Producer, father, sperm donor: In an interview, Eike Kujaw tells us what role a man can play in a family with two mothers. Documentary filmmaker Annette Ernst accompanied him, his two wives and three sons for twelve years. A conversation about attachment, blood relationship and external resistance.
Eike Kujaw is a quiet, open-minded man who appears much younger – someone who seems at peace with himself, boyish and with a beaming smile. He is slightly late for the interview at the “Café Einstein” in Frankfurt, a lot of traffic. Unusual, assures Annette Ernst, award-winning director, that he is a very reliable man. She should know, for twelve years she has accompanied him and the family, to which he belongs a little bit. A film project that requires staying power and in which, as Ernst says, she learned a lot about what can bring people together.
Mr. Kujaw, you are the father of eight children. How did this happen?
Eike Kujaw: It all started when I noticed an ad in which two lesbian women were looking for a sperm donor. At first I thought: What is this? But then I read more ads and realized that there really is a need. So it occurred to me that I might as well try it.
Kujaw: I thought to myself, then I’ll have something, so it was about the desire to reproduce. But that takes two people. I was in my early 30s at the time and had no prospect of a partner with whom that would have been possible. Later I was in a relationship with a woman who definitely didn’t want children. That was no longer a problem for me. I already had some.
How did the large number come about?
Kujaw: That wasn’t planned. I rather thought: Well, at some point it will work out. I would not have expected that this was the case with three pairs. I had responded to several advertisements, I didn’t know if I would be accepted. It didn’t work out with the first pair, it took a while for the next pair, then I received several confirmations, and then I was recommended again.
Didn’t you ever want children to raise yourself?
Kujaw: I’m 54 now and now I feel too old to raise my own children. There was a point in time, about five years ago, when I met a woman I could have imagined doing this with. But that only lasted for a short time, we didn’t even get to discuss this topic. I currently have a girlfriend who doesn’t care about children anymore, it didn’t work out for her. She knows about my kids and thinks that’s okay.
In fact, I don’t have a role as a father, that was never intended either by me or by the mothers.
Have you ever donated to a sperm bank?
Kujaw: No, I didn’t want this anonymity. It was important to me that I got to know the children and later had contact with them. That was the purpose of the exercise, so to speak, also for the mothers, otherwise they could have gone to a sperm bank themselves. But the children should know who their father is from the start and they should be able to contact them.
Also to clarify the question of origin, which at some point arises for most children who do not grow up in a traditional mother-father-child family?
Annette Ernst: Pedi and Anny, the couple I accompanied, thought a lot about this question: Can I do that? Do I even have the right to have a child in the family constellation I have chosen? That is why they attached great importance to contact with their father. The children should not be missing anything. Anonymous sperm donation is now forbidden in Germany for good reason.
Mr. Kujaw, you have no rights and no obligations, you only donated the seed, do you still feel like a father?
Kujaw: Basically more as a producer. In fact, I don’t have a role as a father, that was never intended either by me or by the mothers: Two women want to start a family, it’s a self-contained system. Contact with the father should still be possible and also depends on what the children want: My eldest daughter Linn, who is now 17, often contacts me, and we have even talked about going on a trip together. And her mother recently asked me to interact more with Linn. But that was an exception. When it comes to parenting issues, I’m completely left out. I don’t get involved, I’m not present enough for that.
About person & film
Eike Kujaw is a naturopath and osteopath in Darmstadt, before he studied mechanical engineering and computer science. He fathered eight children by donating sperm to five pairs of women and is in contact with most of them.
Annette Ernst is a director in Frankfurt and Berlin. Her debut film “Kiss and Run” was awarded three Grimme prizes. She has made more than 15 cinema and television films, some of which have won awards, including the international series “Deutsch-Les-Landes” for the MagentaTV streaming service, with actors including Christoph Maria Herbst.
“Mother Mother Child – Let’s do this differently” , her latest film, the long-term portrait of a rainbow family, has been in German cinemas since Thursday, in Frankfurt it is showing in the “Mal’sehn” cinema. All dates at www.jip-film.de/mutter-mutter-kind
Ernst: I found this aspect particularly interesting: you should be in contact, but not too much, you should be approachable as a dad, but not participate in any decisions. It’s a fine tightrope walk, especially since you can’t regulate it contractually, but only in dialogue and in trust. It’s very important that Eike was there for the film. And it wasn’t clear beforehand how the children would react to their “father” and how much contact they would demand and want to have.
Ms. Ernst, you followed the family for your documentary for twelve years. How did that develop?
Ernst: Inspiration was a similar constellation in my circle of friends: my ex-boyfriend has two daughters with two very good friends of mine, a lesbian couple, similar to the one in the film. I find a film about girlfriends complicated, so I looked for the right family in the relevant networks. I was interested in how such a rainbow family gets through the waves of a society that hardly knows any role models for them. I started my documentary film with this approach in 2009.
Why did you take so much time?
Ernst: I wanted to accompany the family with the camera until the youngest son, Pino, who was only born at the beginning of the film, is old enough to express his own opinion. So it turned into twelve years. Pedi and Anny have raised three great, self-confident sons. The boys had to ask themselves a lot of questions in their childhood, but today they also deal with their family constellation with corresponding confidence.
You paint the picture of a very whole family, have you really not experienced any cracks?
Ernst: As is probably the case in every family, there are of course rifts and criticism in this one too. In this case, different attitudes towards the decision to start a family in this form. But over the years I’ve never managed to get these voices in front of the camera. For many, it seems, a red line is being crossed on the subject of children and a sense of “discomfort” seems to be emerging. Most of the time, these people cannot articulate this precisely. I wanted to find a form for these diffuse feelings that I could consciously bring to the film as a source of friction.
How did you solve the problem?
Ernst: I improvised with two actors in the roles of “mother” and “therapist” based on real testimonies from a practicing therapist and other real people. As I was already able to experience on the cinema tour, this insertion, which I shot in black and white and thus marked as fictional, sometimes triggers heated discussions. I think it is very important that we deal with these voices and their reservations, because they too are a part of our society. Under no circumstances should they be ignored and swept under the carpet. They just ferment and make things worse.
Is it getting easier for rainbow families because there are more of them these days?
Ernst: That may be true in our very limited environment. We all move a lot in our bubbles, but there are still many people living here for whom family is only conceivable as father, mother, child. In 2021, homophobic violence in Germany increased by 50 percent. You also have to realize that there are still more than ten countries in the world where homosexuality has the death penalty. I wanted to relate the observation of the family to developments in other countries and embed it in a contemporary historical context. There are passages with dates and facts in the film. It’s easy to forget that paragraph 175, the ban on homosexuality, was lifted less than 30 years ago.
In many countries there are also steps backwards at the moment.
Ernst: In the USA, LGBTQ can no longer be discussed in schools, Ms. Meloni is already casting her shadow over the homosexual community in Italy, and in Turkey there was a hate march against everything queer in September. I have the feeling that the world works like a pair of scales: if tolerance increases on one side, hatred on the other also increases. As Pastor Nulf says in the film, the Conservatives are clearly afraid of losing everything.
Mr. Kujaw, how aggressively did you deal with the topic? Did you tell your friends and family right away that you were going to be a father to more than one?
Kujaw: No, that took a while. Although the reactions were almost always positive. My mother was happy, my brother was okay too. An uncle of mine always says: You did really well, you have many children, but you don’t have to do anything yourself. But he means that in fun.
Ernst: That all sounds very happy, but unfortunately it’s not that simple. Some people don’t even admit homophobic prejudice to themselves. There just develops a “feeling” like I only heard from a viewer in the preview. On the other hand, if someone looks at this constellation with skepticism – like Anny’s parents did at first, for example – and asks themselves whether it’s okay for the children, that’s not necessarily homophobic. You can have these thoughts.
Mr. Kujaw, are you planning more children?
Kujaw: I’m definitely not going to push it any further, but if I was approached again about donating sperm, I would think about it.
How is your contact with the children structured?
Kujaw: Originally, it was planned that I would meet her once or twice a year, but that’s been a bit interrupted now because of Corona. One couple had previously pulled out after it became clear they had other children. But I have a nice and good relationship with everyone.
Do you feel part of the family?
Kujaw: Yeah , I’m at least a part of her life, if not a big part. The kids are like me too. I don’t attend their birthdays. However, blood relationships create bonds. Linn, for example, attached great importance to getting to know her brothers and also initiated the contact. She wrote a letter to the other family and meetings ensued. I found that very remarkable.
I want to be allowed to be who I really am, even if I am not pigeonholed.
Do you love your children?
Kujaw: Yes, I think so, even though I rarely see her, there is a bond that I would call parent-child love.
What do your sons and daughters say to you?
Kujaw: Most say Eike, sometimes they say Papa, sometimes Eike-Papa. I leave that up to you.
What do you wish for her?
Kujaw: Probably the same as most parents: that they are all happy and content.
Who usually takes the initiative for the meetings?
Kujaw: When the kids were little, appointments were mostly suggested by the mothers. Linn is now dating me herself. In the meantime, my mother is also making a foray from time to time. She is very happy about the children and sees them as her grandchildren. She always sends them little packages to Santa Claus.
She even invited her to a family party.
Kujaw: For her eightieth, she brought everyone together: her relatives, that is, my cousins, their children, my brother and my children with their mothers. Everyone got to know each other there, it was very nice, and there were points of contact right away through the upbringing of the children.
Ms. Ernst, which relationships with your protagonists did you develop during the very long period of shooting?
Ernst: I accompanied the family for a few days once a year, and in some years there were longer shooting phases. The closest bond was certainly to Pedi and Anny, I’ve known the youngest son since he was in the womb, we were allowed to film his birth. There is a feeling of familiarity, you grow fond of each other, I was able to ask anything and I experienced and learned a lot myself in the process. Nevertheless, such a project is not about being friends with each other, but about documenting a social development.
And the children always participated?
Ernst: I’m very happy about that, at some point – especially during puberty – they could have said: no, not in the mood. It was just a huge gift: we all embarked on this adventure and didn’t know what was going to happen in these twelve years. And it turned out that life itself writes the best stories. I didn’t expect that we would finally be able to depict an entire family universe in a microcosm in the film, especially with Eike, who brought another dimension into the film.
There really is no term for him.
Kujaw: Right. I have eight children by five pairs of women and I make children without sex, does that make me asexual? That’s how I put it in the film.
Ernst: There is also a struggle for individuality between the lines: I want to be allowed to be who I really am, even if there is no category for me. The film thus opens up again to the really big questions: What am I actually allowed to do? where is the limit And who can judge that? As long as no one is harmed, I am an advocate for tolerance towards all life and family plans.
Mr. Kujaw, what does family mean to you?
Kujaw: Hmm, it comes from a blood relationship first, so I’m part of the family in that sense. But it is essentially determined by living together, that you share your everyday life and grow older together.
And for you, Ms. Ernst?
Ernst: Anny put it wonderfully in the film: family is where people take responsibility for one another, where there is love, where one stands up for one another, regardless of cultural background or sexual orientation. This can happen in elective affinities or even in blood relationships. I can only associate myself with.