“So, I’m a gay father myself,” says Heynen. “I found myself raising my boys without knowing any other gay dads in the very beginning, and I felt like I wanted to meet more families like my own. I also felt like, for my children, that they should see other families like [our] own, so I started to reach out to other families that I found through organizations and later on Instagram.”
For four years, Heynen captured gay families while growing with the dads and children along the way. He says it began as a pet project that developed into something impactful.
“In some shoots, I brought my children along, [and] they were a great icebreaker for other families,” he explains. “My kids played with their kids and they got along. I even still see some of the people we photographed. We’ve become friends. Not all of them, of course. But I think it was great because it all came together naturally. I was in the same position as them. We are all pioneers. We all feel the same way about certain things, and we go through the same things.”
You can’t help but smile flipping through the pages of this book, which features queer dads from all walks of life, perfectly happy with their precious families. It’s the kind the LGBTQ+ community loves to see. And it doesn’t hurt that, yeah, some of these dads are totally shirtless.
For the book, Heynen developed natural relationships with these dads and their families. The photos are evidence of that. It’s almost as if some of these families forgot Heynen was even there documenting them.
“I think we all felt a strong bond,” says Heynen. “Everybody was happy to participate in the project because we feel like we need to give more visibility and make people aware it’s possible to create your own family… In America, the family is the cornerstone, and [gay dads] are a part of it.”
Even if our heteronormative world thinks otherwise. “Dads,” with its intimate portrayal of fathers who just happen to be gay, upends societal norms of what parenthood looks like, depicting dads and their children enjoying the simple pleasures of life: chatting in the garden, prepping snacks, braiding and combing hair, shaving in the bathroom and cuddling in bed.
“There are some special moments in there,” Heynen says, “but most of the time, I kept it to very intimate day-to-day things that happen in the house and around the neighborhood. I wanted people to relate, whether straight or gay.”