It wasn’t until 2017 that the United States Supreme Court ruled both same sex spouses to be listed on birth certificates, a decision that has since legalized same-sex adoption in every state — a decision that came just two years after Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage. In the intervening years, new families have emerged, blossomed, and grown, expanding the restrictive structures foisted upon us by a repressive cisheteronormative system of power.
In the new book, Dads (powerHouse Books), Belgian photographer Bart Heynen offers an intimate, tender look at nearly 50 families headed by two men, which gently yet substantially subverts prevailing archetypes of fatherhood. Often depicted as domineering, emotionally unavailable, or all together absent, American fatherhood has suffered under the weight of the patriarchy, which stymies men’s abilities to express vulnerability and unconditional love.
Heynen’s journey to create these portraits began in 2016 while watching Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. Determined to be the change he wanted to see in the world, he began reaching out to gay parents to explore a new model of fatherhood now being introduced to the world. Seeking understanding for those who shared his path, Heynen recognized he was part of a new generation who could reimagine the ways in which fatherhood is experienced by children and parents alike.
Father Knows Best
“Like most gay fathers, I was raised by straight parents,” Heynen writes. “Certain role models and parenting duties were played out without a second thought. And so, no, my mom did not play soccer with us while my father was busy decorating the house. Of course things have evolved, but true equality is far from a reality in straight parenting.”
By removing the cisheterosexual framework and its attendant overt and covert sexism, Dads offers an endearing portrait of fatherhood replete with mutuality, sensitivity, and care that offers a more nuanced and considered expression of manhood unto itself. Bringing together families from a wide array of backgrounds, Heynen gives us a glimpse of partnership liberated from gender roles, with the dads free to engage with their children in any capacity.
With Dads, Heynen offers expansive views of family that offer support to both parents and children alike. In the book, the photographer recalls a transformative moment of awareness when he overhead a friend of his son ask, “Where is your mommy?” His son explained the situation, plain as day, stating, “I don’t have a mother. I have a papa and a daddy” — a reminder that children are naturally open minded and welcoming to love in whatever form it takes.
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, including Time, Vogue, Aperture, and Vice, among others.
Bart Heynen, Dads, published by powerHouse Books, $50.00. Available here.