Photographer Harold David On Life As a Gay Dad: “I’ve Not Had One Person Say Anything Negative To Me. Not one.”

Luke BenedictusBy Luke Benedictus.
« Back

“I always knew that I wanted to be a dad. It’s weird. I never even thought it wasn’t a possibility. But in my situation it’s not something that just happens by chance, you know? It’s not like a random act that takes place in the back of a Chevy. It has to be really planned and thought-out.”

“I was with my ex for 15 years, but he never wanted to be a dad. He always said, “If you have a kid, I’ll be the uncle.” And I’d think: ‘OK, I don’t know how that’s going to work’.

“But while we were still together, I went to LA in 2007 and started the surrogacy process there. I gave this doctor a deposit of money and ‘baby-making ingredients’. Then the ass fell out of the economy and the Australian dollar fell. What was going to cost me like $100,000 was suddenly going to cost me $200,000 and insurance went up. I just couldn’t do it. But then India started opening their doors to overseas surrogacy.

“In 2011, just by synchronicity
, I was watching Jenny Brockie’s Insight show and they were interviewing this woman called Dr Shivani from India, who ran the most reputable surrogacy agency in India. I loved her philosophy and everything about what she said. I contacted her the next day and was over there in two weeks and starting the process.

“The only thing was that now I was single (I broke up with my ex in 2009). For the next year and a half, I worried about whether I could make it work as a single dad. But I kept thinking about it and everything kept leading me in the same direction. Finally I decided: “I’m not going to let being single stop me from becoming a dad.”

“Not only was I single, I was also working a lot – this all happened at the height of my fashion photography work. My friends said to me “Are you crazy?” But I’d remind them of that saying: “if you want to get a job done then give it to a busy person.'” So, I was in that mode and I still am. Plus, the truth was that I was 49, so it felt like now or never.

“And then I had twin boys….

“My mum came out from Detroit for two months and she helped out at first. Then I was on my own. I can barely remember that first year now. It’s almost like when a woman has a baby and she forgets the pain of labour and two years later wants to have another child. I forget what those early months were like, the sheer craziness of it all.

“But at least with twins it’s almost like one big swoop. You just double everything and it’s all the same: the same feeding times, same nap-times, it’s just increasing the load. Where I was lucky was that both Henry and Franky were great sleepers.

“I had a nanny on-call who lived near-by. She would come and help out if any big jobs came through. Then she went to college and couldn’t do it anymore, so I built a granny flat in the back (we called it the nanny flat) and we had a live-in nanny.

“I had really thought that was it for relationships. I was resigned to being single. But eight months after they were born, I brought the kids into a bistro for lunch and Andy was our waiter. We’ve been together ever since. Andy is a second dad to them. He’s been instrumental in raising these kids.

“How has fatherhood changed me? I’ve learned how to be patient, I’ve learned how to listen. In a way, I’m sterner now – before I’d always been kind of lax with anything that’s regimented, like being on time. But in the last couple of years, I’ve realised that I need to teach the boys some boundaries

“I’m also a lot softer in many ways too. Every night after the boys go to bed at night, I always look in on them. Even if it’s been a long day, I look in on them while they’re sleeping, and my heart just … I almost get a little tear in my eye. Yeah, I’m definitely softer.

“Has becoming a father made me a better man? I guess so, because I think a better man is someone who doesn’t necessarily just take on the traditional roles of fatherhood. When I was a kid, my dad never changed my nappy, never cooked a meal, he never did any of that. The newer generations of dads, we’re so much more in tune to the needs of a child. Our involvement isn’t so restricted.

“Looking back my dad
was pretty absent most of the time. We lived in Detroit until I was 14 and dad was a pipe fitter at the Ford Motor Company and worked in the factory. But there were two things he always did with me: one was to play guitar and sing, but the other thing was to toss a baseball.

“Last Christmas, I got my boys a baseball glove and a baseball. That’s one of the things that I most love doing with them most: teaching them how to catch and throw.

“What would I advise a guy going into surrogacy? Make sure you’re ready. Make sure you’ve gotten a lot of things out of your system. Make sure you’re ready.

“But the most important thing for me is that I still paint – I’ve got my first exhibition this year – and I still do photography. Doing that is a struggle for me because I do have some guilt around it. But then I listened to this kind of guru, her name’s Marianne Williamson, and she said something that stuck with me. She said: ‘It’s really important for your kids to see you doing what you love to do that’s not necessarily related to them.” Hearing her say that helped to get me over the guilt. So that’s what I’d say to anyone going into surrogacy or becoming a dad in general: just keep being yourself.

“What’s really funny about being a gay dad is that 99.9% of the people you meet are just so on board with it. I have not had one person say anything negative to me. Not one.

“Four years ago, I was in Marfa, Texas with Andy and the boys. We were pushing the twins in a double pram and suddenly this older guy – he must’ve been 70 – pulled up and stopped in front of us in his pick-up truck with all these rifles stacked in the back window. The man got out of his truck and stood right in front of us and looked us up and down. “So where’s the momma?” he said.

“I looked at Andy – cause Andy’s a pretty big guy – and I thought, ‘OK, well, here we go…’

“But Andy just said, ‘No, we’re two dads.’

“This guy’s whole face just completely softened. He looked at us and then he nodded. “Well,” he said. “It looks like you’re doing a good job.”

“And then he got back into his pick-up truck and drove off.”

This is an extract from The Father Hood: Inspiration For The New Dad Generation. Buy it here