features without having to look -- 5-foot-11, 145 pounds, blue eyes with long lashes, a cleft in his chin that she likes, strong cheek and jawbone. "You're a good-looking guy," she says, and this hangs there. Her next words come in a rush: "And why should anybody be surprised. Look at the kids. They're gorgeous."

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