Sometimes the best stories are born out of coincidence. Such as Michael Leahy’s “Family Vacation,” a provocative piece published in The Washington Post Magazine.
Leahy found himself away from Washington, working on another project, when he bumped into a friendly and forthright woman with an incredible tale.
“I remember saying something like, ‘Wow, that’s not something you hear every day. That’s pretty amazing,’ ” Leahy said.
Raechel McGhee, a mother of two children conceived from a donor’s sperm, planted the thought in Leahy’s head for a story that would not only encapsulate the travails of the changing cryogenics industry but also challenge the conventions of family in the 21st century.
“In a category filled with strong entries, Leahy stands out for making a complex, emotional subject relatable to most anyone familiar with the concept of family,” said the judges.
Leahy chronicles the atypical family reunion between McGhee, her children, Aaron and Leah, and Mike Rubino, the parent formerly known as “Donor 929.”
His name is Mike Rubino, but until recently none of the women who bought his sperm to get pregnant had ever seen him or known him as anything other than Donor 929. Rubino left the sperm business for good a few years ago, thinking it would be another decade at least before any children found him. Now he is standing inside Los Angeles International Airport, staring at the arrivals gate, awaiting the appearance of two children he has fathered but never met.
Leahy’s story begins and ends at the airport. In between the family’s arrival and departure, at varied locales such as Rubino’s house, the Aquarium of the Pacific, Disneyland and the California Cryobank, the author’s attentive eye never seems to blink.
“Michael is masterful at capturing the most intimate moments, however joyous or wrenching, and in ‘Family Vacation,’ there’s little the reader doesn’t get to observe as the family comes together for the first time,” said Tom Shroder, editor of The Washington Post Magazine.
McGhee and Rubino allowed Leahy to have total access to their most intimate moments. With this privilege came great responsibility — a responsibility that Leahy believes should apply to all journalism of this ilk.
“The greatest challenge comes in reminding yourself that your subjects are leading real lives, and that you must be careful at all times to give them space,” Leahy said. “It will make them happier and your story richer.”