I can still smell the rain from the highway when I realized my father was my hero.  He had just gotten me my first cell phone and was telling me about how satellites would soon fill the sky as we drove home. The conversation then turned to ships – of the sea and space variety – and he shared heroic quotes from men who were on those ships. So, naturally I was thinking about spaceships and my dad as a gnarly captain driving a spaceship exactly as we hit the speed limit.

I now realize that was also the moment I wanted to be a dad. I wanted to be my family’s space captain and master of coffee. I wanted to read every book at Costco and grumble about gas prices. I wanted to fall asleep reading with the dogs around my feet while my son covered me in a blanket and snuck a kiss on my forehead.

I also knew my path was not going to be a simple one. As a gay man, I was going to have a more challenging path. When I went into the military to pay for college and saw lots of my fellow sailors start their own families I just comforted myself with “SOON”…maybe right after this next promotion, right after I graduate college, right after I get a house. 

Then I learned that not every man can wait to have kids. That sometimes, no matter how good of a runner I was, or how many push ups I could do, I had a low sperm count. Apparently in all my years studying biology, no one thought it was important to tell me that not every ejaculate was the same. I was devastated when I learned that not only would I have trouble starting a family, I could have trouble being the “father” because of my “low count.”

I had braved deserts, mountains, oceans, and the worst shrimp n’ grits of my life (thank you Camp Lejeune) and was still unprepared for that feeling. When I had finally thought I was ready, it turned out that I was not “normal.” I thought all hope was lost, but I remembered a quote from my dad. “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.” If I wanted to keep my dream I was going to have to be brave, and sail uncharted seas of more tests, and freezings, and more doctors, and maybe eat healthy once in a while. I would do it because I knew on the other side of this fear and confusion was my family.

My dad was not a superhero. My dad would forget his car keys while holding them, lose his glasses while wearing them, and believed only Europeans ruined their coffee with milk. I still smile every morning, ruining my coffee with milk, and knowing that my dad may not have been perfect, but he was my hero. I am just starting my fertility journey but everyday starts with the hope to be the kind and loving father my dad was to me.

Roberto Fontanez
Roberto Fontanez
Roberto Fontanez is a scientist and optimist who partners with leaders of all kinds to support innovation and genuine compassion in delivering the best care to patients. Previously, Roberto served in the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman in a medical support team for the US Marine Corps. With a desire to be of service, he would go on to act as Technical Expert in flow cytometry at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and then as Lab Manager of the Andrology and Endocrinology Lab of a fertility clinic in NYC. Most recently, in response to the shortage of lab personnel created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Roberto joined a startup lab New York Genome Center as Lead Technical Expert to initialize high-volume and rapid testing for other essential personnel and underserved communities. In addition to his clinical laboratory work, Roberto teaches classes in microbiology and parasitology as an adjunct at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Roberto holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s college and a post graduate certification in Clinical Laboratory Science from the American Society for Clinical Pathology.