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Thursday, February 13, 2014

‘The Reluctant Father’ Comes Clean

Toledano wrote a blog last year, "The Reluctant Father," chronicling his struggle to connect with his baby daughter Loulou, pictured here with his wife, Carla. (Phillip Toledano)

Toledano wrote a blog last year, “The Reluctant Father,” chronicling his struggle to connect with his baby daughter Loulou, pictured here with his wife, Carla. (Phillip Toledano)

Like all new fathers, Phillip Toledano was thrilled. Actually, that’s a big lie.

Toledano was resentful and felt he’d been downsized. He said that bonding with his newborn Loulou was “like trying to have a relationship with a sea sponge, or a single-cell protozoa.”

He wrote about those feelings in a blog that went viral last year. His thoughts and pictures of his daughter and wife are now part of a new book, “The Reluctant Father.”

The book has a very different ending from the way the blog began: “even though I found the beginning of her life quite bewildering, I’m so glad she’s here now.”

Interview Highlights: Phillip Toledano

Photographer and writer Phillip Toledano compared attempting to bond with his newborn daughter, Loulou, to "trying to have a relationship with a sea sponge, or a single-cell protozoa." (Phillip Toledano)

Photographer and writer Phillip Toledano compared attempting to bond with his newborn daughter, Loulou, to “trying to have a relationship with a sea sponge, or a single-cell protozoa.” (Phillip Toledano)

On not bonding immediately with his daughter

“I think what happens is that we are trained to behave in a certain way from birth, to react to certain experiences, and I felt definitively with Loulou’s birth that everyone was expecting me to say that thing. When people asked me, ‘How is it being a father?’ there was this kind of look of eager anticipation for me to read off the teleprompter, which is, ‘Oh my God, life was black and white before, and now it’s in color,’ or an assortment of horrifyingly saccharine-coated phrases. I just didn’t feel that stuff, and I felt, to be honest, that I didn’t want to participate in that charade, really.”

How his relationship with his wife was affected

“She disappeared into this kind of vortex of love and affection and everything else. It was sort of like I was waiting at the bus stop and I’d just missed the bus, and I was watching it disappear down the road. So there was Carla on the bus, and I was going, ‘Hang on, what happened? We had, you know, this magical relationship together, and now you’re off with Lou!’ And, look, I’m aware that that’s kind of what happens, but it’s one thing to be aware of it and another thing to feel it.”

“I just wanted to be honest with my wife about how I was feeling, and I think in retrospect, I was slightly too honest.”

On the moment he finally connected with Loulou

Toledano says he eventually grew into "the proud father" role after struggling to bond with his daughter, Loulou. (Phillip Toledano)

Toledano says he eventually grew into “the proud father” role after struggling to bond with his daughter, Loulou. (Phillip Toledano)

“I kind of interact with the world through humor, with my own peculiar sense of humor. And I think that when Loulou became a sentient being, when she — and I know this is going to sound funny, but when I made fun of her and she kind of made fun of me back, it was this enormously emotional experience for me, and it still, when I talk about it now, it makes me tingly, because we were interacting in a language that I could understand. And it was a huge, huge thing for me, and ever since then, it’s become more and more blissful. And I always joke about this with Carla, I always used to say she was the cult leader, and now I’m a fully paid-up member of the Loulou cult.”

How his readers responded to the blog

“Surprisingly, almost all of it has been unremittingly positive … only because I don’t think it was because I was an absent father. I was perfectly present to do the stuff I was supposed to do — change the nappies, and get the milk and get up in the middle of the night, and all that stuff. It’s just the emotional aspect was missing for me. And I found that in talking to my friends and in listening to emails from strangers, a lot of people felt that they had felt similarly, and that there was a kind of cultural pressure not to voice those feelings. And so people were frankly saying, ‘Look, I’m so happy you said this, because I couldn’t say it.'”

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