One year later, it's odd for him to finally see the living, breathing, gurgling result of his handiwork. "I didn't have a huge transformation," he says. "I mean, I guess I was looking forward to it. But it wasn't like some monumental encounter."
I ask the women what role they want Paul to play. "Uncle," Marti says firmly. "No more than uncle. But a close uncle."
"Aren't you excited to be an uncle?" Dorothy asks Paul.
"Totally, totally," he says weakly. "But it's not like being a sperm donor has changed my life. I mean, maybe if I were to have a kid of my own …"
It's something Paul's considered. Four years ago, he attended an informational session in San Francisco for prospective gay dads. But he's currently single and says he wouldn't raise a child alone. "Hey, you know anyone?" he jokes.
Then at the other end of the spectrum from Paul are donor dads who get too attached to their kids—or to their moms. Consider Corey Johnson, a 33-year-old IT technician who was encouraged by his wife, Beth, to father a child for her college friend, Lauren, and her girlfriend, Amy (both of whom asked that their last names be withheld). "Beth didn't want children, and I was ambivalent myself," Johnson says. "So I thought this arrangement would let me pass on my genes and have a quasi-child without having to pester Beth for one down the line." Johnson was living in Portland, Oregon, so he'd fly to the Bay Area, where the couple lived, at ovulation-friendly intervals. After he passed Lauren the cup, they'd all hang out and watch (fittingly) Modern Family. "I love them—not really like sisters, but not like wives," he says. "It's some other kind of relationship."
Meanwhile, Johnson's relationship with his wife was in trouble. After Lauren gave birth to a daughter, Talia, he and Beth split up and he moved to the Bay Area to be closer to both mothers and the child. For six weeks, he actually lived with them, feeding Talia and strapping on the BabyBjörn to take her on walks. "It was a mysterious connection I wasn't expecting," Johnson says, "recognizing my face in hers."
It's midafternoon in Riverside when Rowe returns home, her long brown hair subtly trimmed, and sits down at the picnic table. Through the white plastic baby monitor, Roque can be heard crying upstairs. Rowe and her mother recount how Sachs helped "Ferberize" Roque to sleep through the night during his last visit, touching her gently at intervals as she wailed to let her know someone was close by but not picking her up. Mother and grandmother say the donor dad's work was a success.
"I got sleep for the first time in ages," Rowe says, laughing. "But Aaron got back on the plane looking exhausted."
"It was cool," Sachs says. "Later on, I can say to her, 'I helped you sleep through the night.' It kind of gives me an identity as her dad."
Experiences like this have made him appreciate the rewards of full-time parenting. "So much of that good stuff comes in those daily duties, like feeding her," he says. "That's when you get the bond."
Rowe says she'd be open to expanding Sachs' role if they lived closer to each other, but the current arrangement means he will get the bond only occasionally. He probably won't be there the first time Roque walks or talks. Tomorrow, after his brief sojourn as a dad, Sachs will return to his "real" life—his girlfriend, the fixer-upper duplex he just bought, and his work, which is about to take him to Nicaragua for a month to teach a class on "food justice." That's the kind of trip that a conventional father might not be able to take, and Sachs knows it. "I'm not ready to be a full-time dad," he says."I'm looking forward to that point in my life where I've got my stuff together."
Now Roque is bawling, but Sachs gives no indication of getting up to check on her. After a few minutes, Rowe's mother heads inside to quiet the baby. Sachs' stoic expression reveals that he's beginning to prepare himself to leave his daughter behind, something Rowe says he does at the end of each visit. "It's not as hard as most people might think," he confesses. "I've come to a clear sense of what my role is in Roque's life."