Our Father is a recently released true-crime documentary that elicits mixed feelings
Our Father is a 90 minute long Netflix documentary about Dr Donald Cline and his ‘children.’ Produced by Lucie Jourdan, the documentary is an addition to the streaming platform’s rolodex of true-crime features.
Dr Cline was a renowned fertility doctor, steadfast Christian and local church elder. He abused his position of power and influence, as well as his patient’s trust as a medical professional, to artificially inseminate women seeking fertility treatment. The worst is yet to come: he used his own genetic material to do so, leading to about 94 children who had an unhinged monster for a biological father.
He managed to get away with this for over 30 years, until Jacoba Ballard, one of his offspring, took an at-home DNA test. The story begins with her explaining how she had always suspected that she was adopted, as she was the only person with blue eyes and blonde hair in a family of brunettes. Eventually, her parents told her that they had conceived her through a donor. During an interview, her mother, Debbie Smith says, “I wanted a child so bad.” The desperation of these parents and the absolute breach of trust on Dr Cline’s part is what makes the crime so heinous. His modus operandi exploited couples with fertility issues, who were looking for a Hail Mary.
Although he assured the Smiths that he used medical students as donors, with each being able to donate only three times, to avoid consanguinity, he was actually using his own DNA. It wasn’t until Ballard’s DNA test that the full extent of his abuse and medical malpractice was discovered. The story follows Ballard as she unearths seven half-siblings within a 25 mile radius. At the time of release, the total number of Cline’s known children stood at 94. Lisa Shepherd-Stidham is another one of his offspring who agreed to participate in the documentary. Her suffering and dread is palpable, as she explains how her heart sinks every time she finds a DNA match, hoping it isn’t someone she dated or already knows.
The lives of the children that Cline secretly fathered are a webbed mess of anxiety. According to Stidham, her children go to school with children from another Cline offspring. They were all coached by her husband. One of Cline’s daughters previously consulted him as a gynaecologist.
The lives of the children that Cline secretly fathered are a webbed mess of anxiety. According to Stidham, her children go to school with children from another Cline offspring, and they were all coached by her husband. One of Cline’s daughters previously consulted him as a gynaecologist.
Cline’s links with extremists such as the Quiverfull are also covered. The Quiverfull believe in procreation in multitudes for the faithful, especially those that have blonde hair and blue eyes. The irony of the situation is not lost on viewers, as many of Cline’s offspring suffered from genetic disorders that he passed onto them. Rheumatoid arthritis disqualifies donors due to its likelihood of being passed down, making Cline an unfit donor.
On a basic level, Our Father tells an interesting story that may have escaped the public’s consciousness in recent years. While it is sensational (due to the subject matter at hand), there are pitfalls that it failed to address.
The documentary does little justice to the victims’ traumatic testimonies, using them for dramatic effect instead. Furthermore, it projects Cline as a formidable, intimidating presence when in reality he’s just a megalomaniac who hid behind his medical expertise to enact religious dogma. His cowardice becomes apparent in the documentary when he is confronted by his children and their families and begs them not to reveal the truth. Why? Because it would ruin 57 years of what can only be described as a sham marriage.
Our Father also does little to uncover more about the religious motivation behind Cline’s crimes and the utter failure of the justice system when it came to accommodating the victims of his crimes. They only found justice in 2016, after decades of medical practice and what can be considered rape under new laws. He had already retired in 2009 so it does not seem like a huge loss for him.
As disturbing as it may sound, Our Father is a flashy, easy to follow documentary if one can look past the trivialisation of the victims’ trauma. Those looking for something nuanced and compassionate should feel free to give this one a miss.
The author is a staff member.