Though the arrival of my first-born son is only a few hours, days, or weeks (?) away, I’m generally loathe to talk about it at much length in print, despite my almost out-of-body excitement. I don’t want to become one of those people — it’s bad enough spending a lunch hour with a “dog person” who, having not satisfied the itch to talk obsessively about the life of her Golden Retriever on her blog, bores co-workers to tears with stories about her pooch’s need to sleep in the same bed or eat from a high-chair at the family table. Honestly, I couldn’t care less. Quite often, parents are even worse, and though I generally find obsessive talk of babies, diapers and poo remarkably endearing in friends, it’s not what I want to read about when I come to a pop-culture site. There’s a time and a place (like the brilliant Offsprung), and while I fully intend not to expound upon my child-rearing experiences on Pajiba, I do expect that, in real life, I’m going to struggle to some extent with maintaining my pre-parent identity.
And though that is one of the themes running through Neal Pollack’s Alternadad, I think I might have left the wrong impression about both the book as a whole and Mr. Pollack specifically with some of our readers when discussing, a few weeks ago, Hollywood’s decision to buy the film rights to the book (I stand by my assertion that the book will make a horrible movie, however). Some of you took the label “hipster Dad” in a way that Pollack had certainly not intended it; in fact, it’s not the way he characterizes himself at all — it’s mainly the reviewers of his book who have unfairly given him that derisive label (most of whom, I imagine, are crusty old traditional parents who probably don’t give a second thought to pouring gallons of high fructose corn syrup down their child’s gullet). As Pollack writes in his book, he’s not trying to be “cool,” so much as he’s trying to raise his child, Elijah, in accordance with his and his wife’s values. And while some may deem those values “hipster,” a growing number of parents (including myself) readily identify with them, demeaning terminology be damned. Pollack doesn’t want to feed his son processed foods; he doesn’t want to expose him to McDonalds or Barney or commercial television; he wants to put his kid in a quality preschool; and yeah, he wants him to have decent taste in music. What the hell is wrong with that?
In Alternadad, Pollack writes about his struggle to implement his values as a parent in an unsettlingly familiar way. If you’re not wealthy, how do you afford to feed your family more expensive organic foods? How do you manage to give birth naturally if your health care providers are shoving epidurals in your face? Do you circumcise or not circumcise? If you can’t afford daycare, how do you preoccupy your child during the day without allowing him to watch too much television while also maintaining your own sanity? What might it mean to raise your child in a gender neutral manner? How do you isolate your child from mass consumerism? Why are The Wiggles and The Aquabats OK and not Barney? And please, for those who have moral reservations about shopping at Wal-Mart, why is Target an acceptable place to buy baby wipes? Pollack addresses all but the last of these concerns (which will always remain a mystery to me), but beyond simply raising his lifestyle anxieties, Pollack’s underlying concerns are fundamental: Ensuring that his son is healthy, lives in a good house in a decent neighborhood, and that he’s able to provide for him. He’s an Eisenhower-era father who just so happens to dig The Ramones.
If you’re not a parent, or soon to be one, there’s not a lot in Alternadad that’s really going to interest you (I can’t imagine how bored I’d have been if I’d picked it up a year ago), which is why you’ll find the book in the General Parenting section of your local bookstore, and not amongst the memoirs. And for current child-rearers, Pollack doesn’t necessarily provide a lot of answers or advice, but, to a certain type of parent (of which, I imagine, there are quite a few on this site), there is a lot in the book to which you can relate. I’ve read my share of the baby books that are popular now (Dr. Sears, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, etc.) and while they offer mostly common-sensical advice, Alternadad is the only book I’ve read that’s actually given me an idea of what it’ s going to be like to be a parent. And it’s not just a series of amusing child-raising anecdotes involving flung fecal matter — though, there is a lot of that — it also provides a glimpse into the day-to-day life of raising a child: The scheduling difficulties, coping with a fussy baby; what to do when your child starts biting other children; and, yes, how to maintain your own sense of self when raising a child becomes an all-consuming experience. Even if it’s not particularly informative, Alternadad is comforting, in a way, for would-be parents otherwise going into the experience blind. And it’s funny as hell, to boot.
As far as Pollack’s parenting philosophy goes, I think this passage adequately sums up the book’s main sentiment:
Upon this arrival Elijah immediately became the most important thing. Of course there would be changes. But we were here first, and we invited him. We would not succumb to the cult of child-rearing; our kid was not going to be our excuse to retreat from the wider world. He would be our passport, and we would be his.
If that’s what it means to be a hipster parent, then count me in.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
Alternadad by Neal Pollack / Dustin Rowles
Film | June 26, 2007 | Comments ()