Most of us have certain expectations about how we’re supposed to feel during “Life’s big moments™” – death, marriage, the birth of a child.
So when Loulou was born, I was shocked by the absence of the love tsunami. Where was the instant, deep, soulful connection I was supposed to feel?
I felt mostly confused, mixed with a jigger of disbelief.
I had no idea what to do with this strange creature.
I didn’t know what it wanted.
I didn’t understand how to communicate with it.
I didn’t understand what had happened to my relationship with my wife.
And I felt as though I couldn’t – or shouldn’t – communicate these feelings. I wanted to be honest. It saddened me that so many of my friends (both men and women) felt that they couldn’t be candid – even with their partners.
Slightly obsessed with this image of his daughter screaming, Phillip Toledano printed it on a plate.
Parenting has become a form of religion. Like a good acolyte, you’re not supposed to question or criticize. But I resented the pressure to say that everything was amazing, when it wasn’t (my wife, Carla, on the other hand, seemed to love every minute of motherhood).
So when people would ask to see a photo of Loulou, I’d show them a picture of her screaming, her face red, like a balloon about to burst. I then became slightly obsessed with this image, and printed it on a plate, a tote bag and a cushion.
I also spoke up – in public, in a book. Which either makes me very brave, or a complete idiot.
In retrospect, I might have been slightly too candid. My intermittent misery certainly affected Carla and her experience as a mother, and for that, I’m truly sorry. (It turns out that she was much more English than me. Carla’s stiff upper lip in the face of adversity was decidedly stiffer than mine.)
But there has been an upside. Not quite the canonization I expected from grateful fellow fathers. Instead, positive responses from mothers – who say they’ve used the book to open a dialogue with reluctant partners (and to talk about their own feelings).
I’m also a poster boy for these parents in another way: I offer hope. In the beginning, during the “dark year,” Carla told me the love would come. And I believed her ... but it was like trying to imagine the sun on my skin in the heart of winter.
Then Loulou transitioned from sea sponge to wickedly delightful imp. And I changed too: from hesitant, detached parent, to slightly crazed and over-exuberant father. The father who believes that his child is special above all others. The father who can’t wait to show you three dozen photos that definitively prove her remarkable beauty and unprecedented intelligence.
The kind of father that only a few years ago, I would have looked at uncomprehendingly, wondering if I would ever get there.
Phillip Toledano is a visual artist based in New York and the author of The Reluctant Father.
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