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Acne Studios presents

The Kordale N Kaleb family

I have been thinking of the family concept for a long time. I’m very fond of it since I feel that at Acne Studios, we began as a collective and we saw each other as family back then. A modern family.

This is how we found Atlanta-based couple Kordale Lewis and Kaleb Anthony and their four beautiful children, Desmiray, Maliyah, Kordale Junior and Kaleb Junior, and why we asked Inez and Vinoodh to photograph them in the New York City hotel room they were staying in during a holiday weekend.

I’m obsessed with uniform clothing in families and I wanted to portray this phenomenon. I love those images of families dressing in the same outfit, and this new collection dedicated to the face motif also has a similar feeling of staple goods.

It is also a way of highlighting that while every family is different, we all have the same love and want the best for our children. There is no ‘normal’ family—all families are normal.

How does the face motif fit into all of this? Well, it is just an ordinary Swedish citizen. Not too happy, not too sad. Just in between. Lagom in Swedish. Like me.

Jonny Johansson,
Acne Studios

“There is no ‘normal’ family
—all families are normal.”

Kaleb Junior is 8 months old. In the following pages, his two fathers Kaleb Anthony and Kordale Lewis discuss their life stories with Xerxes Cook, an American-born writer and father based in London.

“The new age of social media got us together—we met on Facebook.“

Hello Kordale and Kaleb, I’m sorry for calling you so early in the morning. If you’re okay to begin our interview, perhaps we can start with you telling us a little about your family backgrounds and where you grew up?

Kaleb Anthony: I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, born and raised. My life and Kordale’s are totally different. We come from opposite sides of the spectrum, and there’s no grey area. My parents have been married for 30 years now, and I grew up with the dog, the picket fence, and both parents still together. Both of my parents come from an educated background, and I grew up living with the same kind of model they instilled in me. Kordale has had a different experience than I. My father worked in insurance for over 30 years, and my mom in sales for 30 years. They’re now both entrepreneurs who own their own businesses, and I guess I’m trying to do the same thing they do and to bring those values to our family.

Kordale, I know you’ve written about some of the challenges you faced growing up in your book Picture Perfect. Please could you talk us through some of these moments from your childhood?

Kordale Lewis: I’m from Chicago. I have three biological children—the older three are biologically mine. I can only recall seeing my father once as he’s been in prison since I was two for double murder. My mom has been on drugs since I was five, and she still is. It was a tough lifestyle growing up; I went through foster homes and things like that. I met the mother of my children when I was 15; she became pregnant when I was 16. I graduated high school, did two years in college but didn’t graduate. I then moved to Atlanta and met Kaleb about two years later, and we’ve been together for over six years now. I’ve done some work for Kaleb’s family business: I worked at Comcast, I worked at some restaurants, but nothing too career-focused or whatever—I believe I should be my own boss. For the most part, I enjoy being a father. I’m a family man, and this is my life. This is all I know—I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager, through my twenties, and soon my thirties.

Where are the kids now?

Kaleb: During the summertime we try to ship the kids off to their grandparents. As soon as school gets out, we’re like, ‘Who wants them?!’

What brought you to Atlanta, Kordale?

Kordale: I was getting in trouble with the law where I was, in Dubuque, Iowa, partying, doing drugs. All my aunties and uncles date out of their race, so I grew up with white cousins and Indian cousins, and I had never experienced racism until I moved to that town. It was just the most racist place I’ve been in my life, from the police officers messing with people to the teachers referring to people as certain things. Sometimes I wouldn’t even have done anything and I would get in trouble, for obvious reasons. I knew I couldn’t grow as a person in a small town like that. I was coming out, I needed to find myself, and I wanted to get away from all the scrutiny and find some time for myself. I had always aspired to move to Atlanta since I was a little boy, and then I got accepted to two colleges here.

Did you two meet in college?

Kaleb: Nope. The new age of social media got us together—we met on Facebook.

“Maliyah is more of the mouthy one who thinks she’s smarter than everybody.“

How old were you?

Kaleb: 22.

Kordale: I had three kids by then.

Are you comfortable talking about how the three kids came in to the world, and your coming out?

Kordale: I always knew I was gay—I’ve always been attracted to men. I guess, growing up in the Midwest, it wasn’t something cool to talk about, so I would often hang around extremely masculine guys to try to hide that. I had sex with girls, even though I knew that wasn’t really what I felt. And being a teen, I had unprotected sex, though I didn’t know the first two kids were mine until we had a DNA test. So, that happened, and then I told her [I was gay] when she was pregnant with Kordale Junior, our third child. She was like ‘You’re so gay!’ She suspected it. We broke up a couple months after she had my son. She entered into a new relationship, and I moved to Atlanta.

What’s the name of the mother of your children?

Kordale: Her nickname is Poody, her real name is Destiny.

So you were apart from your three children when you first moved to Atlanta?

Kordale: At first we were doing fine, but the guy she was with at the time was very homophobic. There was a lot of disrespect and a lot of name-calling, and men can be very impressionable upon women. It was a point in time where I didn’t see my kids for a while, because this man had a lot of influence over her. But then Poody got pregnant by this guy, and she asked me to come get all of my children. This was in 2013. She was working full-time, the kids weren’t doing well at pre-school as they had no supervision, and then her boyfriend got in trouble with the law for selling drugs and things of that nature. She had lost her home because she’d fallen off this government programme that helps single mothers with housing. I knew I couldn’t just go up and get them without having custody, so we set up a court date, and we got custody of the kids in 2014.

And it was the best thing that’s ever happened to you?

Kordale: [Laughs] I’ve always been a father; I’ve never been the kind of guy who didn’t want to see his kids. But it helped us.

Kaleb: It helped solidify us, as parents and as a couple.

You are both so young to be looking after four kids. Do you feel you’ve missed out on your youth, going out at night, travelling whenever and wherever you feel like?

Kaleb: Honestly, I’m happy we did it when we did. Kordale being super young really worked out for the best, as you have to think of it like this: when we’re 35, our kids will be self-sufficient. They’re going to be at that age when they’re going to want to do things themselves, and to explore themselves. And we’ll still have Kaleb Junior—and they’re going to be able to help look after him—but we’re going to be able to get our life ‘on’ and do some of the things we couldn’t when Kordale was so young.

“When we’re 35, our kids will be self-sufficient.”

“Kordale Junior is starting to become more outgoing—he used to be kind of shell-shocked, but now he’s developing this kind of asshole sense of humour. I don’t know where it came from.”

“People who know us commend us for not having lost our sense of party, while always putting our children first.”

What have you got planned?

Kaleb: We’re looking forward to 40 and being able to travel the world with just one child. At 40, most people are seasoned in the careers and have a little bit more money. In 12 years’ time, if we continue to do the things we have planned—we’re in the process of putting money aside so we have enough capital to start up our own insurance company—I believe we will be well off enough to pay the kids’ tuition, and do things like tour Italy in the month of July. Kaleb Junior will be 10, 11 years old then, and he can always stay with his grandmother.

Is one benefit of having three kids so young is that you have the energy to look after and play with them.

Kaleb: Yeah—so many activities!

But you also must have sacrificed a lot, like having a social life or just simply going out for dinner at night?

Kaleb: We’ve been really blessed, man. How we look at it is, from Sunday to Friday, we’re all about the kids—we do everything with the kids, have a movie night, play games, cook together. But when the weekend comes, it really takes a village. We have so many friends our age who have children, and we do a trade-off. A lot of people who know us really commend us for not having lost our sense of party and having a good time, while always putting our children first. The kids are our number-one priority in all aspects of life.

Sounds like the good life. How would you describe the kids’ personalities—who is the lively one, or the joker, and who is the more introspective?

Kordale: Maliyah is more of the mouthy one who thinks she’s smarter than everybody. Desmiray is a diva; she’s the 10 year old going on 35. Kordale Junior is starting to become more outgoing—he used to be kind of shell-shocked, but now he’s developing a sense of humour. My grandfather passed away three weeks ago, which was a big deal for me. I sat them all down to tell them, and Kordale Junior said, ‘Oh so this is the breaking news’. He has this kind of asshole sense of humour. I don’t know where it came from.

How were they on the trip to New York for this Acne Studios shoot?

Kaleb: I’m really big on Snapchat, I snap every moment and every second. And I snapped every moment from when we got up, at the airport, taking off, to the truck that came to bring us to the shoot, us being on the horses in Central Park—I tried to snap it all.

Was it the kids’ first time in the city? What did they want to see?

Kaleb: Yes. They wanted to see Times Square—everyone wants to see Times Square. They wanted to walk the streets, go to the park, and then buy toys. We took the kids to Legoland as I didn’t know FAO Schwarz, the giant toy store that I really wanted to show them, was gone. I took them to where Home Alone was filmed. We had ice cream. They enjoyed it; we had a good time.

“Desmiray is a diva; she’s the 10-year-old going on 35.”

And how is life in Atlanta? It looks like you have a big house in the suburbs there.

Kordale: We do, it’s pretty huge. I don’t like cleaning it; I’m over it. I used to be so excited, but now I’d much rather get a condo. I love Atlanta—I’m from Chicago so I like big cities. The price of living here is great, and the people are so nice and have that whole Southern hospitality thing. Atlanta for me, and for black people in general, is where you come and build your foundations. But then to go further, you need to move outside of it. If I had it my way, we’d be in New York or LA. I’ve been here in Atlanta for eight years now, and I could do with a change to take my next step.

Have you ever experienced homophobia in Atlanta?

Kordale: Never.

Kaleb: People may talk about you behind the shadows, but never to your face. We do extra-curricular activities—and we’ll be going to a new park soon, which should be interesting—and at one point the coach was like, ‘That boy has two dads.’ But we’ve been with that team for three years and we’ve never experienced anything negative. We all sit back and drink together. There’s never been anything too bad, even with the school. We’re not really flamboyant guys either; we’re both quite masculine.

Do people sometimes assume you’re two friends who both have kids, just hanging out together?

Kaleb: Maybe. Sometimes.

How have the other children at school reacted to Maliyah, Desmiray and Kordale Junior having two dads?

Kaleb: There was a time when Kordale used to go pick up the kids more often than me, and then one day I turned up and another kid was like, ‘Hold on, I thought the other guy was your dad—you have two dads? That’s so cool!’

Does knowing there’s a generation of children who are comfortable with their friends having two dads or two moms give you hope for the future?

Kaleb: Yes. It’s not as taboo as it once was; it’s quite common now.

How do you explain to your children that other kids have a mother and a father, while they have a father and a father?

Kaleb: I think that is exactly how we explained it. That some kids have a mom and a dad, some kids have a dad and a dad, some kids have a mom and a mom, and some kids just havea dad, and some just have a mom. That everybody grows up in a house that’s different, and they have to know that they’re going to be different from the next person. So in this house they have two dads, but when they go to their mom’s house, they have one mom.

Can we talk about that Instagram photo from 2014 where you’re doing the girls’ hair in the mirror in the morning, that made you guys famous? I was impressed—I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and I pride myself on being a pretty modern guy, but I break down when it comes to stringing up her hair in a hairband…

Kordale: At that time we were both doing the girls’ hair, but now they’re old enough to do it themselves. I can’t remember the last time I did their hair—Kaleb helps them now.

Kaleb: When they can’t put it up in a ponytail, they’re like, ‘Okay, Pops, come here and help me.’ If your wife or girlfriend wasn’t around and it was just you and your baby, trust me, you’d learn! Because you don’t want your child looking any kind of way, you want them to at least look halfway decent. And trust me, I started from… well, they used to make fun of me when I was doing their hair—my pigtails were so jacked up. And that’s when our girlfriends were like, ‘Bring your kids over here, let me braid their hair.’ You figure it out—I started watching YouTube videos, too. Now I can put beads in their hair and all that kind of stuff. I flat iron their hair from time to time also, as they like it straight.

”Hold on, I thought the other guy was your dad—you have two dads? That’s so cool!“

From left to right: Kaleb Anthony (29), Desmiray (10), Kordale Junior (8), Maliyah (9), Kordale Lewis (28) and Kaleb Junior (8 months) having fun in a parental suite at the Sherry-Netherland hotel overlooking Central Park, New York.

You experienced some backlash and quite a few negative comments from that post—how did it feel to have your private life scrutinised by people from all over the world when that image went viral?

Kordale: I don’t think they really mattered to us. We were over it after a week. There’s nothing people can do or say that’s going to change the fact that these are our kids.

You just brushed that dirt off your shoulder and moved on?

Kordale: That’s pretty much it. If you have kids, you don’t have time to think about who likes you, who’s talking about you. It’s just so much more stress on your plate, and I don’t believe in stress. The picture definitely did cause a lot of unwanted attention—we’ve always posted candid pictures of our kids, but with that picture, people somehow thought it was okay to create all this controversy. If we had the chance, we would do it again.

Kaleb: When you’re a parent you post pictures of your kids—that’s all you have pictures of! It’s just one of those things that you do.

While we’re on the subject of other people’s misconceptions of you, what are the questions you get asked most often about being same-sex parents?

Kordale: Who’s the girl,who’s the man?

Kaleb: Who likes to be on top?

Kordale: How did you have the kids?

Kaleb: Did you guys adopt? And actually, all the kids have the same mother.

Kordale: It’s funny because we’ve had people get in touch online, men and women, asking us for advice on how to adopt. And we’re like, really, we’ve said time and time again that I’ve had these kids from a prior heterosexual relationship. That being said, I do plan on adopting a kid in a few years time, as I spent so many years in foster care; I know those kids are the most disenfranchised. Nobody understands those kids, but I know I would.

That’s really honourable of you. It might put a spanner in the idea of travelling the world and being free and easy once the eldest three have grown up though.

Kaleb: Oh yeah.

I met an amazing couple recently who raised their three children to believe that birthdays are about giving presents and not receiving them. The day I’d met them, it was the eldest child’s eighth birthday, and she’d spent the day at an orphanage giving out presents.

Kaleb: That’s a great idea. We’re trying to raise our kids along the same lines. For instance, I’m turning 29 next week, and the kids have all made money from doing chores around the house. We’re trying to make the point that they shouldn’t spend this money on themselves when they have others, like us, always giving them things. So I gave them my birthday wish list—an $8 shirt, a $2 hat; things like that. We’re trying to get them out of the mindset of everything being about themselves, and to do things for other people. Going out and giving gifts at an orphanage is a great idea and I would like to do that too, to show them not every child has their own bed, or their own TV, or wears new clothes. They’re so happy to have anything—especially if it’s a pair of Jordan’s—even if someone has worn it before.

Can I ask a question you may get asked a lot? Do you believe it’s important for the girls to have a female role model? Someone who they may be able to learn from, and to confide in about the kind of things they may not be able to with you?

Kordale: Their mother, Destiny, moved down to Atlanta three years ago and she’s very much a part of their lives. She sees them primarily on weekends. I grew up without one of my parents, and I know when the LGBTQ community adopts, the child often doesn’t really have that option [of knowing both birth parents]. I think it’s important that every child has a relationship with their mother and father, as I was envious of others as I didn’t know my father. Kids desire and yearn for it.

And can I ask another personal question that you probably get asked a lot? You mentioned earlier that all your children have the same mother—does that apply to Kaleb Junior? How did you go about the pregnancy?

Kaleb: Sure, we’re pretty open. We were looking at IVF, which was about $30,000. As we were also paying the mother, that would have been too expensive. We then went on to try another process, AI (artificial insemination) which is $3,000 a take, and it’s not always going to take. And we tried it once, and it didn’t take. At the time we had some friends who told us about a device called the Stork. Picture a device that looks like an arm with a cup on top. You put the semen in the cup and then it closes, the woman puts it inside her vagina, and then it releases. So we did the Stork plus natural ways to have a child over a course of 10 months. After a miscarriage, Kaleb Junior was conceived in January, and he was born on October 12th, 2016.

One last intrusive question; who is Kaleb Junior’s biological father?

Kaleb: Me. That was the whole point—them two weren’t going to have another baby! [Laughs].

The thing about having another child I can’t get my head around is how I’ll ever be able to love another child as much as the one I have now.

Kaleb: It’s like a mother bear trying to protect her kids; it’s so natural.

Kordale: You’ll love them equally. They’re going to be two different little people, with different personalities. And when they’re six and three, you’ll realise you have two different little people in your house who you’ll love equally—you’ll realise you have to treat them differently, but you’ll love them the same.

The heart grows… Do you get offended when people ask the kind of personal questions we just went through now, or do you welcome the curiosity as a way to educate people?

Kaleb: I don’t mind it because I feel education is key. You’re ignorant until then. People tend to say ignorant things that can sometimes be offensive to people, so I sometimes feel we owe it to people to educate others that we’re normal.

Kordale: I don’t feel like that. Not one ounce of that. At the end of the day, we are all people, and my family and I deserve the same respect that I would give you and your family. I don’t care if you’re gay or transgender…

Kaleb: We’re saying the same thing, man.

Kordale: No, you’re saying that you owe it to people. You shouldn’t have to tell people how we should be treated in the age we are living in now. I’m over all of that. I don’t make it a point to express that I’m a gay parent—I’m a parent. I love my kids as much as you love yours. I want the same great things for my kids as you do for yours. What I do in my bed is none of your business.

Kaleb: I was speaking in terms of educating people that we’re no different than they are. That two people who live a homosexual lifestyle can raise heterosexual children, and we want them to be as successful as you want your kids to be.

“We’re fathers before anything.”

Kordale: I don’t even think that’s worth my time. We’re in 2017, surely people can know there are gay people with kids, and they’re trying to achieve the same things as any heterosexual couple? It’s the straight parents who are making gay kids anyway. I don’t have to fight anymore. I feel like my voice is more powerful if there’s a legislation that comes up and I can inform my fan base to go out and vote or go to a town hall meeting. Most of the time, if you try to argue or explain to a heterosexual person that I’m gay and I have kids, they already have a preconceived notion of you anyways. Nine times out of 10, you can’t change people’s mindsets through talking. You have to show it through actions. I don’t try to force my opinions on anybody.

Wow. Is there anything else you want to get off your chest?

Kordale: I want people to know that Kordale Lewis loves Kathy Griffin.

Kaleb: What she did was wrong, but the stuff millions of people posted during Obama’s presidency, when they made racist slurs and memes calling him a monkey… This is why it’s important to continue to educate people. Our children will come from a different generation, people who have been raised by a mom who’s white and a dad who’s black, and they may even run a Chinese grocery store or something like that. With so many different backgrounds in one house, people will learn that you can’t control your sexual orientation or your skin colour; you have to love and accept people for who they are.

What are your concerns when speaking with journalists? Is there anything I should keep in mind when it comes to editing this interview?

Kordale: I think we’re very transparent, open people. As long as it’s authentic to what we’ve spoken about in this Skype video, you’re free to write it as wish.

Kaleb: As long as it remains positive and you communicate how we put our kids first above anything else, because we really do, you can feel free to use your pen as you choose.

—Follow the family @kordalenkaleb

Interview Xerxes Cook

Creative direction and casting M/M (Paris)

After an original idea by Jonny Johansson

Photographs Inez & Vinoodh

Styling Vanessa Reid

Grooming Michael Johnson

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© 2017 Acne Studios

Published by Acne Studios
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