Soon after Canada legalized same-sex marriages, Julia Ivanova filmed four gay fathers realizing their liberties. She returned a decade later to see how the dads, their co-parents and kids were doing
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In 2007, just a few years after Canada legalized same-sex marriages, filmmaker Julia Ivanova approached four gay fathers and fathers to be to find out what their lives and dreams were like. Vancouver citizens Randy and Drew had just adopted a baby boy Jack and were striving for recognition from the communities around them. Steve was trying to shuffle his needs for romantic fulfillment with a full-time job in Vancouver and weekend trips to a rural island to co-parent his two daughters from his ex-wife and her current wife. Meanwhile, a single man Scott was seeking to become a dad through surrogacy in the US. A decade later, Ivanova filmed the families again. She found Randy and Drew butting heads with Jack as a young angsty teenager who hates everything. Steve was still the multitasking breadwinner, dealing with a chronic illness in the family, but still finding time for his creative endeavors. Scott got married and was now raising his twins with his husband in Nova Scotia.
WHO MADE IT: Julia Ivanova was born and raised in Moscow but immigrated to Canada in the 90s. She’s been making documentaries since the beginning of the century. While the first ones were focused around post-Soviet identities, she has since also branched out into the subjects of family life, adoptions, and, most recently, oil. When she was making the first film, Ivanova was operating in unknown territory, as gay parenthood was still a very new thing for the majority of the people, even in Canada. Now that 25 more countries have joined Canada and the preceding pioneers in marriage equality, the invisibility is lower for many queer families in their many iterations, but they’re yet to become a mainstream staple in many facets of culture. Ivanova was drawn to return to the families and find out how the things had changed, while also giving an “Up Series” kind of treat to returning viewers by allowing them to revisit the familiar faces and get updates on lives in which they’re already invested. The characters are all members of real Canadian families. Randy and Drew are fathers to their adoptive son Jack. Steve is father to Jazz with his ex-wife Wendy, while his younger daughter, Zea, was born from Cory, Wendy’s new wife, and the three adults co-parent the two girls. Meanwhile, Scott became father to Mac and Ella through a surrogate but is currently raising them with his husband, Darren.
WHY DO WE CARE: If you’ve ever been in an argument with homophobic people, you might now that the zealot’s primary defense against acceptance is that it’s terrible for the kids. Obviously, it’s nothing but a conspiracy theory, but none the less it’s really helpful to have texts that document the utter, overwhelming normality of same-sex parents and their offspring over time and contradict the fallacies by rock-hard examples. Will they be able to persuade the xenophobes? Probably not. But validation from reactionaries is not a goal pursued by queer families. Offering them dignity, representation and visibility is what’s essential, and simultaneously, what’s going to change the society’s perspective on the evolving marital and parental patterns, as the traditionalists remain on the wrong side of history. Both films are presented by Ivanova as non-political, but it’s hard not to pen them as such, even though there’s no visible activism in them. Hardly ever has family life been an issue that’s not steeped in systemic oppression. Perhaps for some the films are just a query of family units. But there are many tiny moments in the two of them when little nuggets of resistance show through the domestic coziness. For instance, when Zea, who was an adorable rosy-cheeked preschooler during the filming of the first part, was asked by Ivanova if having two moms meant double the punishment, along with double the fun. “What is punished? What does the word mean?” the child earnestly deflected.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH:” I’ve never met another man who is doing what I’m doing, and that’s been the most challenging thing,” Scott, the single man looking to become a parent through surrogacy confessed in the first part. His experience of being alone in the world was echoed by the other participants: Randy and Drew were looking for other gay dads on MeetUp, Steve was struggling to find time in his busy schedule for dates in the pre-Grindr era. And while the first part was about pioneering efforts, the second one, getting released in the time when you can find any kind of family unit to relate to on Instagram, is about humans getting on. And while there is nothing revolutionary or exhilarating about the films, just like life itself, they are a perfect mix of anguish, sacrifice, and happiness, as well as a brilliant testament to how things change over time. When in the first part Scott was the one facing the most unknowables, in the second part his life is the most conventionally blissful, while for Randy and Drew, who are still as enamored with each other and their furry friends, Jack’s adolescence has become a salty departure from the first delights of fatherhood in the 2007 film. Steve is neither here, nor there: still a man devoted to the four women in his life, he is still on the path of learning to carve out priceless time for himself. And this is perhaps the main draw of Ivanova’s intimate and warm documentaries today: they’re both time capsules of humanity that show that no matter the family situation or era, or whether your luck is down or on the rise, there are ways to be decent, kind and patient. Those of us, who can’t go questioning our humanity with the use of centuries-old manuals, need to see such stories to truly know what’s important in life and what isn’t. As to the gay parents part: the good people in the world already know that they’re just like other parents, and that the kids will be alright. It’s being there that matters, not the genders or amounts. As the first film’s star, the much loved Zea summed her situation of growing up with two moms and a dad: “It’s not confusing, I’m the luckiest ever because I have the most parents”.
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