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"I Always Wanted To Be A Dad": This Photo Book Celebrates Gay Fatherhood


Belgian photographer Bart Heynen traveled the US to document the daily lives of gay men and their children for his book 'Dads'. It encompasses a wide range of stories with a common thread: men who love and care for their children.

By Julius Constantine Motal - NBC News

The question was simple:

"Would you like to be parents?"

That's the message Christopher Hibma remembers getting from an old friend on Facebook in early 2015. He was reaching out on behalf of his daughter, who was pregnant at the time but "not quite ready to be a mother."

Hibma initially resisted the idea, so she didn't immediately consult with her husband, Harrison Thompson, until he casually brought it up while eating and drinking with friends a few weeks later.

Thompson was surprised by the news but, like her husband, she did not see it feasible either: the idea of ​​a child did not fit into the fabric of their lives.

However, things started to change when they welcomed Thompson's 9-year-old nephew for a week and realized that the shared experience of caring for a child was a beautiful thing, Hibma said.

Throughout that summer and into the fall, they followed the adoption process and became parents to a girl, Genhi.

Bart Heynen and his family at 6:30 am in Antwerp, Belgium Bart Heynen

His story is one of many told in a new photography book entitled


, by Belgian photographer Bart Heynen.

Heynen and her husband lived with their two children in New York when she felt the need to foster a sense of community.

"I really wanted to meet more gay parents



Heynen says of why he started the project.

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He also saw that

his children's friends asked him where their mother was.

Heynen envisioned the project as a way to help not only his own family, but other gay parents and their families as well.

Given his own experience and understanding, Heynen knew that it would be easier for him to gain the trust of the parents he hoped to photograph.

The project, which goes on sale June 29 through PowerHouse Books, has the look of a family album with its mix of posed portraits and candid documentary photos.

In one photo, Hibma, Thompson, and Genhi are lying on the bed.

Hibma caresses Genhi's foot with one hand and holds Thompson with the other as they both look at her fondly.

It is a tender moment that is familiar to any new parent.

Vernon and Ricardo with their twins at their home in Clinton, Maryland.

Bart heynen

The book also stands out for its


, both for the people photographed by Heynen, and for the variety of their stories, which show that

there are many paths to parenthood.

For Hibma and Thompson, their path was adoption through a casual message they launched on social media.

Devon Gibby's path was one that some might consider

more conventional

: He married a woman and they had children.

However, as time passed, Gibby's acceptance as a gay man collided with his marriage and his Mormon faith.

But that didn't change anything for him when it came to being a father, he said.

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"I always wanted to be a dad

," Gibby said.

"The idea of ​​having children with another man was not even an option for me. The conscience is not always there when you do not have other role models who are gay parents," he added.

Gibby's story is told in five photographs in the book.

His hope is that his story can help those who may be struggling like he did before he came out, especially those who live in parts of the country where acceptance is harder to come by.

Devon holds a birthday present for his son in front of his apartment in Salt Lake City, Utah.Bart Heynen

"I just hope that people see me, someone who lives in Utah, and can relate to my stories and find some inspiration to be who they are

," Gibby said.

The book covers a wide range of stories with a common thread:

men who love and care for their children.

"I don't wake up thinking, 'Oh, we're gay parents," Thompson said.

"It's a labor of love. You don't really think about orientation," he added.

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Instead she tends to focus on “everything any parent cares about.” How do I get her to school on time?

Do you have clean clothes?

What is he wearing? "He assured.

What distinguishes the book, moreover, is the

seemingly ordinary of the photographs.

Men play with their children.

They prepare for the day.

They travel.

They relax.


They live their life.

In many ways, they are no different from any other family.

Dennis does Elan's hair at his home in Brooklyn, New York.

Bart heynen

What sets some of these families apart are the ways they came to be, and Heynen includes some of the

women who were needed to help these families

get started.


They are crucial

in the sense that without them there would be no gay parents," Heynen said.

"It would be very disrespectful to have just these parents. I can say with various families that they are still very influential."

Perhaps the most surprising story is that of Matthew Eledge and Eliot Dougherty.

They married in 2015 and began exploring the process of starting a family two years later.

However, living in Nebraska, the prospect of having to navigate adoption agencies as a gay couple in a conservative state seemed insurmountable, so they decided to go for IVF.

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"When we started having meetings with our IVF doctor, everything started to fall into place," Eledge said.

"But it was really daunting. Eliot is a hairdresser. I'm a teacher. It's not that we really work in lucrative fields. As we tried to look for options, our family members intervened."


Dougherty's sister, Lea Yribe, offered to donate her eggs; 

Eledge would be the biological father.

Then, they had a friend who was willing to rent her belly, but given some health complications, her doctor was concerned that the risk was too great.


the most unlikely candidate came forward: Eledge's mother, Cecile.

Despite being

in his 60s, he

passed all the necessary exams and received the go-ahead.

Uma Dougherty-Eledge with her parents, aunt and grandmother, in Omaha, Nebraska.

Bart heynen

"That's when it started to seem possible," Eledge said, "when all these people who love us came together."

Eledge's mother gave birth to her own granddaughter,

Uma Louise Dougherty-Eledge, at 6:06 am on March 25, 2019. Her story is told through three photos in the book.

In one, Yribe holds Uma, while Dougherty, Eledge, and her mother look at her, all with expressions of joy.

In the second, Uma, who is looking at the camera, is held by her grandmother.

In the third, Dougherty holds Uma while Eledge kisses her forehead.

Visually, these moments can be familiar to many parents, and it's that familiarity that Heynen leans into with



It is a chart of the ways people come together to form families.

"It's exciting to realize that we are part of something bigger," Eledge said of her inclusion in the book.

"It's not really about us. Although sometimes we feel very lonely because we don't see many people doing what we do where we come from. But knowing that this whole

wave of queer parents

is emerging


gives me a lot of hope," he said.

Harrison Thompson, left, and Christopher Hibma with their daughter Genhi, in Brooklyn, New York.

Bart heynen

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2021-06-25

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