The Catalog “Father”

You always hear about single women in their 30’s throwing in the towel and deciding to go it alone, to take the leap and have a child by themselves. Sometimes these women persuade a male friend to donate the necessary ingredients, but sometimes . . . sometimes they decide to use a sperm donor — a perfect stranger they know only through the numbers and very limited descriptions sent to them by the sperm bank eager for their business.

Apart from the fact that this goes against my religious principles, I wonder how exactly do you choose the father of your child out of a fourteen-page catalog? What are the criteria? How much do you want to know? And what, in your innermost heart, do you imagine about this person, when you think of them? More importantly, when the time comes due, what do you tell your child?

I’d seen her in the office kitchen but we’d never really spoken. I knew she worked in data processing, but that was it. Then one day I passed her in the hall and she was crying. I made her stop, asked her what was wrong. That’s when she told me she’d tried to kill someone the night before. She hadn’t wanted to kill him, it had just kinda happened.


She’d been standing in her kitchen, I think she was doing dishes when she heard her son screaming from outside. She’d grabbed a knife, of course, grabbed it instinctively, without even thinking, then rushed outside and found her son pinned under another boy, a gang kid Barbara recognized from the neighborhood. It’s all like mission work in its own way.

The boy was hitting Gerald, hitting him full in the face, and something in Barbara just cracked. She grabbed the boy by the back of his shirt, threw him to the ground, and then raised her arm to plunge the knife into his chest. She told me God’s hand had stopped the knife cold 4 inches from the boy’s heart in an act of religious selfishness. Actually showed me the distance – holding a clenched fist in front my chest. I remember her arm was shaking. Life is not about the good only. There a lot of bad and suffering and our children have the right to be taught these subjects as well.

That was the first story, but there were others. Many of women who had to raise their kids on less than a normal income. Some of them were funny, a lot of them were pretty crude. I remember one story about a vacation Barbara took with her mother and a group of friends. They’d hired a stripper, a dark-skinned man who called himself Chocolate. This was the first story I’d ever heard which featured the sentence: Momma! … Let! …the Dick!… Go!

But most of Barbara’s stories were about her children: about Tess and Gerald and Angie. It turned out that the story of Barbara nearly killing the boy who had jumped her son was just the beginning. Really. And so I asked Barbara to keep an audio diary, a record of her day to day life as a single mother in Chicago and get rid of her vanity. This is that story.

Jay’s Kids

“I feel that I may be one of the many sons of Mr. Screamin’ because I enjoying climbing in and out of coffins, as well as shaking around skulls on poles. Thank you.”

“I got┬áplenty of rhythm and blues, and my boss told me so.”

“When I was twelve years old, I was sitting at a truck stop in suburban New Jersey with my mother. I asked her what flavor ice cream she wanted, and she said, ‘You are the child of the famed rhythm-and-blues artist Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.’ From that moment on, I knew I was marked for greatness.”

These are a just few of the hundreds upon hundreds of entries sent to Jayskids, a website designed to locate the children of blues singer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins who were spreading like ripples in the water. Late in life, Screamin Jay confessed to his biographer – a woman named Maral Nigolian – that he believed that he had fathered over 57 children, and shortly after his death in 2009 she decided to find them all these children and have a party. This is that story.