Our guest, Jon Baime, is the writer, producer and director of the documentary, “Filling in the Blanks.” After taking a DNA test five years ago, Jon discovered he and his two brothers were the result of donor conception. To process the revelation, Jon decided to make a film, which includes his story, his brothers’ stories and several other stories from NPEs (non-paternity event), who turn out to be Jon’s half siblings.
“Filling in the Blanks” description: Where do I come from? For some, the question has a simple answer – for others, the truth can be much more complicated. With the rise in popularity of at-home DNA tests, it’s now easier than ever for people to uncover their family history and, sometimes, things their parents wish would stay buried. Interested in learning more about his family heritage, director Jon Baime took an at-home DNA test and uncovered a family secret that has been hidden for half a century. Featuring in-depth interviews with Jon’s siblings as well as a treasure trove of family photos and films spanning 70 years, “Filling in the Blanks” takes audiences on a journey as Jon explores the meaning behind his discovery and expands on what it means to be family.
Listen, Rate & Subscribe
Thanks for joining us again on Family Twist. We would like to welcome John Boehm, writer, producer, and director of the new documentary, Filling in the Blanks. Welcome, John, thank you for joining us. Thanks for having me. And if you're listening to this episode on the day it comes out, this is actually the day the documentary comes out as well, right? It sure is, big day. Are you excited? Yeah, I am excited. It's almost surreal because I started thinking about this almost four years ago. Right. And...
it is and today you know I can turn on the TV and there it is. Well I had the chance to watch and first off I just want to say congratulations. I know you've worked in behind the scenes video production for a long time but to be able to make your first film is truly an undertaking that I think many of us just dream about so congrats on that. I appreciate it. Thank you. It's hard to believe.
Yeah, and it's a very, very compelling documentary. And I think it's important that it wasn't all, because it's a heavy subject matter, and we'll get to that in a second, but I appreciated the moments of lightness in there as well. I think that's important. It's something that we try to do on this show as well, because we're talking about, you know, a lot of trauma, anger.
motions all over the place with everyone's stories. And I've always used humor as a defense mechanism or as a way to de-elevate situations. So thanks for doing that in the doc. Sure, yeah. I mean, it's kind of do it speaking from the heart. Right. And I like to use humor too to sort of help process the whole experience. Sure, sure.
So what we've discovered on this show and what you definitely point out through several people's stories in the documentary is that you can't keep DNA secrets anymore. Family secrets, they're not locked away in the chest or in the closet anymore. And so definitely a lot of people had some surprises in your documentary. I would say yes. Present company included, yes. Right, exactly. So you get to a point where you probably didn't think there was gonna be any kind of family shocks.
but your father was very adamant about you not taking a DNA test. Very adamant, and it came up very randomly, as you know. Yes. We just did dinner, his birthday dinner with some friends in 2018, and they were just talking about how they took DNA tests as part of adult education at the University of Miami. I mean, they all migrated to Florida. They're all from New Jersey originally. That's just what people do. So we're at dinner, and they're talking about how they've learned about their heritage, and I said to my dad, oh, I wanna take one.
because his mother was adopted. So I figured, oh, I know I was raised Jewish and I think I'm all Jewish, but maybe there's something else in there. And he just sat there with his lips pursed. We were talking, I was talking to his friend about it, his friend's name is Eddie, and we were going back and forth. And my dad just turned his chair to me and said, I don't want you to take that DNA test until I'm dead. And I wasn't the only one at the table that kind of looked at him funny.
So we come to find out pretty early in the doc, I don't think I'm giving too much away, that you were donor conceived. Yes, yes. So obviously that's why your father didn't want you to do the DNA test because he didn't want you to find out the secret that had been kept from you for decades. And you kind of go back and forth through the doc about whether or not you actually do confront your father about this. What kind of conflicting emotions were you going through trying to make up your mind on whether or not to tell him that you knew? A lot of times it was anger.
and it brought me to the brink of saying something. I remember the first time I actually saw him after I got the DNA test results and found out that I actually had a biological father. And I live in Georgia, he lives in Florida, so I went down to visit him, and it had been about a month since I actually had spoken to my bio dad after getting all the DNA test results. And I remember having dinner with him with just me and him alone. And I just looked at him and thought, who is this guy? Who does this guy think he is pulling this on me? And he didn't know that I knew.
And from the time we talked about not taking the DNA test, I always felt weird about ever bringing it up again. There was just a little voice inside my head that said, don't bring it up. Something is weird about it. Don't bring it up. So I'm glad I never brought it up again. And when I first saw him that night, yeah, I was like, what is he thinking? What is he thinking? What, why, why? For 55 years, he's been keeping this from me. And you know, who does this guy think he is? I knew I was gonna make the movie at the time.
So, you know, I took a picture of him at that dinner, just being him, when he wasn't looking, he was fiddling with his phone, and I picked up my phone and snapped a picture, so I could actually put it in, because I knew that was gonna be sort of a milestone moment, the first time I looked in, eye to eye, and was with him alone. And so the conflicting emotions is there's anger. After a little while, you realize also there's a little sadness, because he had to keep this secret. From the time they tried to have children, so we're talking decades he's locking this up.
And in a way that is kind of tragic to know that he had to keep it secret, to know that as we found out, eventually all three of his children were not biologically his children. And that my parents had to go out, my mom had to go basically to a program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and get inseminated. Right, right.
Well, I think you made the right decision not telling him. And you do kind of go into everybody's feelings on this. Of course, you're entitled to all of your feelings, but at the same time, so is he. I can't say whether it's right or wrong that people decide to tell their children this, but there does seem to be, of course, there was a stigma attached to men not being able to, you know, perform during that time. And I think that's something that we kind of see across the board as you start to talk.
to others and share their stories. There's also this underlying theme of not necessarily anger, but moodiness from fathers to their donor-conceived children. Just like there's something there. Like there's probably always something nagging at them because they know. Yeah, I think there is something to be said for that. It's not universal. Some of my donor-conceived biological half siblings, the ones I just met recently, some of them had great relationships with their dads. And...
loved their dads and found this out. And they said it didn't change anything. And in some cases, in fact, in all cases, they never discussed it with their fathers. None of them ever did, even though they knew when they were alive. In other cases, it was like, there was always something nagging. And one thing when I made this film, I did not wanna make a spike piece. I did not wanna make a, oh, screw you dad, you screwed me over. That's not what I wanted here. Because in general, he was a very loving man. He was a good father.
he had his moments where we just scratch our heads and say, why is he in this mood? And you know, there's no way to really know if he was in this mood because he just had a rotten day at work or he just got in a fight with my mom. Or maybe he was just out to dinner with his friends and they were talking about how great their kids were and they were really their kids. And you know, it kind of tweaks something inside of them. So there's no way to know. Some days it could have been 99% of the reason, some days it could have been 2% of the reason he was in one of these bizarre, foul moods.
I know you've definitely come to peace with this finding and we'll talk in a little bit about the other discoveries that you've had, but are there still lingering questions like that since you've really never had to have this conversation with them? And even the one that you had with your mother about it, she had dementia. Yeah, I did have one with my mom and I recorded it because again, I knew after my dad like kind of left the house and went out and played cards with his buddy, my mom had really bad dementia at that point, but I hounded her and hounded her and asked her about it. But the questions remaining, getting back to that, the questions that I have.
There really aren't many. I mean, the tangible, you know, how many times did they try? There's an age disparity. My two oldest brothers are 18 months apart. And then there's a three and a half year gap between me and my middle brother. I wonder if maybe they tried on their own. There was back then, as I've done my research, I've learned that a lot of times the doctors would tell the parents the night before, you should have sex because that way it could be yours.
And I do remember one time my mom did have open heart surgery back in the late 1980s. She had a valve replacement and I had to give platelets for the surgery. You actually have to do platelets at least at that time. And they tested my blood type and my dad was there with me and they said, Oh, you have B positive blood. Oh, his face lit up cause he has B positive blood too. So just blood. But maybe in his mind, he thought, well, gee, maybe he is the one. I know my oldest brother, just by reflection.
probably didn't think that was his. Probably not my middle brother because my middle brother looks nothing like him. He's got blonde hair and blue eyes, the rest of us don't. But that day, I always thought to myself, why is he excited that I have the same blood type of him? It does seem like, you know, when your father lived into his nineties and it seemed like he had his faculties with him until the end, but it kind of also seemed like he held a lot of power over the family until the end. Is that fair to say? It is more than fair to say. He held the purse strength, so to speak.
He did hold a lot of power over us, not just emotionally. He kind of used a financial threat to sometimes, you know, threatening to write us out. And that may have been part of the reason we didn't say anything to him either, because if we did say something to him, he would have just been like, so well, screw you guys. Yeah. I told you not to take the DNA test. You didn't listen to me. Screw you. And he might've done something crazy like that. We don't know, but it was advised to us by our lawyers, not say anything. So we just let it go. That was, I mean, that was one reason, but the other reason was.
I mean, it would break his heart. I really do think if we said something, it would have just broken his heart. He just did not want this out. What is the family dynamic now with you and your two brothers now that your parents are gone and all the secrets are out, essentially? I would say it's pretty good. It's a relatively strong family dynamic. My two older brothers and I, we talk.
all the time, they talk to each other. So the family dynamic is good. Interestingly enough, on my dad's side, the dad that raised me, I'm probably in touch with my cousins from his side, more than I have my cousins from my mother's side. I think some of that is geography, but still we talk to them regularly. They know about it now too. And they were like, wow, they were kind of surprised. I really think my parents kept this thing locked, like under seal. I think they kept it sealed, locked airtight away and.
put it away in a vault where nobody would ever find it. Was there any hesitancy from anyone in your family about you making this doc and putting all this out there? Surprisingly, there was no hesitancy from anyone. The support was, I was shocked. Even on my dad's side, I think maybe from my cousins on his side, his sister's kids, they might be a little offended. No, everybody was like, it's a great idea, go for it. My brothers too were go for it. And on my mom's side, the cousins who I spoke with, same thing.
The support was incredible. Also from my donor concede side, my bio dad and the several siblings that I speak to in the film, all were willing to participate like at the drop of a hat. I couldn't believe it. So when did you decide that you wanted to pursue a relationship with this newfound family? It was pretty quick. When I first found out that the newfound family existed, the first thing I thought was, oh, well, gee, I'm gonna have to take some time to do this. But then I would say within a...
couple of weeks, I was like, you know, I really want to get to know them. And then on my next trip back to New Jersey from Georgia, I reached out to them, I had their texts and I said, let's get together and everybody said, Okay, we picked a date. I was visiting my parents, my family up in New Jersey. At that time, they were snowbirds. So sometimes they're in Florida. Sometimes they were in Jersey. And at that particular time, you know, I'm going out tonight. Where are you going? I'm just gonna give us a few friends. Okay.
Nobody knew. I think one of the things that really stood out for me was after you took your test, one of your half siblings reached out to you sort of as the, I'm kind of the leader in letting you know, here's the situation. You're not alone. There are several of us and we know who the bio dad is. And what were you feeling in that moment? In that moment when I saw Sharon's note that said, I know your biological father, I actually did get that feeling in the pit of your stomach, like the butterflies.
because you see those words in your head, but in your heart you're like, well, wait a minute, I have a biological father. And then you go into this almost identity crisis. Who am I? And then you start questioning, what else did my parents not tell me? These are the things that went through my head. To say my head was spinning wasn't understatement. Right, right. Can you talk a little bit about Hesh, your bio dad, and what that first one-on-one meeting was like for you? Well, when I first met my bio dad,
I was at his house, he lives in Las Vegas. So there's always an excuse to go to Las Vegas now. And while I was visiting him and we were talking and I found that he liked sweet things and I liked sweet things and he has a similar blood type and I have a similar blood type. My phone rang and it was my dad calling. I mean that one, send away, boom. And I called later. He knew I was in Las Vegas because I was actually gonna do a job out there the next day for work. But I went like a day early to meet my dad.
And, you know, again, at that moment, there is a little bit of, well, gee, you know, I've got this one thing on the phone and then I've got this other guy right in front of me. And you just realize how unique and bizarre of a situation it is at that moment. Yeah. I can only imagine what was going through your head at that time. Oh yeah. I mean, it's crazy. It really is. You always think, oh, this isn't the kind of thing that's going to happen to me. When you hear these stories, I heard these stories before I found out that I was one of them.
And you never think it's going to happen to you. And even when I first started telling this story to people, as I was processing it in the middle of telling it, I would just blurt out, I can't believe I'm talking about me. I will say that again, my dad raised me. Definitely had a captive spell on me because I was feeling a little bit like this trip out to Las Vegas was more of a guilt trip. I felt guilty. I felt like I was cheating on my dad a little bit. And I knew that if he knew that this was happening.
It would break his heart. I mean, it would break his heart. I mean, he would get pissed off too. That's a whole other issue, but it would just hurt him. So I actually had to put myself ahead of him, which is something I needed to learn to do in life a little more. And I just did it. But yeah, on one hand, I felt a little guilty, but on the other hand, after I met Hash, I was really glad. It was good to look into the eyes of the person who is genetically the person who you come from, or one of the two people you.
And it was good to get to know him. You know, when you're 54 years old and somebody says, Oh, you remind me of your dad, you know, for most people, that's like, yeah, of course, but when you're 54 years old and you're just meeting this bio dad for the first time, who also happens to like sweet things, who also happens to have, you know, I have like no hair on my legs. It's just one of those things he doesn't either. And you start to see these things and you start to see these similarities at 54 years old with this new information. It's a little bit of, um, it's a thing, right? I don't know.
Right. You know, when you're a kid, oh, you look like your mom, you look like your dad. People hear that all the time. But at 54, when you really meet the person who is your biological father and you start to see these physical characteristics that are the same, it's it's a very unusual feeling. I bet. Can you talk a little bit about how he became your bio dad and his interesting story? Oh, yeah. Here's the nutshell Reader's Digest version. Obviously, my parents must have found out they could not have kids a couple of years into the marriage.
So my parents went to a facility at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. These were not like official. It was sort of a gray area when you could not have kids. There was things we can do. You don't really talk about it. So Hesh, my bio dad was a med student at Mount Sinai Hospital. And he, like many other med students was a sperm donor. He was paid a very handsome fee of $5 per donation, which today would be about 46 bucks.
One of the more touching moments in the documentary is when you're able to introduce Hesh to one of your half siblings mother and she gets the opportunity to thank him for providing her with such a wonderful human being. Yeah. And that was a moment that was, you know, people who work in this industry say, Oh, did you set that up? Really? I did not set it up. The only thing I did do was call Hesh and say, are you going to be home today between whatever one and three o'clock? I want to call you and put you in the movie. Didn't tell him why.
And as far as the mother goes, who we interviewed, who obviously was the recipient of Hesh's sperm at the time, we didn't even tell her. We just said, what would you say to Hesh if you could meet him? And she said, all right, thank him. And then I said, oh, well, let's do that. Then I called Hesh and it happened. It is a moment, it was great because that was my donor sister's mother. My donor sister was present there. And it was very nice to see her mother be very thankful in front of her. And that got me thinking.
that as angry as I was at my parents for kind of keeping this secret, not kind of keeping it secret, but actually keeping it under wraps, I realized that they went through something too. And I realized that at the time, they were probably under a lot of pressure from their parents being good Jewish children to have children. And my mom was the oldest sibling and she was the last to get pregnant. And her sister was eight years younger than her and my cousins are all older. So for my parents, it must've been a real thing.
And when I saw how happy Laura's mother was at that moment, I realized that my parents must have had some kind of happiness and must have been thrilled that they were able to have children and figured out a way to do it. Was it the most moral, wonderful thing? Should they have been more honest? Yeah. But at this point in my life, I figured, you know, they did the best with what they had at the time. Right. Do your brothers feel the same way?
Yes, my oldest brother, Eric, I would say probably had the most contentious relationship with my parents for a number of reasons. But I think part of it in all honesty is because Eric had kids right away. And in some ways, my dad would almost out father Eric sometimes, and we never could figure out why he would do that. Now we know why. And it affected Eric's relationship with his children as well. But both my brothers are okay with it at this point.
My brother David, who's my middle brother, he knows who his biological father is. The biological father is not interested in meeting David. David says he's not interested in meeting the biological father because he already had a father. And David and I kind of go back at this. And I'm like, you want to meet your bio dad. I said, you do. I said, I cannot tell you why, but I can tell you that I think if you had a chance to meet him, you should. But right now the gentleman who's also.
way into his 90s. The gentleman who fathered David is not interested in meeting any of his bio kids. Eric had the same issue too. In fact, Eric, none of his donor siblings, the bio dad, he has reached out to them. He's sent emails, registered letters, phone calls, nothing. Well, as of today, the documentary is available for people to watch. Where can they watch it? In a lot of places. We got it on Apple TV Plus, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vimeo.
Voodoo. And then if you have cable TV, most cable TV providers are providing it on demand throughout the United States and Canada. Wow. What are your plans next? Is this the end of that story? Are you opening a new chapter? You know, that's a great question. We'll see what life throws my way. So far, you know, it has an interesting way of throwing curveballs. I learned about four or five years ago. We'll see what's next. I'm open to anything at this point. I'll keep working in video a little bit doing my TV production. But if something happens with this documentary, then it's meant to be. And if not,
just move on. I would say that putting together this documentary was almost a cathartic experience. It really was a good way for me to process. I basically took a skill I had and utilized it to kind of process this whole bombshell. You know, and it's almost as if it was meant to be because this is what I had done since I was in college. I used to do the weather and TV reporting in college. So storytelling is always my thing. And each step, whether it was producing documentaries at CNN or doing stuff after CNN.
got me to where I was so that I could actually tell the story the way I told it. I think that's so important because this was your outlet. This is your media. This is your way of getting the story out there. But it's done in such a unique way that I think it's going to be helpful and healing to others. I think anybody in the donor-conceived world, the NPE world should.
give this a watch, and especially if they're early in the process and have those feelings of anger and sadness and misunderstanding, that will be introduced to several people who get to share their stories and how they're dealing with the discovery. And it turns out that right after I finished this, we found another match for a donor sister. And she was so glad. She said, oh, this is just like a movie. And I said, well,
Speaking of, and I sent her a link cut, but she got to watch an earlier version, but she said she kept watching it over and over again. She said it was great to see it. It really helped her. So when I hear that, it makes it all worth it. Well, we're happy to help push it out and get the information out there for people to find it. John, thank you so much, not only for taking part in the show, but for making this film.