Tag: Parenting

The Hot New Back-to-School Accessory? An Air Quality Monitor

Parents are sneaking carbon dioxide monitors into their children’s schools to determine whether the buildings are safe.

How to Have the Hard Vaccination Conversations

Asking someone if they’ve had a Covid shot can be tricky. Here’s how to navigate the new norms of health disclosure.

Ashley Z. Ritter’s vaccination conflict came to a head in April. She’d hired a part-time babysitter for her three kids just as the family moved to a new home in Yardley, Pa., last August. The babysitter, Lauren Greenewald, helped manage virtual school for the two older children, 6 and 7, while also juggling the 2-year-old and working toward a master’s degree in school counseling.

Dr. Ritter, a nurse practitioner and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, strongly preferred that her caregiver be vaccinated against Covid-19 and, once the shot was available, asked Ms. Greenewald about her plans for getting it. Her babysitter was reluctant.

“My main concerns were that it’s under an emergency use authorization,” Ms. Greenewald said, and that the available vaccines don’t yet have full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. “Being a young, healthy person, I’m not really in a high-risk category. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to get it without seeing long-term studies.”

Dr. Ritter had been doling out advice about conflicts just like this one in her role as chief clinical officer for the Dear Pandemic blog. But she discovered it’s another thing altogether to face such a conflict herself.

“She was a blessing to us in a really hard time, and took really great care of our children,” Dr. Ritter said. “This was a hard thing to take.”

These are confusing times, as widening access to the vaccination bumps up against significant pockets of vaccine hesitancy (20 percent of American adults say they definitely won’t get the shot, or only will if it’s “required for work or other activities”). How do you know whether the co-worker sharing your office space has been vaccinated? The same could be asked about college students, professors, pastors and congregants, camp counselors and the web of other relationships we are resuming in person.

When is someone’s vaccination status your business — and what do you do if you don’t like the answer you get? Here’s how a bioethicist, epidemiologist, lawyer and etiquette expert are navigating the new norms of vaccination disclosure.

Whom can you ask?

Whether or not someone has been vaccinated might feel like private medical information, but it can also directly affect your health and that of your family. Most experts agree that, broadly, “it’s fine to ask anyone if they’ve been vaccinated, if it’s going to influence your decisions about what you do or don’t do with them,” said Joseph G. Allen, an associate professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Vaccination status is a key factor in deciding whether to meet with someone indoors or outside, masked or unmasked, or even if you want to re-evaluate the relationship. These choices will often come down to personal risk tolerance — maybe you’d prefer to get your hair cut only by a vaccinated stylist, or maybe you don’t mind if your child’s soccer coach isn’t vaccinated if they’re practicing outdoors.

But remember that nobody owes you an answer, said Nancy S. Jecker, a professor of bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “You can always ask,” she said, but the other person could have reasons to keep his or her decision private. “It might have to do with something like pregnancy status, or an underlying chronic condition, or someone’s immigration status.”

This right extends to more structured settings, such as schools. Parents can ask their child’s teacher directly about vaccination, but most state medical privacy laws prevent schools from sharing that information, said Dorit Reiss, an expert on vaccine policy and a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. (Schools might share general data about staff vaccination rates, depending on state and local policy.)

Nor can parents legally ensure that their kids be placed only with immunized adults — but it doesn’t hurt to ask. A day care might accommodate you to keep you as a client, but it doesn’t have to, Dr. Reiss said.

Things get a little easier in the case of camps or sports programs, as concerned parents can shop around for an organization willing to share vaccination rates. Cory Harrison, the director of Y.M.C.A. Camp Greenville, in South Carolina, said he notified parents this spring that 100 percent of its staff was vaccinated. He said the camp encouraged it by allowing only fully vaccinated staffers to leave campus during their off hours.

How do you bring it up?

Lead with the fact that you’re fully vaccinated or will be soon, advised Ruth R. Faden, founder of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University and part of its Covid-19 Vaccine Ethics Research team.

“Sharing is a way to invite sharing,” she said. In a less personal relationship (say, with a stylist or physical therapist), saying, “Great news, I’m now fully vaccinated!” might get you an easy “So am I!” If not, Dr. Faden suggested framing your follow-up like this: “If you think it’s appropriate, can you tell me if you’ve been fully vaccinated? If you don’t want to share that piece of information with me, I understand.”

Closer working relationships, like with a longtime babysitter or house cleaner, are trickier. Katie Provinziano, managing director at West Side Nannies, which has offices in several major cities, has lately been coaching two or three concerned clients every week through this conversation.

She suggested deciding on your bottom line before broaching the subject: Will the job you’re providing require vaccination going forward, or are you willing to bend? Set up a time to talk specifically about vaccination, then share why it’s important to you and be clear about expectations.

“You can create a timeline: ‘Would you be comfortable getting it in the next three months?’” she advised. But if nannies still don’t want to get vaccinated Ms. Provinziano said most families she has spoken to end up letting them go. She added that 98 percent of her company’s positions are open only to those already vaccinated, or planning to be.

“Nannies who decide not to get vaccinated are going to have a much harder time finding work,” she said.

Mandating vaccination is within your rights as a household employer, said Bob King, an employment attorney at the Legally Nanny law firm in Los Angeles. “Employees of larger companies can opt out of getting a vaccine if they have a valid medical reason for it, or a sincerely held religious belief,” he said. But those are federal laws that apply to larger employers, not households.

More confusing: Several states (like Montana) have enacted or proposed laws that prohibit employers from mandating the vaccine, but it’s legally murky whether they’d cover a nanny or other worker in your home, Dr. Reiss said. When in doubt, check your state’s latest legislation.

Keep power dynamics in mind, added Dr. Faden. “Someone may desperately need the job you’ve given them,” she said. When it comes to requiring vaccination, “you are justified in taking that position, but you should be sensitive in that case and give people time.”

Can I try to convince the hesitant?

Yes, if you forget about arguing and instead seek to understand. “Most likely you’re not going to convince them, but you can engage in the conversation,” said Akilah Siti Easter, an etiquette expert and biologist in Chicago. “You’re not judging the person because they decided not to get vaccinated,” you’re trying to understand why they decided not to.

If someone’s reasons stem from misinformation (say, she mistakenly believes the vaccine is linked to infertility), Ms. Easter said it’s worth trying to have a measured conversation. Start by establishing common ground.

“You can say, ‘I was really concerned, too, but I talked to my doctor and asked these questions. Here’s what she told me,’” she said.

But what if you still can’t reach an agreement?

Then it’s time to decide whether coronavirus transmission risks can be mitigated enough to your liking — perhaps your child’s best friend with unvaccinated parents can play with your kid outdoors, with masks on — or if you feel more comfortable cutting ties. This isn’t new; throughout the pandemic, “we’ve had to respect each other’s risk budgets,” Dr. Faden said. Vaccination status is just the latest variable.

Dr. Ritter felt well prepared for this scenario, given her job advising others. “I was trying to practice what we preached: having an open and honest conversation, debunking myths,” Dr. Ritter said. She gave her babysitter scientific information about the vaccine and a few days to think.

When Ms. Greenewald returned to work the next Monday, though, she told her boss she wasn’t ready for the shot. They decided to part ways. “It was very mutually respectful,” Ms. Greenewald said.


Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan is a freelance writer and editor based in Missoula, Mont.

Where Are All the Wild Things, Daddy?

A father worries that his favorite children’s books promise his daughter a vibrant natural world that will no longer exist.

Once upon a time, in the room that would be my first child’s nursery, I wondered what to tell her about our vanishing world.

Through the generosity of family and friends, a modest library of children’s books filled our shelves, including four copies of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and three copies of “Goodnight Moon.” Like so many new parents, we couldn’t wait to read to our child.

But on that day nearly three years ago, I held the books that had been my childhood favorites decades before and questioned whether I should share them with her. Each was now a classic: “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Swimmy,” “The Story of Babar,” “A Snowy Day,” “Make Way for Ducklings.” But all of these books, first published in the early and mid-20th century, come from a time when the world was a different place.

Especially different was the world of wild things, oceans, winters and even common birds. Since the oldest of the books, “Babar,” was published in 1931, Africa’s elephant population had dwindled from 10 million to roughly 400,000. Since “Where the Wild Things Are” was published in 1963, the world had lost an estimated two-thirds of its wildlife. Will we have fewer snowy days going forward, and fewer ducklings to make way for? Over the past five decades, North American skies have lost nearly three billion birds.

As I paged through Leo Leonni’s “Swimmy,” in which a small black fish travels above an ocean floor colored with life — oceans that are increasingly imperiled — I thought of the marine biologist Sylvia Earle, who, when asked where she would dive if she had her choice of location, replied, “Anywhere, 50 years ago.”

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This loss has happened in my lifetime. The wild world my favorite books had encouraged me to love has been under assault. Becoming aware of this loss had led me to serious grief and now to a steady undercurrent of “solastalgia” — the distress caused by environmental change, a feeling of homesickness for the place we still live.

And so, I found myself wondering if reading these books to my daughter would in a way be a lie. Was it fair to tell her stories of healthy ecosystems and the steady seasons to which we’ve become accustomed?

I was never in a hurry to be a father. Between graduate school, my first teaching jobs and a series of relationships, I enjoyed being a single man, close to my parents, with a beloved bird dog who accompanied me nearly everywhere. I also was studying environmental literature — stories of wonder and adventure but also of loss and impending loss. Stories about issues (toxic pollution, thawing permafrost, ocean acidification) that if honestly considered would make anyone think twice about bringing a child into the world.

Still, I mostly assumed I would become a father someday, though I didn’t expect that it would take until I was nearly 50. I met a smart woman who told me how being read to as a child led her to a love of books and a career in academia, and within two years we were married, then pregnant, then organizing nursery shelves.

I had written a book about how we no longer see many of the stars our ancestors saw because there’s so much artificial light in the sky, a project sparked by memories of looking for shooting stars with my father when I was 5.

“What’s it going to be like,” asked my wife, “when you take your daughter to see the night sky for the first time?”

She really was asking what it would be like to share the moon and stars with my daughter for the rest of my life.

Lying awake at night, I imagined what else I would share. The bird dog I had been devoted to had died a few years before, and the life I had given her was the best thing I had yet done with mine. But to be someone’s father, to introduce a child to desert rain and autumn leaves, to Mozart and Led Zeppelin, to green chile enchiladas and real maple syrup — with endless wonders between — felt thrilling.

But I lay awake for other reasons as well.

I had a friend whose 5-year-old son had loved bedtime stories that featured elephants, lions, penguins and bears. The messages sent by such books were the same as those sent by the clothing and toys that had surrounded him since birth: Animals are wise and kind, they fill our world, they are our friends. So, it stunned his mother when he said: “No more stories about animals.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because it makes me sad that they are disappearing.”

I had chosen to become a father knowing well the dire predictions, the destruction that leaves me quiet. Now, with an actual child on her way, I wondered again about telling her stories of a world diminished.

When I saw my daughter for the first time on ultrasound, she was eight weeks in the womb and reminded me of a peanut-sized bear cub. Her head was half of her, and her hands were held alongside her head as though she were listening closely to faint signals coming through her headphones from some faraway land, listening for what has passed mixed with what might be.

She was born months later at midnight, with colors vivid and shining: the milk-white cord, the bright maroon blood, the deepest purple of the placenta. As I held her for the first time, she was tiny and quiet, regarding me with a look of, “So?”

But the instant emotions you’re told you will feel? Those came slower, over months, and with a surprise.

It started with stories of children lost or sick. Before, of course, I sympathized, but now every child felt partly mine. Even make-believe children — when a television plot included a teen daughter’s rough kidnapping, I turned it off and climbed the stairs, lifted my daughter from her crib and held her close.

Years ago, a friend said when he heard the news of Sandy Hook, he raced across town to hold his 6-year-old. I remember nodding with assumed understanding; now I actually knew that urge. My daughter’s innocence and openness to the world had been entrusted to my care. To love something so much is frightening, but it’s also beautiful, a feeling I’m grateful I didn’t go through life without.

I knew I would love my child. But I couldn’t have known what that love would feel like. And my love for the natural world, my grief over its fate? Having a child made me feel those emotions even stronger.

About six months after my daughter’s birth, while browsing in a local bookshop, I discovered a newly published picture book: Cynthia Rylant’s “Life.” After paging through, I pulled my wife close. Brendan Wenzel’s playful artwork depicted a world still made of wild things and accompanied Ms. Rylant’s simple text that “life begins small … (and) is not always easy … (but) in every corner of the world, there is something to love. And something to protect.”

“You’re about to buy this book, aren’t you?” she said.

Yes. In Ms. Rylant’s book I had found a contemporary response to the classics I loved. This book seemed to say: Even with all the loss, so much remains. My feelings for the world had merged with those for my daughter. To love and protect one was to love and protect the other.

The old ways of paternal protection hardly seem relevant anymore. A shotgun on the porch? No. To protect her now means to encourage her to love with everything she’s got — and, eventually, to let her learn that the more intensely you love something, the more it can hurt. How will she gain agency and purpose if she doesn’t know how to move from fear and grief to courage and joy?

At 2-plus years old, my daughter is blissfully unaware of Covid-19, knows nothing of climate change, has no sense of what has been and still may be lost. Instead she is astonished by the everyday, at the window exclaiming, “big truck!” and “mail man!” Outside, it’s “beetle!” and “moon!”

The other morning, she followed a path alone into the woods for the first time. One can only imagine what that must be like for a toddler. Maybe it’s like entering a picture book published way back when — or stepping forward into a new story of a world we could create. She moved cautiously, but steadily, as though a brightly colored animal friend could be just around the bend.

Paul Bogard, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn., and teaches at Hamline University, is the author of “The End of Night” and other books.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

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‘A Family Like Ours’: Portraits of Gay Fatherhood

June 16, 2021

‘A Family Like Ours’: Portraits of Gay Fatherhood

A new book of photography features the intimate moments of queer dads in America.

Bart Heynen (right) took this photo of himself napping with his husband, Rob Heyvaert, and their sons, Ethan and Noah. It’s the kind of intimacy he hoped to capture with his “Dads” project.
Bart Heynen (right) took this photo of himself napping with his husband, Rob Heyvaert, and their sons, Ethan and Noah. It’s the kind of intimacy he hoped to capture with his “Dads” project.

When Bart Heynen showed up at a Brooklyn home of a family he hoped to photograph in 2015, his subjects weren’t quite ready. One dad was busy finishing some ironing and the other was cleaning the house, newborn son in arms.

The scene struck Mr. Heynen, himself a father of two sons, as profoundly normal. “They just looked like any other parents that love their children,” he said.

The family was the first of many Mr. Heynen planned to photograph for a book of photography featuring gay fathers and their children. His original idea was for each family to pose on the corner of their block to illustrate that, “See? We exist all over the city,” he said. But after the Brooklyn shoot, he changed the concept to focus on fathers in the middle of their day-to-day realities. He spent the next four years with 40 families across the country, compiling their quiet moments into his recently-released book, “Dads.”

American culture has not been particularly starved of images of gay fatherhood, particularly in recent years. Celebrities like Anderson Cooper have helped normalize the idea of gay men raising children, and it no longer feels revelatory to see them on television, as it did when “Modern Family” premiered in 2009.

Less common, Mr. Heynen said, are images of gay fathers who aren’t Instagram ready — like two men combing their daughters’ hair or tossing a football in the front yard. Capturing these honest, personal moments wasn’t always easy. His subjects often wanted to present their families as traditionally as possible, he said, in their best clothes and smiling at the camera. It’s an understandable impulse, which he attributes to a desire among gay parents to feel “normal” after having their capabilities as parents continually called into question.

Eventually the families relaxed, allowing him to capture their intimate moments. In one, two bare-chested dads engaged in skin-to-skin contact with their hours-old baby. In another, a gray-haired couple look on, beaming, as their son shares a kiss with his fiancé. The images aren’t flashy, Mr. Heynen said, but rather a celebration of the day-to-day lives of gay fathers.

Clyde Rousseau said that it was important for his son, Ryan, to be surrounded by families like theirs when he was young.

Not Just for the Young

Clyde Rousseau, 61, and Ryan, 12

Clyde Rousseau, who lives in Manhattan, was first photographed for “Dads” three years ago after meeting Mr. Heynen at an event at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. Mr. Rousseau said he gives Mr. Heynen “a lot of credit” for including a father like him — a single dad in his 60s — since he said there is often a lack of representation of older gay people in art and media, which tends to focus on young, fit men.

“I’m not some millennial dad with a six pack,” Mr. Rousseau said.

________

Dennis Williams, pictured here combing his son Élan’s hair, said he was initially intimidated by becoming a single dad. But he gained confidence thanks to the support of his friends — one going so far as to donate her eggs.

The New ‘Leave It to Beaver’ Dad

Dennis Williams, 47, Élan, 7

“This isn’t the first time we’ve had photographers take pictures of the two of us,” Dennis Williams said of himself and his son, Élan. The pair have also appeared in the magazine L’Uomo Vogue, among other outlets. As a Black, gay man raising a son on his own, Mr. Williams said he attributes the attention to not looking like a “‘Leave-It-to-Beaver’-type family.”

Though he is single, Mr. Williams, who works in social and corporate responsibility for Warner Media, said he has a lot of support from the people in his life — several of whom even helped make him a parent. “An amazing Black lesbian friend” donated her eggs, he said, for instance. Seeing those around him rally to help gave him the confidence he needed to pursue fatherhood on his own.

________

Al DiGiulio (left) and Chris Soucey were just about ready to give up on having children when they decided to give it one more try.

Last Chance to Start a Family

Al DiGiulio, 52, Chris Soucey, 50, and Tommy and Luca, 5

Al DiGiulio, a lawyer, and Chris Soucey, a video producer, in Jersey City, N.J., chose surrogacy over adoption for the control they hoped to have over the pregnancy process. “I was completely wrong about that,” Mr. DiGiulio said. Their first surrogate experienced a late miscarriage, forcing them to match with a second, who was unable to conceive.

Two years into their surrogacy process, the couple had run out of embryos, “not to mention, money,” Mr. DiGiulio said. “A part of me started to wish I was a straight person so I could just go have sex with someone to have a baby.” Encouraged by their reproductive endocrinologist to give surrogacy a final try, the couple matched with a third gestational carrier and transferred two embryos resulting in their twin boys, Tommy and Luca.

________

Harrison Thompson (left) and Christopher Hibma felt it was important to model gay fatherhood on social media and connect with other L.G.B.T.Q. parents, but they eventually decided that posting online was distracting them from enjoying their time with their daughter, Genhi. 

Learning to Savor the Moment

Harrison Thompson, 50, Christopher Hibma, 45, and Genhi, 5

Harrison Thompson and Christopher Hibma used to frequently post photos of their daughter, Genhi, on social media — in part for the visibility it brought to queer parents. “L.G.B.T.Q. people around the world were looking at the posts and messaging us that it meant something to them,” said Mr. Hibma, a small-business owner.

One night, Mr. Thompson, a marketing manager for the software company RedHat, was out to dinner with Genhi while Mr. Hibma was traveling. After he snapped a selfie with his daughter, Mr. Thompson began crafting a “perfect little quote” for the online post but was chided by Genhi. “She said, ‘Daddy, put down your phone and have a conversation,’” Mr. Thompson said. She was just 3 years old at the time. The family, based in Minneapolis, Minn., hasn’t posted to social media since.

________

Jonathan Bloom (left) and Eric Pliner don’t remember much from their photo shoots with Mr. Heynen because they had their hands full with two newborns. But now Mr. Bloom is thankful for images of those “small, early moments.” 

A Suddenly Full House

Jonathan Bloom, 45, and Eric Pliner, 47

Several years after adopting their eldest child, who is now 8, Jonathan Bloom, a copywriter, and Eric Pliner, a consultant, began looking into expanding their family. Their adoption attorney presented them with two potential birth mothers to work with. “We decided to move forward with both of them,” Mr. Bloom said. “We call them twiblings,” he said of the resulting babies, who were born five days apart.

The dads participated in Mr. Heynen’s photo project several months later, but barely remember it. “The kids were so young and we were delirious,” Mr. Bloom said.

________

Eli (left) and Ido Bendet-Taicher have embraced all kinds of new experiences that come with having girls.  Hairdressing with Milo (center) and Demi is just one of them.

Skills You Need for Daughters

Ido Bendet-Taicher, 43, Eli Bendet-Taicher, 41, Milo, 10, and Demi, 7

Several years ago, at a New York City hair salon, Ido Bendet-Taicher asked a stylist to give his eldest daughter a haircut that included bangs. An assistant, who was uncomfortable with the request, addressed his daughter directly, asking, “Are you sure? Where’s your mom?” Ido said.

People are not used to seeing dads doing their daughters’ hair, said Ido’s husband, Eli Bendet-Taicher. “But it’s a skill you learn when you have daughters.” Over the years, the dads, who are both tech executives, have become proficient in many hairstyles for girls, thanks to a lot of YouTube tutorials, Eli said.

“Also, a lot of practice on Barbies,” Ido said.

________

Tom Eagen (left) and Mike Lubin never spent much time on the sidelines of lacrosse fields until their son, Jack, fell in love with sports.

The Unlikely Sports Dads

Mike Lubin, 49, Tom Eagen, 58, and Jack, 19

Growing up, Mike Lubin, a Manhattan real estate broker, never played team sports. His son, Jack, couldn’t get enough of them, playing everything from lacrosse to football. “It was an opportunity for me to be affiliated with club sports for the first time,” Mr. Lubin said. “It was tremendously exciting, but daunting, to learn this new vocabulary.”

Mr. Lubin and his husband, Tom Eagen, who works in finance, cheered at the sidelines of nearly every game Jack played. “We were always the only two-dad family,” he said, which could be isolating, but felt important. “It was probably the first time most other parents were seeing a family like ours.”

________

Pablo Lerma and Txema Ripa weren’t sure they wanted a photographer with them during their first precious moments with their newborn son, Gael. But on the day, they barely noticed Mr. Heynen was there.

A Fly on the Wall During an Intimate Moment

Pablo Lerma, 34, Txema Ripa, 51, and Gael, 4

When Mr. Heynen asked Pablo Lerma and Txema Ripa if he could fly to Minnesota to capture the moments following the birth of their son via surrogacy, Mr. Lerma and Mr. Ripa had reservations. Did they really want a photographer there, documenting and experiencing such an intimate moment alongside them?

“But he’s a father, too,” Mr. Lerma said. “So he knew how important that moment would be.” The couple said that Mr. Heynen was “curious, but respectful” as they held their newborn son against their skin for the first time. “To be honest, I don’t recall him being there,” Mr. Lerma said. “He was a fly on the wall,” Mr. Ripa agreed.

________

Vernon Leftwich (left) and Ricardo Cooper knew they weren’t romantic partners, but decided to become parenting partners with their twin daughters, Harper and Knox.

Friends in All Things

Vernon Leftwich, 29, Ricardo Cooper, 31, and Harper and Knox, 2

Vernon Leftwich and Ricardo Cooper, who both work for the federal government and live in Clinton, Md., began dating in 2013, but their relationship only lasted for a couple of years. “We knew we wanted to become dads, though, before a certain age,” Mr. Leftwich said. The pair decided to pursue surrogacy together as friends, working with an egg donor and a surrogate.

The unorthodox setup of raising kids with a friend has its advantages when it comes to parenting, Mr. Leftwich said. Having dated, the dads are familiar with each other’s communication styles, “and what works and doesn’t work,” Mr. Leftwich added. Parenting platonically “allows us to keep our entire focus on the girls.”

David Dodge is a freelance writer focusing on L.G.B.T.Q. issues and non-traditional families.

‘A Family Like Ours’: Portraits of Gay Fatherhood

June 16, 2021

‘A Family Like Ours’: Portraits of Gay Fatherhood

A new book of photography features the intimate moments of queer dads in America.

Bart Heynen (right) took this photo of himself napping with his husband, Rob Heyvaert, and their sons, Ethan and Noah. It’s the kind of intimacy he hoped to capture with his “Dads” project.
Bart Heynen (right) took this photo of himself napping with his husband, Rob Heyvaert, and their sons, Ethan and Noah. It’s the kind of intimacy he hoped to capture with his “Dads” project.

When Bart Heynen showed up at a Brooklyn home of a family he hoped to photograph in 2015, his subjects weren’t quite ready. One dad was busy finishing some ironing and the other was cleaning the house, newborn son in arms.

The scene struck Mr. Heynen, himself a father of two sons, as profoundly normal. “They just looked like any other parents that love their children,” he said.

The family was the first of many Mr. Heynen planned to photograph for a book of photography featuring gay fathers and their children. His original idea was for each family to pose on the corner of their block to illustrate that, “See? We exist all over the city,” he said. But after the Brooklyn shoot, he changed the concept to focus on fathers in the middle of their day-to-day realities. He spent the next four years with 40 families across the country, compiling their quiet moments into his recently-released book, “Dads.”

American culture has not been particularly starved of images of gay fatherhood, particularly in recent years. Celebrities like Anderson Cooper have helped normalize the idea of gay men raising children, and it no longer feels revelatory to see them on television, as it did when “Modern Family” premiered in 2009.

Less common, Mr. Heynen said, are images of gay fathers who aren’t Instagram ready — like two men combing their daughters’ hair or tossing a football in the front yard. Capturing these honest, personal moments wasn’t always easy. His subjects often wanted to present their families as traditionally as possible, he said, in their best clothes and smiling at the camera. It’s an understandable impulse, which he attributes to a desire among gay parents to feel “normal” after having their capabilities as parents continually called into question.

Eventually the families relaxed, allowing him to capture their intimate moments. In one, two bare-chested dads engaged in skin-to-skin contact with their hours-old baby. In another, a gray-haired couple look on, beaming, as their son shares a kiss with his fiancé. The images aren’t flashy, Mr. Heynen said, but rather a celebration of the day-to-day lives of gay fathers.

Clyde Rousseau said that it was important for his son, Ryan, to be surrounded by families like theirs when he was young.

Not Just for the Young

Clyde Rousseau, 61, and Ryan, 12

Clyde Rousseau, who lives in Manhattan, was first photographed for “Dads” three years ago after meeting Mr. Heynen at an event at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. Mr. Rousseau said he gives Mr. Heynen “a lot of credit” for including a father like him — a single dad in his 60s — since he said there is often a lack of representation of older gay people in art and media, which tends to focus on young, fit men.

“I’m not some millennial dad with a six pack,” Mr. Rousseau said.

________

Dennis Williams, pictured here combing his son Élan’s hair, said he was initially intimidated by becoming a single dad. But he gained confidence thanks to the support of his friends — one going so far as to donate her eggs.

The New ‘Leave It to Beaver’ Dad

Dennis Williams, 47, Élan, 7

“This isn’t the first time we’ve had photographers take pictures of the two of us,” Dennis Williams said of himself and his son, Élan. The pair have also appeared in the magazine L’Uomo Vogue, among other outlets. As a Black, gay man raising a son on his own, Mr. Williams said he attributes the attention to not looking like a “‘Leave-It-to-Beaver’-type family.”

Though he is single, Mr. Williams, who works in social and corporate responsibility for Warner Media, said he has a lot of support from the people in his life — several of whom even helped make him a parent. “An amazing Black lesbian friend” donated her eggs, he said, for instance. Seeing those around him rally to help gave him the confidence he needed to pursue fatherhood on his own.

________

Al DiGiulio (left) and Chris Soucey were just about ready to give up on having children when they decided to give it one more try.

Last Chance to Start a Family

Al DiGiulio, 52, Chris Soucey, 50, and Tommy and Luca, 5

Al DiGiulio, a lawyer, and Chris Soucey, a video producer, in Jersey City, N.J., chose surrogacy over adoption for the control they hoped to have over the pregnancy process. “I was completely wrong about that,” Mr. DiGiulio said. Their first surrogate experienced a late miscarriage, forcing them to match with a second, who was unable to conceive.

Two years into their surrogacy process, the couple had run out of embryos, “not to mention, money,” Mr. DiGiulio said. “A part of me started to wish I was a straight person so I could just go have sex with someone to have a baby.” Encouraged by their reproductive endocrinologist to give surrogacy a final try, the couple matched with a third gestational carrier and transferred two embryos resulting in their twin boys, Tommy and Luca.

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Harrison Thompson (left) and Christopher Hibma felt it was important to model gay fatherhood on social media and connect with other L.G.B.T.Q. parents, but they eventually decided that posting online was distracting them from enjoying their time with their daughter, Genhi. 

Learning to Savor the Moment

Harrison Thompson, 50, Christopher Hibma, 45, and Genhi, 5

Harrison Thompson and Christopher Hibma used to frequently post photos of their daughter, Genhi, on social media — in part for the visibility it brought to queer parents. “L.G.B.T.Q. people around the world were looking at the posts and messaging us that it meant something to them,” said Mr. Hibma, a small-business owner.

One night, Mr. Thompson, a marketing manager for the software company RedHat, was out to dinner with Genhi while Mr. Hibma was traveling. After he snapped a selfie with his daughter, Mr. Thompson began crafting a “perfect little quote” for the online post but was chided by Genhi. “She said, ‘Daddy, put down your phone and have a conversation,’” Mr. Thompson said. She was just 3 years old at the time. The family, based in Minneapolis, Minn., hasn’t posted to social media since.

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Jonathan Bloom (left) and Eric Pliner don’t remember much from their photo shoots with Mr. Heynen because they had their hands full with two newborns. But now Mr. Bloom is thankful for images of those “small, early moments.” 

A Suddenly Full House

Jonathan Bloom, 45, and Eric Pliner, 47

Several years after adopting their eldest child, who is now 8, Jonathan Bloom, a copywriter, and Eric Pliner, a consultant, began looking into expanding their family. Their adoption attorney presented them with two potential birth mothers to work with. “We decided to move forward with both of them,” Mr. Bloom said. “We call them twiblings,” he said of the resulting babies, who were born five days apart.

The dads participated in Mr. Heynen’s photo project several months later, but barely remember it. “The kids were so young and we were delirious,” Mr. Bloom said.

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Eli (left) and Ido Bendet-Taicher have embraced all kinds of new experiences that come with having girls.  Hairdressing with Milo (center) and Demi is just one of them.

Skills You Need for Daughters

Ido Bendet-Taicher, 43, Eli Bendet-Taicher, 41, Milo, 10, and Demi, 7

Several years ago, at a New York City hair salon, Ido Bendet-Taicher asked a stylist to give his eldest daughter a haircut that included bangs. An assistant, who was uncomfortable with the request, addressed his daughter directly, asking, “Are you sure? Where’s your mom?” Ido said.

People are not used to seeing dads doing their daughters’ hair, said Ido’s husband, Eli Bendet-Taicher. “But it’s a skill you learn when you have daughters.” Over the years, the dads, who are both tech executives, have become proficient in many hairstyles for girls, thanks to a lot of YouTube tutorials, Eli said.

“Also, a lot of practice on Barbies,” Ido said.

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Tom Eagen (left) and Mike Lubin never spent much time on the sidelines of lacrosse fields until their son, Jack, fell in love with sports.

The Unlikely Sports Dads

Mike Lubin, 49, Tom Eagen, 58, and Jack, 19

Growing up, Mike Lubin, a Manhattan real estate broker, never played team sports. His son, Jack, couldn’t get enough of them, playing everything from lacrosse to football. “It was an opportunity for me to be affiliated with club sports for the first time,” Mr. Lubin said. “It was tremendously exciting, but daunting, to learn this new vocabulary.”

Mr. Lubin and his husband, Tom Eagen, who works in finance, cheered at the sidelines of nearly every game Jack played. “We were always the only two-dad family,” he said, which could be isolating, but felt important. “It was probably the first time most other parents were seeing a family like ours.”

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Pablo Lerma and Txema Ripa weren’t sure they wanted a photographer with them during their first precious moments with their newborn son, Gael. But on the day, they barely noticed Mr. Heynen was there.

A Fly on the Wall During an Intimate Moment

Pablo Lerma, 34, Txema Ripa, 51, and Gael, 4

When Mr. Heynen asked Pablo Lerma and Txema Ripa if he could fly to Minnesota to capture the moments following the birth of their son via surrogacy, Mr. Lerma and Mr. Ripa had reservations. Did they really want a photographer there, documenting and experiencing such an intimate moment alongside them?

“But he’s a father, too,” Mr. Lerma said. “So he knew how important that moment would be.” The couple said that Mr. Heynen was “curious, but respectful” as they held their newborn son against their skin for the first time. “To be honest, I don’t recall him being there,” Mr. Lerma said. “He was a fly on the wall,” Mr. Ripa agreed.

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Vernon Leftwich (left) and Ricardo Cooper knew they weren’t romantic partners, but decided to become parenting partners with their twin daughters, Harper and Knox.

Friends in All Things

Vernon Leftwich, 29, Ricardo Cooper, 31, and Harper and Knox, 2

Vernon Leftwich and Ricardo Cooper, who both work for the federal government and live in Clinton, Md., began dating in 2013, but their relationship only lasted for a couple of years. “We knew we wanted to become dads, though, before a certain age,” Mr. Leftwich said. The pair decided to pursue surrogacy together as friends, working with an egg donor and a surrogate.

The unorthodox setup of raising kids with a friend has its advantages when it comes to parenting, Mr. Leftwich said. Having dated, the dads are familiar with each other’s communication styles, “and what works and doesn’t work,” Mr. Leftwich added. Parenting platonically “allows us to keep our entire focus on the girls.”

David Dodge is a freelance writer focusing on L.G.B.T.Q. issues and non-traditional families.