In the past few years, true crime has become increasingly popular in the form of podcasts, YouTube channels, and of course, Netflix documentaries. Who would have anticipated the seemingly unspeakable tellings of such brutal killings in explicit, gruesome detail would be the most addicting genre across multiple media forms for so many people? There must be something so satisfying about hearing about death. But what happens when the process is reversed, and we hear stories about people killing almost internally, right at the beginning of life rather than the end? This twist is explored and told firsthand in the new Netflix documentary Our Father, and it’s pretty insane to say the least.
The true story begins between 1979 and 1986, when fertility doctor Donald Cline of Indianapolis inseminated over 90 women with his own sperm, rather than the donors they were supposed to be provided with, all unbeknownst to them. This went unchecked for decades, none of his 94+ children knowing of their astronomical amount of half-siblings. However, in 2014, the then 33 year-old Jacoba Ballard, one of Cline’s unassuming children, had taken an at-home DNA test. A child of IVF, she had hopes of finding her biological father and potential siblings, something she’d always wanted as expressed in the documentary. However, she was highly confused when her results turned out with 8 siblings, as her mother assured her a donor can only be used up to 3 times. Upon connecting with these siblings and conducting further research, they all found themselves tied to one last name一Cline. All of them knowing he was the one responsible for their existence merely, they were eager to confront him and find a way for him to face consequences. Through Facebook and the help of Cline’s son, Ballard and six of her siblings scheduled to meet with the disgraced doctor at a restaurant. This peculiar interaction entailed a rather strange means of “comfort” by Cline, as he recited Bible verses, much to the Christian Ballard’s disgust. As for his punishment, law enforcements said no laws were officially broken, and he never received a prison sentence. However, he pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in 2017, a judge suspending his sentence. As for fines, he paid a measly $685 including court costs. According to his attorney Tracy Betz, who only defended him in regards to his obstruction charge, “We all make mistakes. We all fall short. He lied. He did so out of fear. He did so out of shame.”
As for the documentary as a whole, it definitely shed a light on an incredulous subject matter, something that makes viewers wonder how often things like this really happen. After all, the circumstances under which Cline was eventually caught seem merely incidental to me, and it is frightening how he faced no repercussions for his actions. Despite its relatively low score of 6.7/10 on IMDb, I think Our Father does a great job of serving justice to Cline’s victims, and tells the story in a way outsiders with little knowledge of the case and in turn, fertility treatment, can understand. Though it is certainly a very troubling case, it was satisfying to see his “children” testify against him and speak their truth all these years later, and although they weren’t really brought to justice, it is nice to know the world has access to their case. It was simultaneously interesting and disturbing to learn how many of his children live within close proximity to one another in the Indianapolis area, and we learn that they fear being related to anyone they pass on the street should they bear resemblance to them. It is a disturbing story for sure, but one token of wisdom I found to be a positive sentiment towards the end of the film was “I will fight for every sibling that I have that I know, that I don’t know, and for every woman that you assaulted,” As I feel it emphasizes the true fact that Cline assaulted these women, and there is no denying that.