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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.’”

Guest

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

Like all new fathers, Phillip Toledano was thrilled. Actually, that's a big lie. Phillip Toledano was resentful. He 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. And he said these things out loud in a blog that went viral last year. But his thoughts and his pictures of his daughter and his wife are now issued in a new book, because it has a very different ending than it ever could have had in the beginning.

The book is called "The Reluctant Father," and Phillip Toledano joins us from the NPR Studios in New York. And, Phil, you know, lynch mobs are forming, as we speak.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIP TOLEDANO: Yes. I've got a fake mustache in my pocket. When I go outside, I'll just change appearances.

YOUNG: Well, no one says things like that about a newborn. And no one takes the pictures that you have of, you know, wide-angled lens pictures of her tiny, little mouth screaming. Some of the ugliest pictures of an infant I've ever seen. Why? What was going on for you?

TOLEDANO: Why?

YOUNG: Yeah.

TOLEDANO: Well, it's fair to say that before Loulou was born, I was not really sure what to expect. I was sort of - I guess neutral would be the best word. But then when she was born, I was completely surprised by the lack of the sort of love tsunami that I was expecting to occur when I sort of - you know, you hear all the stuff about, I held her in my arms, and immediately, I felt this - I was aglow with love, and all that kind of stuff. And that didn't really happen to me.

YOUNG: Well - and you resented that it was supposed to, that there's a lot of pressure on you to react a certain way.

TOLEDANO: 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, you know, life was black and white before, and now it's in color, or a whole assortment of horrifyingly saccharine-coated phrases, which I couldn't - and I just didn't feel that stuff. And I felt, to be honest, that I didn't want to participate in that charade, really.

YOUNG: Well, that's so interesting, because some of us look at a baby and we're just in pieces.

TOLEDANO: Right.

YOUNG: But it wasn't happening for you. And then, there's your wife, or there she isn't.

TOLEDANO: My long-suffering wife.

YOUNG: Right. But there she isn't, because as you write, when Loulou was born, she vanished. And this is accompanied by a picture of, like, one toe sticking out of bath water to symbolize how she just disappeared for you. Tell us about that, the change in your relationship with your wife.

TOLEDANO: Well, my dad had actually died a few months before Loulou was born. So my whole world was quite different. And then Loulou appeared. And then I think because I felt I didn't feel this connection to Loulou, but Carla, my wife, clearly did - and obviously, she'd had, you know, nine months of gestation time to sort of have this biological connection to Loulou. So she disappeared into this kind of vortex of love and affection and everything else.

And I kind of - it was sort of like I was waiting at the bus stop, and I'd just missed the bus, and it was - I was watching it disappear down the road. And so there was Carla on the bus, and I was going, hang on. What happened? We were, you know, we had 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.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, and it's another thing to say it.

TOLEDANO: Well, yes.

YOUNG: You know, when this was - we'll hold the story up here for a second. But when this was in blog form and you were confessing these things, what were you hearing?

TOLEDANO: Well, actually, surprisingly, almost all of it has been unremittingly positive.

YOUNG: Really?

TOLEDANO: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

TOLEDANO: I know - I feel - I hear the disbelief in your voice. But only because I think that it's not that 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, or, you know, I'm going to give it to my friend or my friend's father.

And actually, oddly enough, a lot of women have emailed me, which - and I think the pressure for women to not say that is obviously much, much greater than for men. So the thing with this was I just wanted to be honest with my wife about how I was feeling. And I think, in retrospect, I was slightly too honest.

YOUNG: Well, she does write a little coda at the end, that it was very hard for her, but, of course, it changed. And you fell in love with your daughter. That's Phil Toledano. His book is "The Reluctant Father." You're listening to HERE AND NOW.

And, Phil, so, you started as a reluctant father. When did it change? How did it change?

TOLEDANO: Everyone always told me it always - it gets better. It gets better. And I was waiting for that moment when it got better. And when it got better for me is 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 then 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, that she - I always used to say that she was the cult leader, and now I'm a fully paid-up cult member of the Loulou cult.

YOUNG: Well, and she is quite extraordinary. She is beautiful.

TOLEDANO: Thank you.

YOUNG: And as you can - you can see in the pictures, she's funny.

TOLEDANO: Yes.

YOUNG: And there's another thing happening. You see your parents in her.

TOLEDANO: Well, I was never very sure if it's a thing that I'm wanting to see or if it's really there, but I certainly see certain aspects of my mother and my father in her. And they both died before she was born, so it's incredibly gratifying and brings me an enormous amount of joy to be able to see aspects of her, or of them in her.

YOUNG: Well, meanwhile, she's going to read this and, you know, there's pictures of her.

TOLEDANO: Yes.

YOUNG: She looks like a Maurice Sendak character, the way you've shot the pictures. Your wife at one point, you know, extremely pregnant, looks like a - oh, gosh, she's just really very big.

TOLEDANO: Like the Hindenburg.

YOUNG: OK. You know, she's going to see, someday, that you didn't love her immediately.

TOLEDANO: Well, you're right, and I've thought about that. But she's also going to see that I loved her in the end. And I hope that that's what counts. I mean - and I hope what she'll take away from this story is - something that I say in the book is that I hope she realizes that before I was a parent, I was a person, and that like any person, we're not perfect. And it took me a while to come to grips with the thing and the idea of her. But once I did, she became an incredibly bright light in my life.

YOUNG: Well, and you can see that transformation in Phillip Toledano's new book "The Reluctant Father," his photographs and text of his transformation from a real jerk - no, sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

TOLEDANO: Well, I think my wife would have agreed with you at the time.

YOUNG: From a reluctant father to an enamored one. Phil, thanks for talking to us about it.

TOLEDANO: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: Well, staying with relationships, combining it with Valentine's Day tomorrow and, as you can hear, with the ongoing Olympics, Jeremy, you'll notice that I'm performing kind of a triple salchow there.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: If you're looking for a sentiment for your card tomorrow, you might check out some hashtags on Twitter. Jimmy Fallon started #OlympicPickupLines. There's also #SochiPickupLines. Here are a few: I've been carrying this torch for you all night. Let's go put it out at my place. Or, want to come to my hotel room? I have a door.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

There's a lot of - there are a lot of them that have these hotel and not-finished-hotel theme to them. Here's one: I'm no curler, but I think I could sweep you off your feet. Or, I may be Russian into things, but would it be Sochieesy to ask for your number? Or, Robin, how about this one: I promise to care about nothing but you for two weeks, and then not at all the rest of the year.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: That's the Olympics.

HOBSON: #SochiPickupLines.

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • dialyn

    I’m a female who has never felt the mushy adoration of baby (I don’t have children, so that may be the reason). I think a lot of people feel more ambivalent about babies than they ever admit and, frankly, I think this gentleman just admitted to emotions we tend to conceal because it’s not politically correct. Clearly he loves and cares for his daughter, and that is really all that matters.

    • isabelle

      I agree. I am a woman who never looked at a baby and thought, “gee, I want one of those”. In fact, I find babies rather annoying. There’s a reason why people without children are happier than those who have children. It’s because people without children are honest and do what they what they really want while *some* people just do whatever everyone else is doing. That said, Loulou is a beautiful little girl. And I love the name Loulou.

      • keltcrusader

        “There’s a reason why people without children are happier than those who have children. IIt’s because people without children are honest and do what they what they really want while *some* people just do whatever everyone else is doing.”

        Seriously, this is your take on it? There are plenty of honest and very happy people doing what they love all the while having a family too – get a grip and take a step off that perch you are on from high above us all.

        • isabelle

          Notice the *some* in my comment? Apparently you missed it. I am well aware *some* people really want children. I am also aware that *some* people have children just because they believe that is what is expected of them. You need to get a grip. But you are correct, I do believe that women who ignore the pressure of society and don’t have children when they don’t want any are *high above* those who do. :)

          • keltcrusader

            yeah right, you are just so much more special than the “rest” of us – it comes right across honey

          • isabelle

            How bitter you are. I didn’t say I was more *special*. I wrote that women who don’t want children & don’t let society pressure them into having children are *high above* (using your choice of words for ironic effect) than those women who also don’t want children and yet let society pressure them into having children they don’t want. Let me guess, you are one of the latter. :)

          • keltcrusader

            Nope, not bitter, not unhappy, not a “follower”. You are just so incredibly wrong on all those points, but then again, I’m not really surprised at all by that. And my guess, you are probably lonely and always will be while I will have my loving family surrounding me to keep my heart warm.

          • isabelle

            Look, people are allowed to have different opinions than you have. Nothing I wrote, starting from my very first post which you insanely attacked, is in any way wrong. I am happily married. I have many friends. I live a very full life and I never wanted children. THAT is my right. I also know, because of my many friends, that there are many women out there who have children & wish they had not. They tell me that they envy my freedom. They tell me they wish they could travel like I do. They tell me they wish that they could spend an entire month at my beach house like I do. I am glad you have a wonderful family. You should grow up & learn that you have no right to attack people for thinking differently than you do.

          • keltcrusader

            its probably better that you don’t – selfish people make lousy parents.

          • isabelle

            Actually, I read an article in The Atlantic when I was in college that said that people who choose not to have children would make the best parents. The reason is because they think carefully about everything they do in life. They are concerned with making the correct life choices. It’s the people who just fall into having children without any consideration or real thought about it who make the lousy parents. Looks like once again you are wrong.

          • keltcrusader

            yeah, just keep telling yourself that over and over and over and over for the rest of your days to convince yourself.

          • isabelle

            Tell myself what? Something that I already know to be true? There is nothing in the least bit *selfish* about someone who knows FOR A FACT that they don’t want any children NOT having children. In fact, it would be selfish for that person to have children. This world does not need any more children. And it especially doesn’t need any UNWANTED children. I don’t understand where your thinking comes from. I am allowed to think differently than you do. I don’t want kids. I don’t understand why anyone wants kids. But I don’t care if they do.

          • keltcrusader

            Look, I don’t care if anyone has children or not as long as, if and when they do, those children are wanted and loved. You don’t want children and that is your choice. I wanted and had my children and that was my choice.

            I also know plenty of people who don’t have kids and, now that they are older, they regret that decision. I also know people who have kids and probably shouldn’t have. And some that can’t have children and instead spend lots of time with the nieces/nephews or are Big Brothers/Sisters to make up for it.

            BUT your comments totally come off as saying people who have children only do so because they “just fall into having children without any consideration or real thought” or they are just going along with what everyone else does and they are just totally dishonest with themselves and are miserable and bitter about their lives and wish they never had kids.

            And, to top it off, you come right out and say how so much better and happier the childless are than those with children because you choose not to have kids.
            “There’s a reason why people without children are happier than those who have children.”

            Who exactly are you to say people who don’t have kids are happier or more honest than those who do?

          • isabelle

            The reason I said people without children are happier is because there have been many studies that have shown that people without children are happier. THAT is why I said it. And from my experience of talking to people who have children & those who don’t, the ones without children seem much happier. They stay married more often and are less stressed and their lives with their spouses are fuller.

            You need to examine your own reasons why you find my opinions so distasteful. I certainly don’t care if you had children. I am not questioning your choices.

            I have been through this same argument with many people. I have found that the people (like you) who are so outraged that people choose not to have children and are totally secure in their choice are usually people who regret (or question) their own choices. They say the same thing you said….that it is *selfish* of me not to have children. Can anything be more ridiculous that that? I don’t think so. In a world of dwindling resources and overpopulation, telling someone who doesn’t want children that they are *selfish* for their choice is the height of foolishness. It is SELFISH for any person who does not want children to have a child.

            From my very first post I made it clear that there are people who want children. Fine. And yet you try to make it sound like I am trying to convince those people they are wrong, when I have not. Then you proceed to call me lonely & selfish because I did not make the same choice you made. It is just so much foolishness on your part.

          • keltcrusader

            pathetic

          • isabelle

            Good, you found ONE study that said there was *very little difference* between the two life choices. I have read MANY studies that have shown people WITHOUT CHILDREN are happier.

            The question you need to ask yourself is this: why do you care so much?

            If you are secure in your choice, as I am secure in mine, why are you so persistent in trying to prove that people WHO DO NOT WANT CHILDREN should have them? And if they do not, they are, in your narrow, myopic way of viewing things, either lonely or selfish?

            I find your arguments hilarious. I’ve heard them so many times before. Once, one of my employees, a woman with four kids, pretty much repeated all the same nonsense you’ve repeated here. We discussed it for months. In the end she ended up admitting to me that she wished she hadn’t had children. She accidentally got pregnant the first time and figured she might as well have three more since she was already saddled with the first. I don’t know YOU. This example I gave is not about YOU. But it is one example of many that I have heard from women who REGRET having children.

          • keltcrusader

            “If you are secure in your choice, as I am secure in mine, why are you so persistent in trying to prove that people WHO DO NOT WANT CHILDREN should have them?”

            Could you maybe get past your idea that I am trying to convince you to have children (which I am NOT) and recognize the point I find offensive is your declaration that childless people are honest and happy and parents are miserable and dishonest.

          • PleaseBeCalm

            Jesus. She said ” *some* people just do whatever everyone else is doing”. If you believe that you are not one of those people who had kids in order to do what everyone else is doing, then you shouldn’t be offended by this. Why are you so bothered? If you feel secure about your choices, you should be able to just read this woman’s comment and move on. Go about your day. Give your kids a hug. There’s no reason to lose it like this.

          • Diana Andrews

            From my own experience, as the oldest of 4 children, who was thrust into the role of being responsible for my younger siblings by the time I was 8 years old, I had NO use for babies through my teen and young adult years. As a waitress in a family-style restaurant, I would stand back & sneer as the other waitresses ooh’d & aah’d over babies. To me, babies & small children were a nuisance, noisy, messy… When my husband & I got married, neither of us was prepared, or even interested in having children, so we blithely said we’d wait 5 years to have children.
            We turned 30 when year 5 rolled around, and all of a sudden, I wanted a child desperately. It took another 5 years before I got pregnant, and we were both thrilled. It wasn’t always easy raising our daughter, but she has always been such a light in our lives.
            I can understand “keltcrusader’s” taking offense at “isabelle’s” cavalier-sounding generalization that people who don’t have children are happier than people who do have children. I found it rather off-putting myself.
            If she based that comment on some “studies,” well, studies can be just as subjective as they can be objective. It all depends upon how broad a spectrum the study group covers: the socio-economic strata for example. There are many different factors to take into consideration, and possibly the age or maturity level of the parents-to-be should be an important factor in such a study.
            And, frankly, I can’t imagine that there are many women in this day & age who have children just because they feel they *have* to!

          • isabelle

            Yes, don’t pay any attention to how Kelt lied and said that I had written that parents were miserable, when I had not.. Don’t pay any attention to the fact that she completely ignores that I said that women who didn’t want children and chose not to have them are more honest than the ones who have them even though they really don’t want them. Ignore that Kelt claimed I must be lonely or selfish since I don’t want children. Just focus on what you want to believe.

            If you think that there aren’t women who have children only because they believe that society expects them to, or their family expects them to, or their husbands expect them to, you are only deceiving yourself. It has only been recently that women started choosing NOT to have children in great numbers. In the past it was expected of them. There are plenty of women today who have children without even thinking through their choice. They get married & so they have children.

          • isabelle

            I don’t believe I have ever said EITHER of those things. You are projecting your bitterness on me for whatever reason, and I have no idea what it is. You are using deceitful words to pretend you are in an argument that you are not.

            I said that MANY STUDIES have shown that people without children are happier. That is a fact. It is not the same as saying parents are miserable. That’s the number one exaggeration on your part.

            I wrote specifically that women WHO DO NOT WANT CHILDREN and choose not to have them are more honest with themselves than women who ALSO DON’T WANT CHILDREN but choose to have them anyway. THAT is just a fact that doesn’t need any more explanation, though I have had to do it numerous times and it still hasn’t registered in your head. That’s the SECOND exaggeration on your part.

    • Kohoutek

      I’m female, never had those feelings either, and in fact was always the Dad when we kids played house! It’s time that the truth about having kids is spoken. Enough of the saccharine. Besides, this guy’s comments are a hoot!

  • Ward

    Robin Young was her usual clueless bitchy self in the way she concluded her interview. If she had had any sense, she would have limned the main point which Mr. Toledano himself did not make: namely, men and women are biologically different — not the same — despite all the fallacious rhetoric over the past 50 years promulgated by the wishful thinking of the feminists. Like it or not, women got the uteruses in which the babies are generated, a biological reality, and their main biological purpose in life is the propagation of the species. Men got the dicks, their main biological purpose is to inseminate as many uteruses as possible. Hormonally and developmentally men exist to serve this purpose. Obviously, culturally these biological roles are modified and expanded from their basic purposes, but the foundation is there, which women wishfully try to deny. These denials are largely the cause of the monumental failure of so many women in the last 45 years to make successful marriages and a gargantuan failure in the raising of children, as they quested after their penis-envying desire for “my brilliant career.” Once with children women are biologically wired to put them first over the sperm donor, even if he happens to be a husband, so culturally women have to learn how to deal with this. American women have failed miserably — look at the divorce rates. No, Mr. Toledano makes an excellent point in his book. Men are not taken with babies; they learn to love them because biologically their “job” was accomplished at conception, but culturally their job continues until the child is raised; it is the women’s responsibility to see that that happens, at which so many women have been failing. Great book potentially redirecting intelligent thought in this country!

  • newing

    The “love” we feel for an infant is and instinct to care for a helpless fellow being. If your guest truly did not have that instinct, He likely a sociopath. That combined with the narcissism needed to blog anything on a regular basis make him a perfect political candidate.

    • isabelle

      A sociopath? Really? If you think that many fathers don’t feel exactly the same way this writer feels, you are only fooling yourself. He’s not a sociopath. He loves his daughter. He grew to love her. Admire his honesty. It is refreshing.

      • newing

        I actually think he is completely normal. maybe not refreshing.

        • isabelle

          It is always refreshing when people are willing to say what hasn’t been said before. That’s how the world progresses. Imagine how many men throughout time have not wanted children, they wished they didn’t have to have children & yet said nothing about it. Then think of the men who felt like this guy felt, i.e., no bond with his baby. And then this guy turns around and grows to love his daughter. How much hope than must give to men everywhere still in the *not bonding* phase of babyhood. It’s refreshing when the truth is spoken. We learn that way.

    • dialyn

      He would be a sociopath if he lied about how he was feeling. His daughter can trust that when he says he loves her because he is a rare truth teller, and I think that’s far more imortant than pretending to feel what you don’t.

    • PoliticsWatcher

      And I suppose people who write troll comments like that aren’t narcissists.

  • PoliticsWatcher

    I felt the same way. Wasn’t comfortable admitting it.

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