5 Years After Viral Birth Photo, Toronto Dads Cherish Every Parenting Moment

Welcome to Dad Village, Huffpost Canada’s series about all things fatherhood.

quarter of new dads feel socially isolated, and supports for fathers tend to be lacking, even though this generation is more involved in parenting than ever before. That’s why it’s so important to connect! We hope this series will get dads talking: to each other, to their partners, and online.

It was the birth photo that made the world weep: two dads, overcome with raw emotion, hold their baby for the first time.

Five years later, Toronto dads BJ Barone, 39, and Frankie Nelson, 49, are still cherishing every moment, milestone, and embrace with their son.

Milo, now five years old, was born via gestational surrogacy. Seconds after his birth during 2014 Pride Week, photographer Lindsay Foster captured the now-famous image that would be shared around the world.

The birth photo of BJ Barone and Frankie Nelson that went viral around the world. (Photo: Lindsay Foster)

“I think it resonated with so many people because no matter gay, straight, man, woman, we all feel the same love for our children when we meet them for the first time,” Barone recently told HuffPost Canada.

Since 2014, Barone and Nelson, who are both high school teachers, have spread messages of love on their Instagram pages, their website and magazine, both called “Family is about love,” and they’ve even authored two childrens’ books: Milo’s Adventures: A Story About Love, and Milo’s Adventures: A Mermaid’s Tale.

We asked BJ Barone about the couple’s journey to fatherhood, their fears, surrogacy, the goals they hope to instill in Milo, and the gender biases and stereotypes they face parenting. 

BJ Barone, Milo, and Frankie Nelson, spreading messages of love. (Photo: Family Is About Love/Instagram)

Did you always want to become fathers? 

We both wanted to be fathers, but I never thought it was going to be possible. Growing up, I never thought would ever get married because I was gay, never mind raise a family. When Frank and I met, one of the first things he said to me was that he wanted to be a father. I was like, “OK,” but I still had that mentality of thinking it was never going to happen.

Frank has a single gay cousin that did surrogacy back in the ’80s, well before the time when it was as mainstream and accessible as it is now, so he was always an inspiration for him. We took a course at the local community centre about ways gay men can become parents, and we chose surrogacy, as we wanted to have some kind of ‘control’ over this whole process. Little did we know we can’t control it!

What were you most afraid of?

A fear we have as parents is the unknown of the future and the decisions and choices [Milo] will make as he gets older. We are trying our best to instill good values, and to treat others and himself with respect, and we hope this carries through to his adolescence and into his adulthood. We want him to be successful and give his all at everything he does.

Has raising a boy been a challenge? How is it different from how you were raised?

As gay men, we thought it would be difficult raising a little boy, as we are not that into sports and don’t conform to the ‘straight-male stereotypes’ and thought it would be more fun having a little girl to dress up, as we love our clothes!  

My father wasn’t very affectionate with all his kids (there are four of us). Every chance I get I tell Milo I love him, hug and kiss him, so he definitely knows he is loved. Times were different back then, too. My father was working 24/7 to support his family,  so he wasn’t home most of the time.

Frank and I are both teachers, so we have the same schedules and make sure to be there for Milo every chance we get, whether it’s for school drop off/pick up, or for skating and swimming lessons. We do it all together. We share the responsibilities at home, and since there are no defined ‘gender roles’ as there are sometimes in heteronormative families, all our duties are shared. 

What do you teach Milo about gender, sexuality, and expression, and what values do you hope to instill in him?

We teach Milo that everyone is different and that [however] they choose to express themselves is OK. We must respect everyone, and be kind to one another. Our family is different from other families, so he already knows the importance of being respectful to other people.

Values we hope to instill in him are to be empathetic, supporting, to stand up for himself and his friends, to be vocal at what he wants. So far, we think we are doing a good job!

What are the greatest challenges of gay parenthood?  What are the greatest joys?

I think the greatest challenges of gay parenthood are breaking down those gender biases and stereotypes. Men can be great parents, just like women can.

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When Milo was just born, we received a lot of unsolicited advice on how to take care of our son. Many questions were asked of our family, like, ‘Where is his mom?’ or even, ‘Who does the mommy stuff?’ We never got angry at these questions, but always used them as learning opportunities and teachable moments.  

The greatest joys of parenthood is coming home after a long, stressful day and getting a big hug and kiss from Milo and being told, ‘I love you!’ There is nothing that can melt the stress away [more] than hugs and kisses!

What advice do you have for other dads?

Spend as much time with your kids as you can. Cherish every milestone, take tons of videos and pictures. Be in the moment with them and be patient.

Kids take an awful long time to do things, and try to relish in that. One day they will grow up and appreciate their inquisitiveness.

Your beautiful birth photo has been shared around the world.  What does this means to you?

Every time I look at our photo, I just stare at it. I look at our faces and how we are overcome with emotion meeting Milo when he was just seconds born. I look at our surrogate, Kathy’s face, which is one of relief, and happiness, and awe, and I look at our midwife’s face, who is smiling.

WATCH: The story behind the photo. Story continues below.

This picture brings back so many wonderful memories from his day, and we were so lucky that our photographer, Lindsay Foster, happened to capture this moment, all unexpectedly. We get asked why this picture garnered the attention it did and honestly I think it resonated with so many people because no matter gay, straight, man, woman, we all feel the same love for our children when we meet them for the first time. 

What do you want more people to understand about surrogacy?

That it may not be for everyone. Surrogacy is a long journey, and it can be a roller coaster of a time. There are a lot of factors that come into play, and you need to be committed, be financially prepared and know that you may not get pregnant.

That being said, surrogates are amazing women who want to help create families, and when you meet that special woman who wants to help you create your family, they also become an extension of your family.

You’re also passionate about skin to skin. What do you want more dads to understand about this practice?

Skin-to-skin care is so important for bonding with your baby. At first we weren’t really aware of this practice, and our midwife walked us through the process of how the birth would go. She said that once the baby is born, we would take our shirts off and the baby will be placed on our chest. We thought this was some type of “earthy” thing midwives did and thought everyone was going to be naked!

After reading up on it, we learned that skin-to-skin care is so beneficial for bonding with your baby. It regulates their heart and body temperature, and they also recognize your scent. We continued for months after Milo was born with skin to skin, and we feel it helped create a special bond.” 

Russell Peters

Canada's king of stand-up comedy pulls no punches when it comes to his own dad, often sending audiences into fits of uncontrollable laughter with hilarious imitations of his Indian father. He recently became a father himself to Crystianna Marie, who was born prematurely and spent two months in the hospital. Luckily Peters' adorable daughter caught up quickly (he called her a 'heifer' at 9 pounds), and as this photo shows, he likes to incorporate her into his comedy. In 2011, she even made a cameo in his very first Christmas special.

Donald Sutherland

Why We Love Him: Don't let his evil persona Dr. Snow a la Hunger Games fool you; the accomplished actor is also a caring father of five (to Kiefer, Rachel, Rossif, Angus and Roeg). A constant support system for his celebrity son Kiefer, Donald proudly described him as an "astonishingly good" actor at the unveiling of Keifer's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Canadian Bald Guy

Why We Love Him: This dad blogger, who defines himself by his shiny bald head, has four children with the love of his life. None are biologically shared, and he maintains a long distance relationship with his partner, giving a modern take on what it means to parent. His posts reflect a joie de vivre and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. Did we mention he used to have hair?

Adam Beach

Why We Love Him:Born in Ashern, Manitoba, actor Adam Beach is known for his roles in such blockbuster hits as Smoke Signals, Texas Ranger and Cowboys & Aliens. But he doesn't let fame get to his head; Beach is a devoted dad to his three children (Noah, 16, Luke, 18 and Phoenix, 4) and told Native Peoples magazine that when he's not being a father, he dedicates his free time to helping younger generations of first nations people in need of aid.

Michael J. Fox

Why We Love Him: The beloved Michael J. Fox has won three Emmys, been awarded with Freedom of the City (from the city of Burnaby, BC) and has been a tireless advocate for Parkinson's disease research. He and his wife Tracy have four children, and Fox has said that his own diagnosis of the disease has made him a better father and overall human being.

Theo Fleury

Why We Love Him: This father of four and former NHL player currently resides in Calgary with his wife, where he once played for the Flames. His impressive hockey career ended in 2003 due to struggles with addiction, which Fleury has revealed were as a result of past sexual abuse at the hand of his coach. In 2009, he documented his experiences in a best-selling autobiography, and has since become an advocate and activist for survivors of child sexual abuse.

Kid Koala

One of the world's finest turntablists and also an accomplished cartoonist, Eric San aka Kid Koala has taken fans on the most imaginative musical journeys with his impressive DJ skills. His recent foray into fatherhood with the birth of his daughter Maple inspired him to create Space Cadet, a wordless graphic novel with its own soundtrack about a guardian robot and his daughter. And even though he says she doesn't like his music, Maple is still cool with his hectic tour schedule and even likes touring with him.

Dr. Dave Williams

Why We Love Him: While most people know him as the astronaut who made two groundbreaking treks into space, few know him as low-key father of two. His amazing kid ethos was confirmed when he told Canadian Medicine News that he tries to encourage children to follow their dreams wherever they may take them.

David Suzuki

Why We Love Him:: This Canadian is an accomplished academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist. Strongly encouraged by his father, he is outspoken about passing lessons learned about hard work to his own children and grandchildren. And it may have paid off: his daughters Severn and Sarika share his passion for environmental activism, and the latter joins him on CBC's The Suzuki Diaries, where they explore sustainability issues across the country.

Joe Mimran

Why We Love Him: Family ties played an important role in the career of Canadian fashion designer and entrepreneur Joe Mimran; he grew up to the sound of a sewing machine. Later, with brother Saul, he launched the Alfred Sung collection, then went on to develop the minimalist style of Club Monaco and the popular fast-fashion brand Joe Fresh. He's not only made time to be an active dad for his four children, he's also been a mentor for his niece and nephew, Tamara and Jordin, as they launch a fashion line of their own.

George Smitherman

Why We Love Him: After losing to Rob Ford in last year's mayoral election in Toronto, murmurs about gay fatherhood surfaced as a potential reason for Smitherman's loss. But this doesn't stop the politician from beaming about his growing family and children. In October 2011, The Star reported that he and his partner, Christopher Peloso, were adopting their second child, a little girl. Smitherman's commitment to family was highlighted even as he was defeated by Ford on election night. He told reporters: "What's next for me? You've seen what's next for me: his name is Michael and he's 23 months old."

Brandon Hay

Why We Love Him: This 32-year old father of three has harnessed his own dark memories of his absent father and is attempting to break the cycle. Tackling the unspoken topic of black fatherhood, Hay founded the Black Daddies Club to provide other like-minded fathers with parenting resources and support. By turning apathy into action, he is changing the face of fathers across the country.

Harry Rosen

Why We Love Him: Founder and executive chairman of Canada's top luxury men's wear store, Harry is an active philanthropist. Close to his family (4 children and 7 grandchildren), Harry works closely with his eldest son, Larry, who continues to grow his father's empire. Larry speaks proudly of his legendary father, toting him as an important mentor in his life.

Eric Novak

Why We Love Him: This father of four pairs his commitment to environmental stewardship with parenting. His cool factor resides in the fact that he has been personally trained by Al Gore and David Suzuki to deliver a slideshow similar to the one in An Inconvenient Truth.

Ron Deibert

Why We Love Him: A champion of free speech and human rights, this widowed father of four and cyber guru established The Citizen Lab to combat internet surveillance and censorship. His firewall penetrating tool allows people in China and other countries to access websites through their mobile phones.

Herb Carnegie

The hockey world lost one of its greats when Herb Carnegie passed away in March 2012. The Jamaican-born, Toronto-raised hockey player is generally acknowledged as the mighty talent who should have been the first black player in the NHL, but when offered a contract that paid him less than white players, Carnegie returned to play for Quebec leagues. His daughter recalls a time when Carnegie went awol mid-season just so he could return home to his family. After his hockey career, he created the Future Aces, a foundation to help empower youth through academics and sports, and was an active philanthropist.

Colin Mochrie

Why We Love Him: This Scottish-Canadian improve comic genius has had a profound influence over his son, Luke, an avid fan of movies and music who has starred in several television series. Colin expresses fatherly praise for his son on his Twitter account, tweeting "Watch out Vedder" alongside a YouTube video of Luke and a friend singing a rendition of Hallelujah.

David Eddie

Why We Love Him: An admirable husband, businessman, and father, David Eddie chronicles his misadventures with all the grace and good humour one would expect of a Canadian dad. He provides honest and constructive lessons on life, both in his Globe and Mail advice column, and his recent book Damage Control. In his blog, he often shares his adoration for his children (in his last post, he was busy preparing for his son Adam's 8th birthday).

Rick Hansen

Why We Love Him: Decades after capturing world stage on his famous Man in Motion World Tour, Rick Hansen continues to inspire others living with disabilities. He has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for spinal cord research in his role as president and CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation and he is an inspirational force for his three daughters, Emma, Alana, and Rebecca.

Joshua Ostroff

Why We Love Him: One of AOL Canada's own, Spinner.ca's Josh Ostroff is a pop-culture connoisseur. A storied journalist whose passions encompass music, television and politics, he's devoted dad who chronicles life with his adorable son, Emile, and wife Carrie for Toronto weekly The Grid and The Huffington Post Canada, giving a voice to involved fathers everywhere.

Michael Smith

Why We Love Him: PEI-born Michael Smith is one of Canada's best-known and best-loved chefs. While he inspires families all across North America to create a healthy food lifestyle on air and now on the web (In 2011, he launched his own web series, Food Country), his favourite pastime is being an at-home dad with his family.

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