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The Reluctant Father
September 25, 2010 4:24 PM   Subscribe

"It was like trying to have a relationship with a sea sponge, or a single-cell protozoa. She didn't do anything! Or at least, nothing I could understand." — Phillip Toledan, The Reluctant Father. A photo-essay on the cultural expectations of parenthood.
posted by chunking express (102 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
He better amp it up on the paternal love or it will indeed be JUICY booty pants for her.

His wife is indeed a saint, it seems, and she and her daughter are a beautiful pair.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:31 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yet another bookmark in the "why I was right not to have kids" folder.
posted by localroger at 4:38 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I liked the plates. Cute baby.
posted by delmoi at 4:45 PM on September 25, 2010


We're expecting a baby in December - our third. This guy's photos are great. I wonder if there's a way I can contact him and ask him to take pictures of our new baby. And then when he arrives to take the pictures, I'll punch him in the face. On behalf of his daughter, of course.
posted by The World Famous at 4:46 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


That is quite possibly the worst interface and site design I have ever seen. It's a series of... images? Even though it's mostly text? Why did he type something, save it, and then convert the text into an image file?

Can you do something like that and still be a good father? I doubt it.
posted by Justinian at 4:47 PM on September 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


Not a fan of the layout, which reminds me of so many awful artists/photographers' websites. I was trying unsuccessfully to scroll until I finally realized I needed to click instead.
posted by dhens at 4:48 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I loved the series and his writing, coupled with the photos. Thoughtful and moving as they showed his own growth as a father and human being.

But if I ever saw him on the street, I'd punch him in the face for that shitty interface.
posted by nomadicink at 4:49 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I really liked the photos a lot. I'm going to pile on and agree it is a terrible terrible interface, completely counter-intuitive. It begs the question heh can a site with great content and a crap interface be "best of the web"?
posted by Rumple at 4:53 PM on September 25, 2010


Great post, and I have to say I thought the interface was surprisingly clean and easy. I thought it was SO much better than so many of those photographer sites. I must be wired counter-intuitively.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 5:08 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


When I saw the little hand, I knew that if I wanted something to happen I should click my mouse button.

Damn, that was a confusing interface.

He's amusing, but eventually the cutesy contrarianism just got too formulaic. The reaction to it is better. One of my friends at work provoked a similar reaction when he said he preferred his five-year-old to his new-born, because the five-year-old actually does things.

I've never had to deal with a screamy baby, but I know people who have, I've done my best to give them a few minutes of relief, and the only way they got through it all was by telling themselves it wouldn't last forever, every day endured was one day closer to the time when baby would grow out of it, please god please. So he may not talk like a saint, but he's as much of one as his wife.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:14 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


"You have a girlfriend, and everyone asks when you're going to get married, so you get married."

I have to admit, I stopped there. Does it get more interesting than "I made no decisions of my own, and am powerless and blameless."?
posted by mhoye at 5:20 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


"You have a girlfriend, and everyone asks when you're going to get married, so you get married."

I have to admit, I stopped there. Does it get more interesting than "I made no decisions of my own, and am powerless and blameless."?


Yes.

But you're right that people too often invoke "cultural expectations" as an excuse for all their behavior, as if you have no choice but to do what you're "expected" to do.
posted by John Cohen at 5:22 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree with Ron. It would've been nice to just be allowed to scroll from top-to-bottom (and bottom-to-top), but compared to some interfaces it's pretty innocuous.

That said: sigh. I got bored with it after it all became about the Transformative Power of Love and Children. It's valid, I'm sure. But goddamn if I don't hear it over and over and over again, like a pop song that never leaves the airwaves. There are other stories of people growing and maturing that have nothing to do with starting a family. One of the things I really like about the Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind is that it involves the hero ditching his wife and kids because OMG ALIENS. It's hard to find stories like that nowadays that don't end up being saccharine morality tales.

(The plate was hilarious.)
posted by Ritchie at 5:24 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


When you have a child, she becomes your entire past, present and future.

This is kind of how I felt when our son was born and thereafter. I felt like we were living in the past of his future. All those pictures we were taking and the stories we were creating would be part of his past when he was old enough to be able to comprehend it.
posted by Jugwine at 5:28 PM on September 25, 2010 [17 favorites]


Really guys? I thought the interface, while unfamiliar, wasn't that hard to figure out, and the photo coupled with his writing? Dangit, that was a falling-in-love story. A really sweet one.
posted by dabitch at 5:33 PM on September 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


photos. They change so from the beginning to end, they show how he approaches her, first as something quite strange he doesn't fully understand, and gradually, as someone he adores and dresses up in halos of sunshine.
posted by dabitch at 5:34 PM on September 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


Well there's definitely some truth in what he says for many parents; a newborn can appear to be little more than a loaf of bread that also screams and shits (and which you shouldn't eat). It can take a while to warm up. When our second was born I was still so in love with our first, who would ask me questions and play catch and eat chocolate and sing songs, that I despaired that I would ever have that bond with the new baby. But it comes, sure as the dawn, a day comes when you realize that you will do anything for this particular screaming, shitting loaf of bread.
posted by Mister_A at 5:37 PM on September 25, 2010 [19 favorites]


Some truths don't really need to be spoken out loud on the internet where innocent parties can find them later.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:40 PM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Nice site for showing how the problems flash interfaces have can be replicated using JavaScript.


"When you have a child, she becomes your entire past, present and future."

After a couple of months of sleep deprivation I'd have problems distinguishing the passage of time too.
posted by Memo at 5:42 PM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


i actually really liked the interface, I don't have to move my mouse at all and it fits wonderfully in my window.

the photos and story are cute too. and then you hear "mcdonalds"
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 5:43 PM on September 25, 2010


Really guys? I thought the interface, while unfamiliar, wasn't that hard to figure out,

Then why did so many of us spend so long trying to figure it out?

and the photo coupled with his writing? Dangit, that was a falling-in-love story. A really sweet one.

I liked the content, but the font is way too small.
posted by John Cohen at 5:46 PM on September 25, 2010


Surely this generation of babies will be more photographed in their first year of life then their great-grandparents were photographed in a lifetime.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:47 PM on September 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


But goddamn if I don't hear it over and over and over again, like a pop song that never leaves the airwaves.

There's a reason for that. I think the reason is because it is true. My wife had our son when I was 36, and I went through a lot of the same phases he went through. While our stories may not all be exactly the same, we all share in the human condition.
posted by Roger Dodger at 5:50 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


And then when he arrives to take the pictures, I'll punch him in the face.

I'm all for mefi snark, but I have no idea where this bile is coming from. What on earth did this guy do that was so terrible?

I would like to purchase an entire table set of those plates sir
posted by Think_Long at 5:52 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for the interface, I think it is more intuitive if you actually start at the beginning.
posted by Roger Dodger at 5:56 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding concerns that the child could find this story later on and be traumatized or whatever - would an adult (or teenager) really be mad at his parents for this honest description of how, when you have a baby, you first have to get used to it before, you know, it becomes someone?

I certainly don't identify with my 1-to-6-month-old self that existed 30 years ago. That wasn't "me" in any practically relevant sense, so I wouldn't be mad at my dad if I found something like that, or disappointed or sad or whatever. I would actually find it quite touching. But I generally find love that slowly grows over time to be much more romantic than the lightning-strike variety, so...
posted by The Toad at 5:58 PM on September 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


> Not a fan of the layout, which reminds me of so many awful artists/photographers' websites.

These are pictures, right? (I can't see anything on the page, I have scripts blocked.) Serious question: why does every artsy individual on the web seem to think a gallery has to be done in flash or java or something, by law and interplanetary treaty with dangerous bad aliens? I know how to display an image in html f*cking 1.0. I even know how to make a thumbnail into a link to the 3000x4000px full jpeg in html f*cking 1.0. And that's all a website image gallery calls for, and everything a gallery calls for. This occult knowledge can't have faded from every other mind in the living population, can it? Like reading Linear A? What gives? Every single bit of this narsty "interface" cruft is just like a gallery rentacop telling you "Stand back, sir, you aren't allowed to get that close to the painting."
posted by jfuller at 6:07 PM on September 25, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was all "Christ What an..." and he got to the high fructose corn syrup, and I melted. I appreciate the aesthetic that he's presenting here, which is a transformation from clinical observer to loving father, because I've been there.

Of course with me, it happened in a span of about 4 minutes. There was this... thing... that they had just pulled from my wife's belly, and I reached down and put my index finger in its left palm, and she grabbed on tight and held it for about 5 minutes. The nurse said "Wow, I've never seen one hold on like that." By the time she'd let go, my life had transformed.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:13 PM on September 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm all for mefi snark, but I have no idea where this bile is coming from. What on earth did this guy do that was so terrible?

It's the tone more than anything else, really. And that he published that particular narrative, with that particular tone, using those particular pictures, as a self-promotion in a public forum.
posted by The World Famous at 6:35 PM on September 25, 2010


I certainly don't identify with my 1-to-6-month-old self that existed 30 years ago.

Yeah... I just spent an evening with friends and their 2-year-old daughter, who's cute and funny and runs around and eats real food and sings and tells little stories, and when I got home I thought, hey, I should pop in one of those tapes my grandmother just sent me of me at less than a year old; that might prolong the cuteness just a little longer.

I popped a tape in, listened to about a minute of sporadic cooing on "my" part, and turned it off again. We're so much more interesting once we can talk and smile and giggle.
posted by limeonaire at 6:35 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's the tone more than anything else, really. And that he published that particular narrative, with that particular tone, using those particular pictures, as a self-promotion in a public forum.

What I read sure seems a lot less offensive than whatever you read. Maybe I just missed something.
posted by Think_Long at 6:40 PM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


What I read sure seems a lot less offensive than whatever you read. Maybe I just missed something.

I didn't say it was offensive. You're reading more into my comments than I put there.
posted by The World Famous at 6:43 PM on September 25, 2010


(And maybe I'm doing the same thing with the photo blog.)
posted by The World Famous at 6:44 PM on September 25, 2010


Eh, mostly it's saturday night and it seems like you're the only other person around here.
posted by Think_Long at 6:48 PM on September 25, 2010


I wouldn't be mad at my dad if I found something like that

It wouldn't come as any surprise to my kids. I've told them what a burden they are, every day for the whole of their lives anyway.

How else am I going to guilt trip them into taking care of me in my dotage?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:49 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, it's kinda too bad this guy didn't realize "Oh, we aren't really planning to have kids" is a perfectly valid answer to "So, when are you two going to have children?" I guess it all worked out in the long run though.
posted by !Jim at 6:53 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy cow, can I relate to this! Age and everything. When people asked me if my son wasn't the most wonderful thing in the world, I said "it's like having a really annoying pet." When they asked me if he looked more like me or my wife, I, quite honestly, said "he looks like W.C. Fields". After he started becoming ambulatory and communicative, THAT"S when he became the most wonderful sweet center of the universe. It doesn't always have to be love at first sight. Sometimes a love of this magnitude has to make enough room to fit within a formerly selfish heart. "S prolly just me. And maybe this guy...
posted by Redhush at 6:58 PM on September 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


I was all "Christ What an..." and he got to the high fructose corn syrup, and I melted.

Yeah, I made the same swing as Devils Rancher. At first I thought this guy was a total ass clown, but really, it's important to document that babies/kids can be totally crappy and horrifying in addition to being disgustingly adorable. People experiencing the feelings he was--that he wasn't sure he loved his child, and that maybe he mad a horrible mistake--need to know that they're not alone or bad parents or crazy.

Also I love the picture of her with the overhead lamp--she looks like a Moomin.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 6:58 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


When you have a child, she becomes your entire past, present and future

I don't have kids, but I have friends who have kids, and they haven't utterly dumped me and their other friends. Certainly people do go that route, but it's actually possible to keep a life and not utterly subsume yourself in your child. It doesn't make you a bad person- actually in my eyes it makes you a much better person.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:04 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


at first i was annoyed by the interface, but then i fell in love with it.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:09 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Upon further reflection, while I don't really like the overall presentation, the sentiment is nice.
posted by The World Famous at 7:13 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


His name is Phillip Toledano (there's an "o" at the end).
posted by Drab_Parts at 7:15 PM on September 25, 2010


> But you're right that people too often invoke "cultural expectations" as an excuse for all their behavior, as if you have no choice but to do what you're "expected" to do.

To joel and others who find his "tone" so terrible:

I've been a pretty anti-establishment guy my entire life - but this particular social pressure to be exactly ONE WAY when you have a kid and have the script for new dads laid out for you, WORD FOR WORD is one fuckload of a lot pressure because the stakes, you are told, are another life and their psyche.

It's not just another case of "Stick it to the Man then fall on the sword" - you are sticking your precious baby, "the blessed event," on that sword -- or so the stick-you-are-beaten-with says if you stray from the script even one word.

I hope nobody who is complaining about this guy's initial reaction is ever put in a place, socially, where a single ambivalent thought brands you as social miscreant, a subhuman.

To everybody who started out hating this guy, but came around when his version of this story ended in saccharine, unquestioning, unalloyed adoration:

So what if he had still held on to some ambivalence today? Why is that such an untenable position or thought process?

And to the little girl in those photos reading this 20 years from now:

You know what? Your father is human. His thought process is not a reflection on you or your humanity. It may seem like an impossible task but don't take it personally that he has questions. He's seems like a pretty decent, responsible, sensitive (and creative!) guy who values honesty, to himself and others - you should be proud of him for that. He questions societal norms instead of accepting them at face value. You should be very proud of him for that. It may seem hard to understand, but he cares deeply about his obligation as a parent and takes it very, very seriously - to the point where he wants the emotion to come from inside him, through reflection and personal experience, not because the script told him to. And finally, because of this approach to the world, you know that you can trust him to be open, honest and worthy of your emotional investment. You're a lucky woman.
posted by victors at 7:19 PM on September 25, 2010 [13 favorites]


When you have a child, she becomes your entire past, present and future.

This is kind of how I felt when our son was born and thereafter. I felt like we were living in the past of his future

I've been feeling this way since the moment I found out I was pregnant: some day, my kid is going to ask me about my pregnancy and everything before that is just mythical pre-history. So weird.
posted by sonika at 7:51 PM on September 25, 2010


I can relate. At times having a baby is like being a lifeguard: boring and stressful at the same time.
posted by acheekymonkey at 8:00 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I suspect the layout's so fussy and weird because the site's owned by Anthropologie, home of fussy and weird women's clothes.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:01 PM on September 25, 2010


Toledano is an awesome, awesome photographer. Sometimes I like it when metafilter gets its hate on, but then they turn that hate toward something I like and y'all just sound mean. Go fig.

Anyway, while The Reluctant Father probably warranted its own post, I think it's better in the context of the rest of his work as seen here.

I've long admired him, but it wasn't until I saw this essay about taking care of his dying father that I thought he truly took it to another level.

If you can't get over the interface, might I recommend tight rubber underwear. It will form a protective seal that will help keep the sand out of your vagina.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:01 PM on September 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


So what if he had still held on to some ambivalence today? Why is that such an untenable position or thought process?

I would understand the ambivalence. Having kids is hard work, and frequently frustrating, scary, expensive and time-consuming. I was just glad to see him overcome the selfishness - that's a big part of successful parenting. Us people with kids still have our hopes and dreams, and kids get in the way of them all the time. It is possible, however, to have your understanding of your priorities in life change in favor of the children without being utterly subsumed by parenthood, though it's at times a struggle. I haven't quit doing the things I love -- I just try not to do them to the detriment of my children.

One can have some ambivalence about this re-thinking of ambitions without resenting the kids, which is essentially a maturity thing. Selfishness is at its heart an immature emotion. I think what the photo essay essentially represents is maturation.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:03 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


His named is spelled Philip Toledano, and that photoessay was awesome.

However.

I know how to display an image in html f*cking 1.0. I even know how to make a thumbnail into a link to the 3000x4000px full jpeg in html f*cking 1.0. And that's all a website image gallery calls for, and everything a gallery calls for.

Complaining about the interface on photo websites is like saying 'who is this celebrity I've never heard of and am proud to announce I've never heard of aren't I cool.' Aren't you just the master of website navigation, to register your displeasure with anything other than the photos on the site. It's the new "I just don't get this modern art stuff."

If you actually took the time to figure out how to see the photos you would understand that there is a reason they go slowly down the page as the essay unfolds, over the course of Toledano's shared realization of what it is to be a father, something that comes with time. Things fall into place. Moments add up, like the images. He's allowed to control how the images are seen, so the viewer can experience that same realization. It is great art, hands down.

If you don't like the 'navigation,' by all means email his agent. Otherwise, please spare us.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:07 PM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


I love it. The pictures are amazing and I had a similar "what the fuck have we done?" kind of feeling about parenthood that still comes into play, every day, so far down the road.

People talk so rarely about the screaming, and the not knowing what to do about it. I spent so many nights sitting awake with a weeping meatloaf. I personally think it's kind of beautiful to share that experience. It's beautiful to remember how simple the difficulties were back then, too, now that my kids are so ensconced in the real world that when they cry, I can't just approach the situation with the three point plan of "are they wet-are they hungry-are they sleepy".
posted by padraigin at 8:25 PM on September 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


I always likened new-fatherhood to getting a new girlfriend who you absolutely adore but who doesn't speak English and complains constantly.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:30 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


We just don't like that it wasn't clear how to navigate. I don't know why this is so upsetting to so many people. The fact that you like the site overall doesn't mean we can't have a valid technical complaint.
posted by John Cohen at 9:07 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love my daughter as well as I can, after my own fashion.

Which means that each day I try my best to see that she's happy, healthy, and learning ever more about the world. Every day she laughs with me and it's like there's a second sun in the world. And also every day there's at least one or two moments where I resent her terribly.

When people ask me what fatherhood is like, I say that it's just like my life was before being a parent, only the highs are higher, the lows lower, and the choices are simpler.
posted by xthlc at 9:07 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, my own father has spoken to me quite candidly about his terror, discomfort, bewilderment, and outright resentment towards me (I'm the eldest) when I was very brand new. It never made me feel bad at all; it made me feel awesome, that I was clearly awesome enough to win over his heart.

We're very close now, and when I had my first kid, it turned out that my father is just kind of terrified of, confused by, and uncomfortable around small babies in general. He starts to find them fun once they can smile and track things with their faces and use their hands on purpose. But at the larval stage? Totally uncomfortable.
posted by KathrynT at 9:49 PM on September 25, 2010


One can have some ambivalence about this re-thinking of ambitions without resenting the kids, which is essentially a maturity thing. Selfishness is at its heart an immature emotion. I think what the photo essay essentially represents is maturation.

OK, let's be clear: the words 'resent' and 'selfish' are yours - they are not in the original link and they were not in my comments. With the possible exception of "I HATED the screaming" (not aimed the child mind you, but the sound the child was making) the original link uses words like 'panic' and 'confusion' but never come close to your terms.

Maturity? That's clearly not in the original presentation which is, as the artist states, about the 'emotional connection' that was missing at the time birth of the child. Maturity is also completely your read because, for whatever reason, you needed to put it there.

Thank you for clearly demonstrating what I was talking about by labeling the original link and my afterthoughts as being born of resentment, selfishness and immaturity.
posted by victors at 11:06 PM on September 25, 2010


Scroll, dude, being a sad is all about letting it scroll
posted by the noob at 11:12 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


miracle of life occurs for 800,000,000,000,000th time
posted by Ratio at 11:17 PM on September 25, 2010


TheGoldenOne - thanks for those excellent links and context. Maybe you can give some insight into why so many photographer's sites are, well, overdesigned? Navigationally complex? Serious question.
posted by Rumple at 11:25 PM on September 25, 2010


A dear friend of mine told me he had 'fallen in love with his son'. I didn't tell him, 'No, you've become a dithering softcock who has lost touch with reality. Your fear that your child will fall prey to any number of Fucked Things is unhealthy and you have retreated from the world into a tiny sphere of obsession. The fact that you are a misanthrope only makes this more hilarious.'

Parents are boring and I try to have as little to do with their inane shit as possible. But I'll babysit their kids. Kids are great.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 12:40 AM on September 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


"It was like trying to have a relationship with a sea sponge, or a single-cell protozoa. She didn't do anything! Or at least, nothing I could understand."

Reading this out of context, at first I thought he's speaking about the mother.
posted by sour cream at 12:43 AM on September 26, 2010


This is a great photo essay. I love how the photos clearly change in tone as his own perspective on the subject changes. And thank goodness for his honesty - I'm glad to see someone portraying a more realistic journey into parenthood than society generally allows.

But yeah, I love looking at photography online and I hate the efforts photographers go to to control how I view the pictures. It's like going to a bricks-and-mortar gallery and being herded around by a security guard who keeps telling you the 'right' way to look at the art. Just put things on the page, keeping in mind that 1024x800 is still a common screen size, and don't reinvent the (scroll)wheel. The time I spend learning a unique navigation method is time taken away from appreciating the art.
posted by harriet vane at 12:45 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would behoove me to add my parents were and are full of amazing stories of their own hero's journey while being really fucking shit at the actual job.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 1:02 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


even after all of those negative comments
I liked the creative interface choice to unravel the story
and I am not afraid of you
posted by will wait 4 tanjents at 1:15 AM on September 26, 2010


I've long admired him, but it wasn't until I saw this essay about taking care of his dying father that I thought he truly took it to another level.

The fatherhood story's good but this is absolutely amazing. Devastating, but amazing.
posted by rory at 2:18 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


There was a beautiful and fuzzy quiet about the presentation. I slipped into this one, not realizing that I inadvertently tuned out my hot breakfast plate, the church bells outside, the cold of the room. I was confused by the interface, but it provided just enough necessary engagement to keep me focused on the page – before my mind would probably wander back to the things around me. And, as somebody else pointed out above, these particular pictures tell a parallel story to the words...distant and objective at first, misplaced light, wordless pages for a moment's pause...the focus changes - what are the cultural expectations...the tiny hand shot - is this the one that is supposed to make me 'get it' now...? But then you gradually see the change; with the words as well. And the latter shots are much more cohesive. His writing and photography style are no longer distanced from the subject material, nor lost in it. He's found that place in between, where he can embrace fatherhood on his own, without the distractions of all the other voices telling him what to expect and who to be.

It really is an identity piece - beautifully self-indulgent - with baby-as-bridger into a new world that he must find his place in. He does, and I'm glad he shared it with us.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:20 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd be fine with reproducing if I had to spend no energy on raising the little shits.
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:46 AM on September 26, 2010


I read the dying father piece before and just re-read it now. When I was reading the parent/baby piece, I had no idea the same author wrote both. I loved both pieces.

I think the difference between the two pieces highlights what a few have pointed out in this thread: the relationship a parent has with babies is visceral and can appear to be saccharine at times. People are much more "interesting" as they grow older and "do" stuff

Disclaimer: I have a four-month-old son, and I did not have the "alien" reaction when he was born.
posted by Brodiggitty at 4:05 AM on September 26, 2010


The ultimate post for people who hate both kids and poorly-designed websites, and aren't afraid to let you know.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:28 AM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maturity? That's clearly not in the original presentation which is, as the artist states, about the 'emotional connection' that was missing at the time birth of the child. Maturity is also completely your read because, for whatever reason, you needed to put it there.

Thank you for clearly demonstrating what I was talking about by labeling the original link and my afterthoughts as being born of resentment, selfishness and immaturity.


You're welcome, I suppose. I guess we all see things through the lens of our own experience. I wasn't trying to imbue anything on your words that wasn't there, on purpose, anyway -- I was just musing, and agreeing with you, that no, ambivalence is not something that I would vilify him for.

Maybe what I was trying to say, and failing, in my fist comment was that my initial reaction to his text, before getting halfway into the thing was incorrect, and that I reassessed it when I got done with the whole thing, and understood his point a little better. It's okay to come around to parenting on your own terms, and I never said anything about "societal norms." That was entirely his baggage that hopefully he sluffed off in the end, because the kid was clearly a wonderful thing, societal expectations aside.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:58 AM on September 26, 2010


I like it. Wonderful photography, and yeah, the story is told better by the pictures than by the text. The early shots are studies in composition, the later ones are studies in love.

He asks: "Will Loulou FREAK OUT if I wipe her arse with room-temperature tissues?" If one of your well-meaning relatives gives you one of those fucking wipe-warmer things, and you use it even once, you can BET YOUR OWN FAT ARSE she will.

Finally: the interface is to CLICK THE MOUSE ONCE to go to the next page. This is somehow too difficult for the Metafilter community to grasp? Hmmm.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 6:00 AM on September 26, 2010


It took me one refresh before I discovered I just had to click on the little fragment of picture to get it to display. I really appreciated his candour. I've always said that I'm not a baby person. I loved my babies because they were mine but I love them even more now that they are older. They are still capable of giving me the absolute shits, but my parents undoubtedly say the same thing about me.
posted by h00py at 6:03 AM on September 26, 2010


I will also admit to being, above all else, a rank sentimentalist.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:04 AM on September 26, 2010


Some truths don't really need to be spoken out loud on the internet where innocent parties can find them later.

Ha, I was born to a woman who told me, rather matter-of-factly, when I was 17, "If abortion had been legal in 1962, you would never have been born." something something therapy something
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:07 AM on September 26, 2010


Having clicked past about half of the essay, I now realise why he decided to convert the text to images: So much of what he writes is lazy, indefensible trollery, he didn't want to make it easy for people to quote him.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:08 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]



It took me one refresh before I discovered I just had to click on the little fragment of picture to get it to display


Upon looking at the series a second time, I discovered you can actually click on the text next to a picture to advance to the next photo. Would it have killed him to put in a "next" and "previous" arrow?

Still love the series though, but geeze, I want to take his light meter and hide it in a lampshade his living room. When he starts looking for it, I'll just tell him to explore the UI of his house and he'll figure it out.
posted by nomadicink at 6:22 AM on September 26, 2010


Would it have killed him to put in a "next" and "previous" arrow?

The fact that you would even think of suggesting this just shows how blind you are to the beauty of parenthood!

(just kidding - good idea)
posted by John Cohen at 6:28 AM on September 26, 2010


Crying-baby-plate reminded me of all those evenings during the Colic Months when the food got burnt on the stove while walking the ball of scream up and down the hallway for an hour, and you realize: this. this is what we are having for dinner tonight.
posted by drlith at 7:36 AM on September 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I figured out how to advance through the essay easily enough, but how the heck do I "go back up the page" to look again at a previous picture? Practicality sacrificed for art's sake, I reckon.
posted by frodisaur at 8:11 AM on September 26, 2010


You know, we have two main cultural narratives of parenthood. One is the grand, sweeping, Disney epic of "The baby was born and I have never in my life experienced such immediate, overwhelming and absolute joy." The other is more of a behold-my-fierce-truth, tell-all indie journalist expose along the lines of "The baby was born and like, tiny humans are weird and cry a lot but now I'd kick ass with my mad ninja skills for the little dude." These are not gender specific narratives, either.

What you never hear is "The baby was born and honestly, meh. In retrospect, eighteen years later, probably a mistake." Now that I have not read 700 times before.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:13 AM on September 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


I found it delightfully ironic that the photo he uses to rant on wipes warmers features a $500 stroller.
posted by thekilgore at 9:22 AM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Babies don't usually smile for the first time before their 90th day in the world and that's about when they really begin to engage with the things that don't just feed and clean them. Becoming human takes time and practice.
posted by wobh at 9:24 AM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder what the response to the content to this would be if a mommy wrote it.

Why do dads get a pass on "I actually wasn't too into being a dad at first; now look at my awesome personal transformation! Go, me!" than a mom ever would?

I just get so annoyed that daddies are even allowed to indulge their nebulous "I'm not so sure how I feel about being a daddy" crap but a mother would be hung out to dry if she ever said something similar.
posted by dzaz at 9:58 AM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


dzaz: but a mother would be hung out to dry if she ever said something similar.

I am pretty sure I have read that 350 times. Ask actually has nice examples of this - women concerned because they're not in love with their infants. They get extremely compassionate advice, all of which ends up with "and then when my kid was ___, ____ happened or I woke up one day and now I'd walk across fire for my child." Which is exactly what mostly happens, in fact. The difference is that I think women are culturally programmed to panic that if they don't fall in love at birth, they are Bad Mothers, whereas fathers don't carry that particular baggage because we're pretty much constantly telling them they are ancillary and crap at parenting anyway.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:21 AM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lots of old traditions and cultures don't name the baby until a year or two after birth.
posted by PsychoKick at 10:51 AM on September 26, 2010


What you never hear is "The baby was born and honestly, meh. In retrospect, eighteen years later, probably a mistake."

We've heard it here on Metafilter.
posted by John Cohen at 11:00 AM on September 26, 2010


darlingBri What you never hear is "The baby was born and honestly, meh. In retrospect, eighteen years later, probably a mistake." Now that I have not read 700 times before.

Not sure how serious you are but what you do hear about pretty often are people completely estranged from their parent(s) and that's the same thing as "mistake."

In both scenarios you mention the script dovetails together when the parent is asked the question "Would you do it all over again?" to the point where you only ask this question to get the gushy, happy response because we all know the answer to that is after all, etc.
posted by victors at 11:16 AM on September 26, 2010


whereas fathers don't carry that particular baggage because

what? the hell we don't. Try standing up in any dinner situation and saying "I'm not sure I love my kid" - please.... god, don't let this thread become a who's-the-bigger-victim thing. Having to bury your feelings sucks for everybody - OK?
posted by victors at 11:23 AM on September 26, 2010


John Cohen: What you never hear is "The baby was born and honestly, meh. In retrospect, eighteen years later, probably a mistake."

We've heard it here on Metafilter.


That is really, really not what that poster said. "If I get another go around, I'd like to go around again without kids" is not at all the same thing as "In retrospect, probably a mistake" or "I'm not sure I love my kid."

victors: Not sure how serious you are but what you do hear about pretty often are people completely estranged from their parent(s) and that's the same thing as "mistake."


Deciding you don't love your parents is common. Deciding you don't love your kids - particularly whilst they are kids - is at least not commonly spoken of.

As to the male/female thing, we do not punish fathers for departing (whatever the reason) the same way we punish mothers for leaving the family home. The expectation is that the bond between mother and child is unbreakable in a really concrete, sacred way, and when we're faced with something that confronts that model, we judge that mother really, really harshly. Non-custodial moms are a growing minority but they face a lot of prejudice not faced by non-custodial dads.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:57 AM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Non-custodial moms are a growing minority but they face a lot of prejudice not faced by non-custodial dads.

I don't know why I find this particularly irritating this morning and I will look into that.

Meanwhile I don't understand how you could ever prove that a dad who walks away from his family is treated quantifiably better than a mom who does the same. You can say ime, but a blanket assertion like that seems very flaky to me. Like I said, no matter who does it (or thinks it) it sucks all the way around.

Deciding you don't love your kids - particularly whilst they are kids - is at least not commonly spoken of.

Well, the scenario presented was "18 years later" but as I type this, a parent, somewhere, is walking away from his/her family because they couldn't get it up to care for them in a meaningful way and they aren't likely to tweet about it. While that plays out as an emotional tragedy in most cases, you have to acknowledge that there is a continuum between society's script of what you're supposed to say and think and feel (regardless of gender) and completely abandoning a family and that there should be room to be able express ambivalence and doubt along the way.
posted by victors at 12:24 PM on September 26, 2010


That is really, really not what that poster said. "If I get another go around, I'd like to go around again without kids" is not at all the same thing as "In retrospect, probably a mistake" or "I'm not sure I love my kid."

I wasn't pointing only to the one comment but also some of the comments below it.

Anyway, you're parsing that comment pretty finely, and of course I never said they're not sure they love their kids!
posted by John Cohen at 12:37 PM on September 26, 2010


Of all the days that I needed to see this, it would be this one.
posted by Leezie at 12:37 PM on September 26, 2010


There's something deeply cynical and depressing about wanting to suppress the truth about this father's ambivalence. It implies that love isn't real, it's just a pleasant fantasy that must be faked through careful staging and maintaining certain appearances, so that if you don't actually fall instantly in love with your child, then at least pretend you did (or never admit that you didn't) or they won't feel loved at all. It wants to be idealistic, but somehow it ends up with the opposite: a weak and impoverished idea of love that can't survive contact with the truth. The whole point of the essay is that love isn't created by canceling reality and putting a gauzy fantasy in it's place, it is real, more real than the child's crying and pooping and the father's ambivalence, exhaustion and fear. Knowing the truth destroys the love fantasy, but throws this kind of love into even sharper relief because of how it persists despite the truth.

But this is exactly what people hate about parents: they love excessively, obsessively, and turn into idiots, even threatening idiots who want to censor the media and eliminate our civil liberties to protect their kids from terrorism.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:24 PM on September 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


what you do hear about pretty often are people completely estranged from their parent(s)

Here's one of them writing a parental advice column. He hates his parents, his children hate him, and people ask him for advice on how to raise their kids.

Of course, his advice boils down to "ignore them unless they sass you, in which case you must punish them until they acknowledge you as master." Not surprising that his optimum outcome for raising children is having them move out at 18 and never talk to you again. A lower preference outcome is to kick them out at 18 and never let them talk to you.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:05 PM on September 26, 2010


victors: Non-custodial moms are a growing minority but they face a lot of prejudice not faced by non-custodial dads.

I don't know why I find this particularly irritating this morning and I will look into that.


My intention was not to irritate; I am sorry to have irked you.

For the record, I see the rise in non-custodial mothers as a positive thing, because it says a few things to me - one, that courts are being far more fair to fathers than they have been in the last 100 years, two, that what is genuinely in the best interests of the child is being put first more often, and three, that families have more options - "kids stay with mom" isn't the only choice a family can make, even exclusive of the court system. I am all for that.

However, when a woman is the non-custodial parent, it is so extraordinary that the assumption is that she did something really bad to cause this and is therefore a particularly unfit mother.

Like I said, no matter who does it (or thinks it) it sucks all the way around.

Absolutely. Not being with your children when you want to be with them is awful for everyone regardless of gender - I'm certainly not saying it's extra-special awful for mothers. I really like the way this interview lays out a lot of the barriers and problems non-custodial parents of both genders have to grapple with. She touches briefly on the specific stigma of mothers in there as well.

All of the research I can find particular to mothers is behind subscription walls for journals so I'm afraid all I have to backup my assertion is flaky: one, two, three. I will add though that this is so self-evident to me that it was a surprise to be asked to back that assertion up at all - that society attaches enormous stigma to mothers who give up custody of their children is something I take as read, like the sky being blue.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:51 PM on September 26, 2010


My mother spent a good part of my childhood, mentioning her disillusionment with baby-love. I didn't find it damaging to my psyche, mostly just good information to go into with babysitting. I adore children, but I know that they're small screaming little monsters that are wired to hit every one of my species sensitive spots. My mother loved/loves me but that didn't mean she enjoyed having a migraine while I finger painted with fecal matter.

As she put it, "Parenthood" magazine exploits children the way that "Hustler" exploits women, in the sense that over idealized babies looking cute are as much objectifying and distancing from reality as a larger than life close up of the vagina is to having a relationship with a woman.

What is interesting is projects like this and "Poo Bomb", examinations of parental ambivalence that are as obsessive with their project as the more conventional avenues of expression. That and I wonder if the more open acceptance of indicating babies might not be a matter of love at first sight is caused by the increased involvement of males in parenting and the attached social freedom of men being able to claim not to love.

That or I think it might be parental backlash about the very fashionable anxiety about giving your child an attachment disorder.
posted by Phalene at 5:06 PM on September 26, 2010


hey DB, I appreciate your thoughtful response and I did my best to put the irk on me so there's absolutely no need apologize to me for my reaction.

it was a surprise to be asked to back that assertion up at all - that society attaches enormous stigma to mothers who give up custody of their children is something I take as read, like the sky being blue.

The frustrating part for me is the extrapolation that women have it worse than men when talking about any aspect of their emotional attachment (or lack thereof) to their kids. Specifically, the "sacred bond" sword cuts both ways.

I could argue, for example, the reason these articles exist is because it's considered newsworthy ("extraordinary") by these editors and bloggers when the man doesn't get the shit end of the stick it custody cases. The pain that a man feels when he is told by a court that he is less fit to be a parent 70% of the time can not be measured against the pain of woman who has her "conversation stopped" at the water cooler 30% of the time. The fall-out from the stigma is gender neutral.

Now, the question raised in this thread has more to do with what happens when a man stands up and says "So I had this kid and I did not automatically feel any real emotional connection to her...." and what society has to say to that person -- I can't see where there's any appreciable harsher reaction for one gender vs. the other and I don't how to measure the pain of one against the other. I'm not saying it's not there, but I can't see it.
posted by victors at 6:10 PM on September 26, 2010


victors: The fall-out from the stigma is gender neutral.

To the best of my knowledge there isn't a stigma attached to being a non-custodial father, though. There are literally millions of non-custodial dads in the US; it's commonplace. In fact (and I realise this is problematic) it's routine. So when mom and dad split, the default assumption by the public at large is that the kids will stay with mom and dad will absent himself. As far as I know (and please feel free to provide me with information, even flaky information if this is not your experience) dad is not suspected of being a deficient father simply by virtue of not having custody.

In other words, I don't automatically think there's something wrong with your fitness as a parent because you don't have custody of your kids. Nobody is going to tell you you're an unfit father just because your kids live with your ex wife. That is less commonly the experience of non-custodial mothers - we are deeply suspicious of these women as a culture.

I think the assumption that of course the kids will stay with the mom is bullshit. I also think the assumption that if they don't, that's because there is something wrong with the mom is also bullshit. Both kinds of bullshit are very much there, and both are harmful to families.

Now, the question raised in this thread has more to do with what happens when a man stands up and says "So I had this kid and I did not automatically feel any real emotional connection to her...." and what society has to say to that person -- I can't see where there's any appreciable harsher reaction for one gender vs. the other and I don't how to measure the pain of one against the other. I'm not saying it's not there, but I can't see it.

I actually agreed with you (dzaz didn't) - I think we hear this from parents of both genders. In my experience it's more commonplace with fathers than mothers, but in both instances the soothing response is "you will!" and generally that's what happens - as evidenced by the original post. My real, actual point is that we never talk about what happens when you don't, which I think is much more interesting.

My side point was that we seem to expect "instant in love" of mothers more than fathers. In making that point, I have however somehow steered this part of the conversation way off course with all of the above. I don't really want to monopolise the thread any more with my armchair sociology theories; "MeMail me!" feel like a cop-out but I think we're the only two people having this discussion...
posted by DarlingBri at 6:58 PM on September 26, 2010


I'm sure my parents felt this way about me until I graduated high school. Fuck, kids are ANNOYING.
posted by tehloki at 4:14 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm going to get punched. I thought the interface was cool.
posted by stormpooper at 10:38 AM on September 27, 2010


*SHAPOW*!
posted by Think_Long at 10:55 AM on September 27, 2010


I was sort of iffy on this but it redeemed itself with the first photo of her drinking from the bottle, because her hands and general positioning give this tiny baby a sense that she's going "FUCK YES! WE ARE FUCKING DOING THIS!"
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:23 PM on September 27, 2010


Strollers are huge. Like... huuuge. I visit my neices and nephew and help my brother put the stroller in the toyota matrix and I just can't believe how huge it is. I'm not that old, but I remember - my sister and I had the same stroller. It was this little collapsible three-wheeled dealy, the wheels were white plastic, about the diameter of a baseball, it was just a little fabric pouch suspended between three rods on wheels. It weighed, like, a pound. Even with the little buckle-belt safety harness.

What happened to those strollers?

I'm not afraid of kids... just terrified of gigantic, hulking, big-wheeled $500 strollers.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:17 PM on September 27, 2010


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