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18 Kids and Counting: How One Sperm Donor’s Decision to Help Others Have a Family Led to His Own

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For Michael Rubino, deciding to become a sperm donor in the mid-90s was about helping another couple’s dreams of having a family come true, not his own.

“Back then my wife and I were infertile,” he says. “We’d met some other infertile couples at some counseling sessions and it just happened that we saw something on the news about the California Cryobank so I said, ‘Why don’t I do that?’ Then at least I can help out other infertile couples,” he tells PEOPLE.

Though he checked a box indicating he was open to being contacted once any children he helped conceive turned 18 — and even wrote a letter to them to be added to his file — he never really thought much would come of it.

“My initial expectation was I’d meet them when they were 18 and I’d be lucky if they even looked me up,” says Rubino, now 57 and an artist in Los Angeles. “I thought maybe half of them would. I thought, ‘Okay. I’ll take them to lunch and hopefully it won’t be awkward.’ ”

Though he and his wife divorced in 1996, he made no efforts to try for a family of his own with someone else.

“I realized I was really happier alone, frankly,” he says. “I’m an artist. I’ve always enjoyed my solitude.”

For more on Michael Rubino’s amazing story, pick up this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

He never dreamed that one day he would not only be in contact with 18 of those children (he has no idea how many children in total he has fathered), but that some of them would call him ‘Dad.’ What’s more, he’s now living with and helping to raise one of those children, Jake Strassberg, now 19, with Jake’s mom, Kare, now 58 and a paralegal.

Sam Comen

Rubino made those initial connections with his offspring not from the sperm bank but via the Donor Sibling Registry, a nonprofit created by Wendy Kramer in 2000 that has connected thousands of donors with their offspring and offspring with their half-siblings over the years.

Having those 18 children in his life has fulfilled him in a way he didn’t think was possible, Rubino says.

“I adore every one of them,” he says. “They’re all amazing to me.”