One of these families is the Shankar-Marchesos. Nic and Ricky, together for 13 years and married for five, are the proud parents of London, 5, and Roman, 3. Their collective joy jumps off the page as they play with water toys and bubbles in the sun, along with other local families from the Seattle area.
As an interracial, same-sex couple of two young children, Nic and Ricky were shocked to be asked to be a part of Walgreens’ summer marketing campaign, and will appear on Walgreens.com, or in other digital, print or TV ads as needed. Although their kids are represented by a talent agency in Seattle, they are not. But Walgreens was thrilled to welcome all of the Shankar-Marchesos to its summer photo shoot as it works toward capturing authentic moments in local communities across its advertisements. In honor of Pride Month, Ricky spoke to Walgreens Stories about his family’s journey and experience being part of the summer 2021 campaign.
‘We’re just an everyday family.’
Ricky Shankar: The agency that represents London and Roman here in Seattle let us know about the audition. We submitted our family photos and were surprised to be chosen as a family to represent the community. I know that might sound weird that we were surprised, but we're an interracial couple, and we are everyday people, not models.
There has been more representation of LGBT+ families in ads, but they tend to be model families. There are usually more LGBT+ people who look like Nic [who is Caucasian] who have children in pictures. So, I thought Walgreens was a step ahead in choosing us.
We were overwhelmed going into the shoot. And it felt surreal. It felt like we were taking up a space traditionally not held by people who look like us. But there are so many people in America who do look like us, they're just not represented. But we talked about it and thought, maybe that's changing. Maybe there is room for everybody.
‘There are so many ways to do gay.’
Shankar: I met Nic 13 years ago when I was just randomly out to eat, and we've been together ever since. We have been married for five years. In the beginning it wasn't fully legal to get married, so we celebrate from the time we first met.
Before we got married, a lesbian couple that I've been friends with for at least 20 years asked if I would be their donor father. I agreed, and their daughter Stella was born six years ago. Throughout that process of becoming a donor father, I realized I wanted children. I come from a time when gay couples couldn’t get married or have children. Some gay people were paving the way, of course, but I had never dreamed of that for my life. My partner, Nic, said he wanted children. He’s six years younger than me, so he was able to visualize those things for himself, just with that age gap.
My best friend Chante was actually my first girlfriend in high school. She was the first person I came out to. I was like, “I really love you, but I think I'm gay.” She told me, “Fine, you broke my heart, but I'm telling you, one day, we're going to have children together.” That's what she said during that conversation.
When my donor daughter was born, I posted a picture on Facebook, and Chante called me immediately. She said she could see the sadness in my eyes and asked if I wanted to talk. And I told her I was sad because I held Stella in my arms but knew I had to leave her there. She wasn’t my “daughter” daughter. And Chante said her promise still holds, and she would have children for me if I wanted.
Since I was a donor father already, we decided Nic would be the biological dad for our firstborn. A year later, our daughter London arrived. Chante was the birth mom. I adopted London, and then Chante offered to have another if we wanted one. So we started working on Roman, and that's how our family was formed.
I then became a donor father times two, and now Stella has a sister named Izzy. Through this process of just posting on Facebook and telling our friends and family what's happening, a different lesbian couple I knew from junior high school contacted us and asked if they could join our family. Nic became a donor dad for them. So altogether there are seven half-siblings (including two of Chante’s own), but we don't say half. There are seven siblings, and our families all originated in the Bay area.
We are all in each other's lives, and the kids are all in each other's lives. That was the agreement. We don’t want the kids to ever have any questions of how they were created, or why they’re here or who are the parents. They just know. That's what our family has created.
‘We had to start the conversation early about how our family was formed.’
Shankar: What we didn't realize when we had kids is that they immediately become the targets of a lot of questions. “Why do you have two dads? Do you have a mom? Which one is your kid?” People ask these questions in front of them. We have had to teach our kids from the beginning that some families have one or two moms, some peoples’ parents are grandparents, things like that. These questions started before London could understand them, when she was maybe one and a half.
I’ll never forget the first one. A server came up asked which one of us was London’s dad. We said, “We both are.” She goes, “No, which one is the biological dad?” You could see the confusion in London’s face. That’s why it's important for them to see themselves in ads, because without them, these conversations would still be happening. But seeing their family chosen to be represented shows acceptance, and it helps our kids with the conversation that doesn't make them feel like an “other” all the time.
Shankar: I don’t think we’re at the point where you can look at this ad and not notice that it’s a dad playing with his kid, just because the representation lacked for so long. When you see that in a picture, it still really catches your eye and becomes the first focus. But the second focus is looking at them having fun. That will change if companies continue to do this. We’re at the beginning, but eventually you’ll just see a family having a great time.
Knowing we were a part of the campaign is amazing. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. After the shoot, we’ve been looking more closely at different ads, and the overall experience made me want to get into a Walgreens. I'm not kidding. It’s just that representation matters. We’re one way, we look a certain way and there are more people out there like us. We were thinking, if we walked into a Walgreens and saw a family like ours, it would affect us. Our family is just like anyone else's family. We're doing the same things you are doing – raising our kids and trying to do the best we can. It's just one step closer now, and I'm glad we got to be those people.”