“Alternative to What?”

In case you’ve missed the advertising and PR blitz, the new book Alternadad is Neal Pollack’s memoir about his struggle to remain “cool” despite having fully entered parenthood. But is he really saying anything new? Isn’t this a pseudo-struggle that all of our generation seems to be dealing with? We’ve discussed the problem of trying to assign yourself a “hip parenting” label, not to mention the fact that there are plenty of moms and dads who have retained their own unique style and personalities while raising their children. The difference is they don’t whine and carry on about how difficult it is, because, quite frankly, it isn’t — unless, that is, you are simply a poseur and trying too hard.

In the current issue of Chicago Reader, our city’s free weekly newspaper, a review of Alternadad by Martha Bayne titled “Alternative to What?” sums it up rather nicely:

But the thing is, there’s nothing new about the parenting model promoted here. “Alternative” parenting isn’t about buying kiddie records from Bloodshot or watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse rather than Barney. And it’s certainly not about dissing other parents whose lifestyle choices you deem bourgeois or square. Alternative parenting might be raising your child in a lesbian commune. Maybe it’s homeschooling. Or breast-feeding till age five. Or absolutely no TV or putting all the food in the kitchen at kid-level and letting him choose what to eat.

For all Pollack’s interest in raising a cool kid, what he really wants — like many parents before him — is a child who’s just like him. The subtext here is how unavailable Pollack’s own “high-upper-middle-class childhood” is to his own kid, not to mention most kids, and I wish this idea had been more fully explored. But pop signifiers of bohemian living aside, Elijah’s being raised by a heterosexual nuclear family in a single-family home in a (slowly) gentrifying neighborhood. His parents want to get him into a decent preschool. They worry about property values and crime. They watch too much TV and don’t have as much sex as they’d like. And they want to give their child unfettered access to the dream of individual exceptionalism. What could be more mainstream than that?


Tell it, Martha, tell it.