The Schmooze cannot independently confirm this, but America’s most popular podcast on gay fatherhood may be the result of a conversation from beyond the grave.
In 2016, Israel-American web designer Yanir Dekel was wrapping up his first year as the father of Ben and Adam, twins he’d conceived through surrogacy with his husband Alex Maghen. Finally, he was experienced enough at changing diapers and administering bottles to think about the big picture. How was he weathering the shift from a life of working out and hanging out to one dictated by sleep schedules? When he and his family were at the park and someone asked if it was “mom’s day off,” what was the best way to respond? How did it feel to be part of the first wave of publicly, unapologetically gay dads?
Dekel started scribbling his thoughts in a journal. He published an article in Huffington Post about the lessons he’d learned (one key takeaway: make sure to take kids to gay spaces to give them “the opportunity to see why collagen lip injections are never a good idea for men”). And he consulted a psychic who he said put him in touch with his deceased aunt. In a warm and lengthy conversation, she advised him to write a memoir about the topics that were consuming him.
“You already have the idea,” she said.
Already the author of one memoir, Dekel didn’t follow this advice to the letter; but he did start a blog, Daddy Squared. It was a way to record his sons’ development and process his anxieties as a parent while, he hoped, providing insight to other fathers in the same boat.
Some of the posts on Daddy Squared would be at home on many a mommy blog (even the ones that aren’t so sympathetic to LGBTQ parents): early posts tackled devising schedules, choosing safe toys, and coaxing babies to sleep through the night.
Others, like a feature on networks of gay fathers in Queens, and a post on “dad-shaming” (the tendency to assume gay men are bad parents or scrutinize their behavior especially carefully), reflect the specific experience as gay fathers. For Dekel, mulling over these problems in his signature irreverent style (he sometimes refers to his twins as “poop machines”) was a way to “release the tension you have when you’re a parent.”
As podcasts began to replace personal blogs, Dekel, who had some radio experience, saw an opportunity to expand Daddy Squared. With his husband, he recorded the first episode of a podcast on gay fatherhood, focusing on the work it takes to maintain a marriage after becoming a father. Dekel hoped that a dozen people would download the episode. Instead, he said, hundreds streamed in the first week.
Three seasons and 30,000 downloads later, Daddy Squared has emerged as the the ground zero of gay parenting resources. On each episode, Dekel and Maghen host an expert to discuss a chosen topic. A surrogacy expert has appeared on the show to talk about how expectant parents can maintain healthy relationships with the woman carrying their child. Maghen, who works for Time Warner, recruited colleagues to give out “Gayby Awards” for their favorite children’s movies. In the most recent episode, the loss of a beloved dog prompts a father to consult a minister on explaining grief to their boys.
These days, Dekel occasionally meets strangers who recognize his voice from the podcast. But, he says, he’s lucky to live in a “bubble” where his work meets with praise, not hate. Online, he receives hate mail from as far away as South Africa.
“When you make yourself visible, you put yourself in the forefront of the war zone,” Dekel said. Despite the condemnation, he hopes his work will help normalize gay fatherhood outside his own community.
“I say, hey, if you just listen to what we have to say, you’ll see that our kids are just normal. That there’s not really that much of a difference.”
Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at email@example.com.