By Erica Reder
It’s 7:30 on a Tuesday evening, and nearly every seat in Dino’s Pizza at the corner of Fillmore and California is taken. Couples and families crowd the tables, sharing pizzas, draft beers and sodas. Three television screens broadcast the Tennessee-Vanderbilt basketball game, while mob movie stills and portraits of famous athletes stare out from the walls.
But the newest decoration hangs from the balcony. It’s a blue blanket that proclaims: “BABY BOY.”
Owner Dino Stavrikikis struts among the diners, his photo-loaded iPhone at the ready. Customers gush over pictures of the month-old baby named Santino, while the proud father regales them with tales from the crib. “I really love talking about this story,” says Dino, who’s on a first name basis with nearly everyone in the neighborhood. “I talk about it 10 times a day.”
Santino Vasili Stavrikikis was born on January 22. But the story began a year and a half ago, when the 50-year-old bachelor set his sights on becoming a father.
“There wasn’t one specific day that it hit me and I said, ‘Okay, this is what I need to do,’ ” says Dino. “It was just at this point in my life — you know, you get a little older.”
When the idea of having a son took root, he turned to his customers for advice. “I don’t know what anyone does for a living, but everyone does something,” he says. “So I was kind of throwing out words here and there, and hoping someone would hear me and say, ‘This is where you need to go.’ ”
That moment occurred in August 2009 when friends of Dr. Carl Herbert, a fertility specialist and president of the Pacific Fertility Center, came to Dino’s for dinner. “I started talking about it,” Dino recalls. “They all just stopped eating and said, ‘We have the guy for you.’ ”
Dino admits he hadn’t envisioned using fertility technology. “I didn’t imagine this three years ago,” he says. “I mean, who knew about any of this stuff?” But living in San Francisco opened his eyes to new possibilities: “I saw a lot of gay couples doing this, and I said, ‘This is great!’ ”
The six-figure price tag was not a deterrent. “I figured I was blessed enough to be able to afford the process,” he says. “And which would I rather have: my son or a Ferrari? I’ll take my son over the car.”
Still, Dino admits he had a steep learning curve. “I didn’t know what a surrogate was, I didn’t know what an egg donor was,” he says. “I just kind of knew something about the process.”
And the options seemed overwhelming. He had to choose both an egg donor and a surrogate mother. “They do that for two reasons,” he says. “One is for legality, and one is for genetics. Because if the egg donor carries she could change her mind — and then you have a whole nightmare.”
The clinic suggested possible donor agencies and Dino researched each one, finally deciding on an agency that worked with both egg donors and carriers.
One choice took no deliberation. “I wanted a boy,” he says. And he wasn’t going to leave that up to chance. “It’s called spinning the sperm,” he says, and involves a centrifuge that separates X and Y sperm in a lab. “You pay extra for that,” he notes.
But other variables would prove beyond his control. “In January of 2010, within three days my egg donor and carrier fell apart,” says Dino. “I had to start the process all over, start the finances all over. But not once did I think it wasn’t going to happen.”
After losing two egg donors to failed tests, Dino met his best match yet. “Once I met her, I knew she was the right one,” he says of his third, and actual, egg donor. A combination of factors won him over. “I chose both the egg donor and carrier based on personality and looks,” he says. “They had baby pictures of themselves, so you look at genetics, you look at this, you look at that.”
Searching for a surrogate mother, Dino found the winning combination in a Southern California woman named Dusty Kenney. “We clicked right away,” he says.
Kenney agrees. “I feel really blessed that we found each other because we have such a good connection,” she says. Kenney has a daughter of her own, but she too was new to the world of surrogate pregnancies. “It had never occurred to me that people were surrogates for other people,” she says. Then she came across the possibility online. “As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to do it. I just thought what a cool thing to be able to do.”
She and Dino kept in close contact throughout her pregnancy, which resulted from the implantation of the donor’s egg fertilized by his sperm. “He would call and check on me probably every other day,” she says. “He would fly down all the time and hang out and he would cook me dinner. He was supportive through the whole process.”
Dino had planned to visit more often as Santino’s February 23 due date approached. “I was going to fly down there on the 15th of February and check into a hotel and just wait it out,” he says. But as it happened, everyone was caught off guard when Santino arrived a month early.
“I got the phone call on the 22nd at 5 in the morning,” Dino recalls. He was there when Santino made his appearance that afternoon at 5:18 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills.
It completely changed Dino’s life. A man who says he had “never lived with anybody” acquired not one but two new roommates: his baby son and a live-in nanny. “She’s phenomenal,” he says of the nanny. “We’ve really gotten along, and we’re making it work.”
They weren’t so sure a month ago when Dino and the nanny brought Santino up from Los Angeles. “We got home at 6 o’clock on Thursday night,” he recalls, “and we just looked at each other like, ‘Now what?’ It forced us to get into fifth gear right away.”
Santino’s temperament makes things easier. “He’s really patient,” says Dino. “He’s a good sport.”
His surrogate mother agrees. “He just has such a calm, sweet personality,” says Kenney. “He doesn’t cry unless he’s hungry.” She has visited Dino and Santino since the birth, and expects to continue to make regular visits. “I imagine I’ll see them once a month,” she says.
Dino has given considerable thought to Kenney’s future relationship to Santino. “I tried to figure out a Greek name for her,” he says. “Zoila means the giver of life. When Santino gets a little bigger, he’s going to call her that.”
Kenney also has thought ahead. “I would imagine it would be like the role of an aunt,” she says. “I just want to be there for him. I think the more fans a child has when growing up the better.”
The egg donor has yet to meet Santino, but Dino expects that she will. “She lives in Florida, but she wanted to be involved as much as she could,” he says. “I told her, ‘Whenever you want you just fly out — whenever you feel ready to do it.’ ”
In the meantime, Santino gets plenty of attention. “Every day he gets two or three presents from around the world,” says Dino. “Everybody comes in and asks for him. It’s turned out, he’s not my son; I’m his father.”
Even those surprised by the news have been supportive. “I’ve got people that have known me for a long time that thought I was the biggest bachelor of all time, the biggest flirt,” he explains. “They say, ‘Dino, you committed to something!’ ”
And the story may have ripple effects. “I had two guys come up and tell me that their girlfriends are using me as an example for them to get married: ‘If Dino can commit, how come you can’t commit?’ ”
Those who have yet to meet Santino will have ample opportunity when they stop by for pizza. “I want to bring him more and more and more,” Dino says. “But he’s got to get a little bigger.”
Until then, a message painted on the restaurant windows announces to customers and passersby alike: “Santino has arrived.” Dino calls it a low-tech birth announcement. “I don’t know how to send an Internet whatever,” he says. “So the best way for me is to do everything like I’ve done and just put it in the window.”
Dino says he plans to take down the signs after Santino’s 40-day blessing, a Greek Orthodox rite that will take place in early March. And he’s already dreaming of Santino’s future. “He’ll definitely be working at Dino’s when he’s really young,” says Dino, “just kind of walking around and helping me out.”
For now, father and son see each other mainly outside of the restaurant. “I have to work,” says Dino, “but my schedule’s really flexible.”
The two have already created some memorable moments. “On Saturday, we hung out and watched The Godfather,” Dino says. In the film, Santino is the first-born son of New York Mafia boss Vito Corleone — and the name, which means “little saint” in Italian, stuck with Dino when he first saw The Godfather 35 years ago.
“Dino means ‘the sword,’ ” says Dino. “So it’s the sword and the little saint, which to me means we’re basically watching each other’s back.”
A GRANDMOTHER’S VIEW
Like mothers everywhere, Dino’s mother, Koula McCormick, acknowledges two primal yearnings: wanting her child to be happy and wanting a grandchild to properly spoil. So when both things happened — albeit in a somewhat unconventional way — she says she welcomed them with an open mind and an open heart.
She recounts how she learned she at last was going to become a grandmother:
Every mother wants her children to get married and have children. That’s what life is all about. So I wanted the same thing as a mother — and the years went by. But it’s something you don’t press. Some things have to come from the heart.
One day about a year and a half ago, Dino said, “Mom, I want to talk to you.” We have been very close. I went over and we had lunch.
He said, “Mom, I decided to do something, and I hope that you accept it and embrace it.”
So then he told me: “I’m going to proceed to have a baby the surrogate way.”
I was speechless. I thought for a minute and for a second, and I responded to him, “Whatever you decide is better for you, I love you, and I will embrace it.”
He said, “Mom, I want you to know one thing: I will be a good father, and I will raise my son the way you raised me.” What more can a mother want to hear?
I want to see my son put his arms around a woman and be happy. But he’s so happy with his son, it has made a different life for him. He adores the baby.
Filed under: Locals