"When I am painting, it's like a different dimension I'm living. Your focus is entirely on what you are creating, where you enter this 'artworld' and that is your focus," says painter Oscar Dotter of his method. "Now, I find myself painting what she is influencing me to paint. I just let things go. It is more whimsical, a little more fun, not as political, not as angry, definitely brighter in colors. More of reflective of how I'm feeling now that I have children."
The "she" his is talking about is Finlee, one of Oscar's two daughters who, along with sister Bowie, he raises with husband-to-be Nick. Unlike in other professions, artists are in a unique position to manifest incorporeal concepts into something relatable and are renowned for radical changes in their styles before and after certain events. But it is not like Nick, who works in the much more rigid financial industry, was immune; in fact, Oscar and Nick both see their lives as "BK/AK" — "Before Kids" and "After Kids."
"It was like a totally different life that we had before we had our daughters," says Nick. "I spent a lot of time at work. That was a large part of my identity; it was a large part of my professional ambition."
Both parties admit that the transformation of the Angry Young Man and the Wall Street Workaholic was not without its paradigm shifts; aside from their established careers, the two were together for nearly 10 years before Finn showed up 2013 and Bowie in 2016, plenty of time for the duet routine to put down roots. However, what that routine actually set was the firm groundwork for the additions to their family that were to come, and Oscar and Nick consider their years as a twosome as time well spent. And that, in fact, is one of the biggest pieces of advice they give.
Like many prospective parents, Oscar, 43, and Nick, 39, asked around, seeking the assorted do's and don'ts, tales from the trenches, and other assorted nuggets of wisdom of parenthood from people already on the journey. A recurrent theme was the importance of creating strong foundations, of all sorts, before children are even a topic for discussion.
"Some of parents were younger, some older, but a lot of them had voiced they wished they had waited a couple more years because parenthood really changed things, emotionally and financially, for them," recalls Oscar.
But once they made up their minds to become fathers, it was full steam ahead. Opting for surrogacy, however, ushered in a very modern conversation that all the advice in the world would do no good: Of the two of them, who is the better genetic option to father a child?
Oscar gives the straightforward answer: "Nick's family has a better genetic history than I do, concerning cancer and heart disease. His genetic strand, in terms of having children being at less risk, looked more promising than mine."
If you think this sounds eerily like eugenics, think again. Genetic history is just one of many factors even run-of-the-mill sperm banks (and egg donation facilities) take into consideration when it comes to donors. One company requests men be at least 5'7'', others push that number to 5'9''. All require donors have at least a bachelor's degree, and have an age limit. Mental illness, a high prevalence of cancer in the family, and even myopia can knock a sperm donor out of the running. The now-defunct Repository for Germinal Choice was founded with the idea of accepting only those donors with Nobel Prizes to their name. With the advent of DNA testing, science gained a strong say in the baby-making biz, and as societally uncomfortable it is to say this or that person's genes are "better," medical technology reached a level where parents can actively try to minimize gene-based disorders being passed on to their children. And let there be no doubt: outside the scientific sphere, people have been choosing potential mates based on certain characteristics for...well, ever (even if those relationships never result in the birth of a child).
"We were very fortunate; our surrogacy journey was pretty smooth," says Nick. "But we know a lot of other couples who had failed IVF attempts once or twice or even three times in a row. It is truly a multi-year process. It can be a very emotionally draining."
And if the conception was hard, to say nothing of the birth, just you wait till the parenting starts.
"But it is the best thing to happen to us," Oscar says. "Nothing is more rewarding going to pick them up, them recognizing me and saying "hello" and "I love you" before they go to bed. It doesn't matter how challenging it is, at the end of the day, for me, it's the best thing in the world."
Given the girls' ages, the "where's mommy" question has yet to surface, although Finlee, now in pre-school, has sometimes said the mothers she sees in her cartoons are her own. While Nick predicts the subject will be broached "formally" in a year or so, Oscar noticed she is already tuned-in to the fact that she has two fathers and will identify them as such.
"We're not big disciplinarians or anything like that," admits Oscar, going on to say how the responsibilities of fatherhood, and Finlee, now three, and Bowie, nine months, are experiencing it, is an organic process. "It's OK for them to figure things out with us. We're figuring it out, and they're with us on it. We're learning, they're learning. I think that is the best thing for our family."