- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

PORTLAND, Ore. Doron Blake was meant to be a genius but he feels he could be a disappointment.

Mr. Blake tells me to look for someone "about 6 foot tall and blond" when I arrive at his university campus in Portland, Ore. In fact, he turns out to be a skinny, shambling figure, wearing a baggy sweater and clogs, with long hair swept back over his shoulders and a wispy goatee.

Somehow, the 6-foot-and-blond image seemed more fitting for someone whose conception was so auspicious. Mr. Blake was among the first of America's "designer babies," conceived using specially selected sperm intended to give him a Mensa-grade IQ and a genius for science, music and visual art.

Now that he has reached the threshold of manhood, it is safe to say that a lot of this promise has come true. In his school exams, he scored the maximum possible in math, and he plays the piano, the guitar and the sitar with fluency and ease.

But little of the Nietzschean Superman is evident. Mr. Blake's manner is diffident, and he struggles bravely with a stammer. He finds science boring and hates competitive sports; his degree subject is comparative religion. The book he is clutching like a comfort blanket is a paperback volume from C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" series.

"I like having a good brain," he says. "I like being able to learn fast. But I do not put a lot of stock in genes, and I don't think being smart makes anyone a good person."

At the Repository for Germinal Choice, an institution founded in Southern California in 1980 and better remembered as the "Genius Sperm Bank," Mr. Blake's father was known to his mother, Afton, as Batch 28. The clinic's founder, Robert Graham, was an optometrist who had made millions of dollars inventing shatterproof lenses for glasses and then devoted his fortune to "helping" the human race by improving its genetic inheritance.

The idea was to gather the sperm of the world's finest intellects Nobel Prize winners, professors, great artists and musicians and offer it to women interested in giving birth to babies who might grow up to be geniuses. From the start, there was uproar over manipulated-breeding programs and accusations of "backdoor eugenics." Among the first donors, and the only one to announce his intentions, was physicist and Nobel laureate William Shockley, who proclaimed a belief that blacks were genetically inferior to whites.

Dr. Graham, who died three years ago at age 90, denied that he was bent on the creation of a master race. "We are not pre-empting nature," he said. "We are putting out a few highly useful leaders and creators into the race, which should help everybody."

What if his sperm bank helped to create the scientist who found the cure for cancer? That, he felt, would be his vindication.

Afton Blake, a New Age psychologist and unreconstructed hippie who claims direct descent from the poet William Blake, was among his first customers: Doron William Blake was the second of 230 babies to be conceived from Dr. Graham's vials. Mr. Blake's mother, 60 now and single all her life, has never made any bones about how she regards her son and named him after the Greek word for gift.

Mr. Blake has known about his origins since he was 5, the age at which he last took an IQ test. "It was about 180, I'm not sure," he blurts out, flushing a little as he stares at a mountain of blueberry pancakes he has ordered for a vegetarian lunch. "But I think that test is bull. I want to be a person who is kind and caring. If you are brilliant and nasty, you end up like Hitler. I want to try to help the Earth and other people."

It is obvious that Mr. Blake is aware of the broader meaning of his existence, and it is he who first mentions Hitler. At 18, his luminous intelligence makes him ready to grapple with his origins, but his emotions are just beginning to catch up.

"I do not come from a stable, normal family or community," he says. "You know why I find religion so interesting? Because I am not sure quite who I am or what is meant for me. I want to feel I have my place in the universe."

Mr. Blake has come to Reed College, an exclusive private university with 1,200 students, from Exeter, the nation's most prestigious boarding school and gateway to the Ivy League and the ruling class. He studied there from 14 to 18 on full scholarships brain power, rather than money, has fueled his education and divided his time between the science laboratories and the music room.

At 16, he thought he might become a professional musician: He fancied himself hunched over his guitar, singing of love and the need to protect the environment. His school counselors simply assumed he was destined for the research laboratories of pure science.

"I rebelled," he says. "Maybe the whole thing with the eugenics is one reason why I don't want to be a scientist or a mathematician."

Like any teen-ager, Mr. Blake is wrestling with the big questions of life. "The cool thing about coming from a sperm bank is that I did not have a father in my life," he says. "I'm glad I did not have a macho father figure who would want me to be good at sports, or something, and not accept that that is not my bag. In general, I do not like boys as much as girls.

"I have always been really close to my mom, and got on very well with her," he says. Then he adds: "Until recently." Dr. Graham no doubt would be intrigued to know that the son of Batch 28 is being tortured on the rack of male adolescence just like every other boy.

"When I was 15 and 16, we were still best friends," he says. "But I have come to realize that it is not a parent's place to be best friends. It is to be the parent. Now she is single, 60, and cannot let go of me. We are still close. But I can't be her best friend and because she can't accept that, there are times when she is obnoxious."

As Mr. Blake himself has come to suspect, the greatest problem with a sperm bank exclusively for smart donors may lie with the types of parents who want smart children or, indeed, have any such idea of what they want their children to be. It is reassuring to know that Mr. Blake's biggest battle with his mother is over his first girlfriend.

Her name is Emma, she was born quite naturally into a family of four daughters, and she is now in her final year at Exeter. Mr. Blake admits that, before Emma, he had never known friendship. He reaches for a scrapbook and shows me some photographs. In one picture, he is kissing Emma on the nose, and she is giggling.

During the holidays, Mr. Blake prefers to go to Emma's home in Pennsylvania, which disappoints his mother. "But there, I am welcomed into a normal family," he says. "Emma's mom is not so liberal-minded as mine, but she makes us all do the dishes and she sets limits and nobody is special in that house. It is just what I need: a mom that kicks my butt."


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