By Merle Bertrand | January 20, 2002

As the recent Holidays probably reminded us, the “traditional” American family ain’t what it used to be. Single moms and single dads, stepparents, half-siblings and a multitude of other familial combinations gathered around the nation’s dining room tables for Christmas dinner. These often confusing conglomerations are sometimes as far removed from “Leave It To Beaver” as hi-def flat screen televisions are from the old black and white consoles of “Father Knows Best.”
Now there’s a new variation on the family that’s started popping up in recent years; a relatively recent phenomenon that would have been nearly unthinkable just a few short years ago. Still rare, still highly controversial and still considered highly immoral or worse by a significant percentage of the population, an increasing number of gay and lesbian couples are becoming parents.
Director Johnny Symons explores the highly charged topic of gay parents in his winning documentary “Daddy & Papa.” He approaches the subject both from the objective perspective of a filmmaker and armed with the subjective experience of himself being a gay father with his partner William Rogers. Reluctant at first, the insights he gained while interviewing the three other sets of parents who appear in this film gradually changed his mind. Yet, he and William had to convince their son Zachary’s reluctant Fundamentalist Christian foster mother that being raised by gay parents wouldn’t “make” Zach gay.
The film also explores three other families. Kelly Wallace is a thirty-eight-year old single white gay man attempting to adopt two minority brothers. We learn from him how being a single parent, whether straight or gay, is inherently difficult.
We also meet Fanny Ballantine-Himberg. After a mutual friend gave birth to Fanny, her fathers Philip Himberg and Jim Ballantine adopted the bright nine-year-old girl as planned, only to split up and become involved in new relationships. As if having two fathers isn’t challenging enough, Fanny must now adapt to life with two new stepfathers.
Finally, there’s Doug Houghton who became the legal guardian of eight-year-old Oscar Williams ever since Oscar’s troubled father abandoned him five years before. In his attempts to adopt Oscar, however, Doug runs afoul of Florida’s restrictive adoption laws that explicitly forbid adptions by homosexuals. Enter the ACLU and the launch of a landmark lawsuit to establish those rights.
“Daddy & Papa” is sure to piss off the religious right…but there’s no reasoning with or accomodating them anyway. For everyone else, “Daddy & Papa” is an intelligent, funny and well-reasoned film even if you don’t agree with its arguments. It’s frank in its acknowledgement that gay parenting is an idea that’s completely anathema to much of the straight community. Yet, the film is very eloquent in stating its position that gay and lesbian couples should have the same rights to become parents as straight couples…and that they’re every bit as good at it. Almost as if to acknowledge that many people, and not necessarily just hard-core conservatives, either simply cannot or will not accept such a concept, Symon’s film makes another compelling argument. Noting that some 50,000 African-American kids are languishing in foster homes waiting to be adopted, the film argues that being welcomed into any loving home, gay or straight, has to be an improvement over life in a foster home.
Whether viewers agree or disagree, “Daddy & Papa” nevertheless entertains tremendously while arguing its points eloquently.

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