Fatherly Love: Why This Photo Went Viral

A photo of a father cradling his ailing son naked in the shower goes viral, and sparks compassion from some, rage from others, and repeated takedowns by social media giant Facebook.

While the majority of people reacted positively to the photo, even posting pictures of themselves with their own young children to show support, others were much more critical.

A father’s love

Back in 2014, Heather Whitten watched helplessly as her one-year-old son Fox vomited and had diarrhea repeatedly. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to make him better. So, in an attempt to comfort him, her husband Thomas stripped down and sat in the shower with Fox for two hours to cuddle him. Whitten watched her husband and felt so moved by his commitment that she snapped a photo of him cradling the couple’s sick child.   

“It was just beautiful. It was not surprising or anything out of the ordinary; it’s how he has always been with the kids,” Whitten told Today Parents.

Later, Thomas diapered his son, brushed his hair, but soon realized that his son’s breath was labored and his heart rate was racing. The Whittens rushed Fox to the hospital where he was admitted and given antibiotics for his mystery illness. Weeks later, it was discovered that Fox had contracted Salmonella.

It wasn’t until two years later that Heather Whitten decided to post the photo on Facebook after doing an interview for a photography blog where she talked about that photo as being misunderstood. The people she showed it to thought it looked sexual.

Compassion and criticism

Initially, I had the same uneasy feeling when I saw the photo. Soon, however, I realized that the problem was not with the photo but with me and my misinterpretation, and even prejudice, of what I was seeing. The image has caused a great deal of debate on social media, and to date, the post has been shared over 31,000 times with more than 128,000 people reacting in some way. While Facebook banned the photo twice, they also reinstated it.

One Facebook user said, “Ask yourself people what is the difference in a naked father comforting his child as opposed to a naked mother comforting that same child? This world is so sick and judgmental.”

While the majority of comments were favorable and sympathetic, others were not, with some users expressing disapproval at the nudity itself, arguing that parents should not be naked around their children in the first place.

I think the photo, like most art, begs for a reaction and asks you to look within yourself for an answer. We all see the world through different eyes — based on our varied experiences. The only thing I ask, without judgment, is would we be discussing this image if it were a woman holding the child?

-Katherine Marko



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