Of all the moments in life you're really not supposed to admit were underwhelming, holding your first child is right up there. But the photographer Phillip Toledano has come clean in a new book, The Reluctant Father, which documents the first three years of his daughter Loulou's life.
"You're trained as a guy – by film, TV, everything – to have this overwhelming revelation the moment you hold your child. I was really taken aback by the fact that I didn't have this torrent of love," he says.
His wife Carla wasn't always pleased by his antics. When people asked to see baby snaps, he'd show them pictures of Loulou screaming – as that's what she spent most of her time doing. He called her "a sea sponge" and "The Alien". He even printed one image of her bawling red face on a dinner plate.
"In retrospect, I was slightly too candid with Carla – I didn't want to lie to her and pretend it was all great, but it was a little bit hard on her," confesses Toledano, an Englishman who's lived in New York for 12 years. His wife, however, is happy with the book – for "the reluctant father" is now as in love with his daughter as any wholesome Hollywood dad.
Toledano says his transformation was "imperceptible in some ways – like the tide creeping up the shore", but there was also a moment of conversion. "I interact through humour, and I always teased Loulou. So when she teased me back it was an incredibly emotional moment: she was speaking a language that I understood!"
But he still thinks it's wrong that society suggests parents should have only one response to this enormous, and at times difficult, life-change. "It needs to be talked about – a lot of men, and women, have these feelings. If I said that having a baby was making me miserable, people would look at me as if I was a serial killer. And it's even worse for women…"
He hopes the book might spark such a conversation; several parents have already quietly thanked him for writing about it. "They think at the beginning of the book, 'This guy's a complete arse.' But at the end, they say they need to give it to a friend who has just had a kid," he chuckles.
That journey is one of the lovely things about The Reluctant Father: from pictures of a shrivelled critter to adorable snaps of a wide-eyed, curly-haired little angel, it is possible to trace Toledano's shift from nonplussed to hopelessly smitten. By the end, it's as soppy as any baby album. Was he aware of the irony? "Deeply! I'm horrified. If you look at the images in the first half, in some ways they're more interesting; as my love grows, they become more cliché."
He still has those screaming-face plates about the house, though, and has even ordered a circular cushion to match. So what does Loulou make of it? "She finds it quite amusing. I'm sure she'll find it less so when she's 12 and her friends come over." Just wait till it's a boyfriend… "I cannot wait – maybe I'll have a screaming-Loulou tablecloth by then."
'The Reluctant Father' is published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, priced £12.99Reuse content