Sam – The Bath © Ariel + Sam Soto-Suver 2019

Installation on view from: February 27th- March 9th

On the night our first child was born, I didn’t want to close my eyes. I wouldn’t sleep. I couldn’t part my gaze from her. It was as if I had a puzzle to crack. I held the entirety of her existence in my hands, yet she was a stranger to me. I tried out her name on my lips. The exhilaration of what I would say next, felt like a blind leap, and I remember feeling compelled to whisper, “I love you.”

Down I went, falling into the unknown. I was overcome with vertigo, spinning me at my core. ​What does it mean to be a father? ​My most familiar reference points were tied to family trauma. After my mom’s suicide, and estrangement from my father, I felt abandoned. However, sometimes the positive aspects of a thing are most clearly defined by the negative. Stars shine brightest in the dark of night. I knew what type of dad I wanted to be: present and a constant source of unconditional love.

I wanted to meet other dads who were also interested in essential questions about fatherhood. Given that the future condition of humanity lies in the decisions that parents make in raising their children, I knew that I couldn’t be alone in my quest. Yet, at all the parenting meet-up groups I attended, library story-times, and playgrounds I frequented, it seemed almost impossible to find another dad to talk to. Where were they?

After griping with my wife, Ariel, for some time, and speculating about the larger social and economic forces at work, we decided to embark on a photography project that would investigate fatherhood amidst the changing landscape of our time.

While most children are raised in dual-earning households nowadays, of stay-at-home parents, only 17% were fathers in 2016, up from 7% recorded 27 years earlier. This small increase in stay-at-home fathers seems encouraging, signaling advances in economic opportunities for women and more egalitarian gender attitudes. On the other hand, many moms we talked to in dual-parent hetero-households described how they felt squeezed, when, in addition to their partner’s expectation that they bring home a paycheck, they also do the housework, and are primarily responsible for child care. Meanwhile, gender attitudes also skew to old-fashioned views: in a 2013 Pew survey, 51% of respondents felt that children were better off with mom at home, while only 8% felt that children were better off with dad at home. Why do these gender inequities persist? We wanted to explore how the historical oppression of women, and social perceptions of gender shape definitions of fatherhood. How did fathers on the frontlines of the movement for greater gender equality grapple with issues of identity (perhaps expanding notions of masculinity to embrace traditionally feminine realms of nurture, softness, and intuition)?

This exhibition reflects a journey into what fatherhood means to our family, through personal photographs. The photographs and interviews of other fathers we have documented have become a source of wisdom: a reflection at times, of hard truths and the inertia of the status quo, as well as the aspirations of a new type of dad, creating a new path for his family, and generations to come. 
-Samuel Soto-Suver