“Here should be a picture of my favorite apple.
It is also a nude & bottle.
It is also a landscape.
There are no such things as still lifes.” ~ Erica Jong
Dear Mr. Whitten,
You probably had no idea.
That day in November of 2014, when this photo was taken, you probably thought you were just doing what most baby books tell you to do when your child has a fever. Sometimes the fever reducer you give them doesn’t work. Sometimes if you put them in a cool bath, they feel better. You were hoping that it was just a tummy virus. Maybe by morning, the fever would break and that listless little boy would begin to act like the toddler that holds your heart every second of every day. Maybe he’d ask for a snack, or some juice, maybe his smile would get a little stronger, and before too long you’d be cleaning up the trail of cereal and toys and debris that follows every child that age. You would remember what it’s like to be mad at yourself for being so irritated with someone so small, someone who really doesn’t understand why you are looking at him like that. You might be surprised at the rush of relief you feel at the cry of a healthy, frustrated little human who is just learning about the world around him.
You sat with him in the shower because he needed you, because even if you caught what he had, it would be worth it. Even if it meant sitting in a cold shower, allowing a sick little boy to be sick all over you, you were doing what a good parent is supposed to do. No-one looks forward to moments like that, but there is no contract negotiation in parenting—this is what you do.
Your wife saw something beautiful in what was otherwise a moment of worry—she saw a father being present for his son. She took a picture, because that’s what she does. Artists sometimes see beauty in places others don’t. In this case, she didn’t have to look far.
Neither of you knew, at the moment the picture was taken, that your boy was really sick. You must have been very frightened to learn that he had Salmonella poisoning, which can be life threatening. You took him to the hospital because he didn’t get better, and it was the right thing to do. We are so very glad that this picture doesn’t represent a moment much more heartbreaking. We are so happy that your little boy is well, and growing, and that there are countless other pictures that your wife will take of you and the rest of your family, to share with the world.
Sadly, your decision to post the photo has given public opinion an opportunity to distort what this picture actually represents. To react without making an effort to learn about the moments before and after, and to use it to reinforce their own fear-mongering beliefs about nudity and decency. To date, your post, by itself, has thousands and thousands of shares and comments, the majority of which are positive. Some are well-intended, but misguided. Others are vicious and hurtful. Some people can only see through the lens that life gives them. Some people try to make their outsides match their insides, by projecting all of their hate onto you. We could write ten thousand more words, refuting each of those comments. We could argue forever and change very little.
We just want you to know that we see you, Mr. Whitten. We get it. We know what this picture represents. Someday when you look back on this and remember—first, all of the worry and fear and anxiety about your baby, and then the relief when he was well again…followed by the overwhelming and dumbfounding reaction from strangers on the internet—know that what your little boy will remember is the day his daddy was there for him, when he picked him up and held him and he never let him down.