Friday, January 25, 2008

The Age Green Guide - "Dads Double Their Brood" by Larry Schwartz

Dads double their brood - Larry Schwartz revisits two men and their second child and film.

TWO Melbourne men, featured in a 2003 documentary showing how they turned to a Los Angeles agency to have a baby because commercial surrogacy is illegal here, were looking forward to a second child.

Tony Wood and partner Lee Matthews faced a new challenge. "When we found out that our second child was a girl, we were delighted," says Wood, an employment lawyer at a large city firm. "But in a sense a boy would have been easier because we understand boys and we know how men work.

"I'll tell you, having a girl's the most enlightening experience. As much as you might want to say, 'I'm not going to gender-stereotype this child', she bloody well loves pink dresses and dolls and all that kind of stuff. It's amazing. It's a wonderful experience. We love her to pieces."

Lucinda, whose arrival is featured in the follow-up documentary, Two Men and Two Babies (part of SBS' Future Families series) is two years and three months old. She was born to Junoa, who also gave birth to her five-year-old brother, Alexander.

When I interviewed the couple almost five years ago before the screening of the first documentary, Man Made: The Story of Two Men and a Baby, Matthews, a businessman now in his late 30s, said he hoped Alexander would grow up to be straight so that he would have "one less hurdle to jump".

"We just want them to be fulfilled in their own desires and their own expectations," says Wood, reminded of this comment. "And they will be what they will be."

They are among the first gay men in Australia to have children this way. Wood says they now know of about 20 children born through commercial surrogacy.

But two men and a pram is still a relatively unfamiliar sight and some people ask questions. "They say, 'Where's mum?"' says Wood. "And you say, 'There is no mum. There are two dads."'

While laws in most Australian states and territories are restrictive, the ACT permits altruistic (non-commercial) surrogacy. Wood says he and Matthews would have preferred to adopt but this is not permitted here.

In the new documentary, he says commercial surrogacy "can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars" and he regrets that it can be prohibitive.

He says he and Matthews agreed to the second documentary despite "a high degree of ambivalence", partly because director Emma Crimmings, who received an Inside Film Award and Logie nomination for the first Man Made, is a friend.

They reasoned also that the early documentary had helped inform gay men and educate others. "I think ultimately our intention is to break down discrimination and prejudice," Wood says.

In the new film, Wood's mother talks of her early misgivings about his homosexuality and the way he and Matthews planned to have a child. Thanks largely to encouragement from her friends after the first film, he says, she is now a doting grandmother. "In a sense she's received the same kind of positive feedback that we have had. That's wonderful to her."

They are determined to be as open as possible with both children. "Alexander knows that his circumstances are not usual. Yet he also knows lots of other kids with two mums or two dads."

They say they will not have another child and there will not be a third film. "It was filmed on and off over a period of more than six months," Wood says of the second, "and, as much as you are friends of the filmmaker, you end up becoming at times less than best friends and very protective of your own personal time and space."

He notes there are fewer unguarded moments in the second film and suspects you "become a less-interesting subject for a documentary the more familiar you become with the process."

Was there anything he would have preferred not to see in the new film? "I would have made a very different documentary if I was editing it and there are certainly aspects that I would prefer weren't included and there were obviously aspects I wish were better reflected in the film," Wood says.

Filmmaker Crimmings met the couple socially through her partner, who worked with Wood. She says Wood and Matthews had "some contractual control. Ultimately they didn't have final veto," she says.

"But there was control in that when we got to the point where they would view the final outcome.

"If there were things there they took umbrage to and thought were not balanced and fair, then they would be reviewed and removed whatever the compromise was."

[Link: Original Article]

No comments: