Alternadad is a memoir about the birth of a child and parenting from a dad’s perspective. I wish there were more memoirs out there written by
fathers that focus on their being dads. Neal Pollack’s story of his journey with his wife, Regina, after they become parents of Elijah, is a slightly different take on this
memoir sub-genre - not about how much the child changes his life, but rather about to what extremes
he will go to so that his life will not be changed. Neal’s guiding philosophy is to remain cool, even though
he is now a parent.
Pollack is a writer, his wife an artist. With the birth of Elijah, her life changes dramatically
- his not so much, at least initially. He even plans a road tour with his pseudo-band before Elijah turns one. He does realize how lucky he is and states, “Regina was letting me go on a month-long rock tour when she was at home with an eleven-month-old. And I wasn’t even a musician. That is the living definition of a good woman.” (pg 132) It is also interesting how they work out two hours a day for Elijah to spend with dad, but by the time Elijah is 18 months, it has morphed into two days, and they begin looking for childcare.
Some of the most intriguing parts of the book are the conflicts that Regina and Neal face. For example, that Elijah be circumcised is of the utmost importance to Neal’s parents. This causes serious family arguments as Regina is not sure she wants to inflict that on her son. A few of the clashes are of their own making: Neal has a hard time interacting with any person that he judges to be not cool, i.e. a typical suburban mom,
yet he continually puts himself and Elijah in situations where that is who they will run into by going to a particular park or enrolling in parent-tot gymnastics classes. Here he reminisces about a conversation,
She looked at me like I was a guy who’d just cut her off in traffic. Admittedly, I hadn’t shaved in a week and was wearing a dirty Cubs hat and a T-shirt depicting
The Thing from The Fantastic Four. But I was still at the Little Gym, and I was still a dad. For pity’s sake, couldn’t a guy make a cocaine joke in mixed company anymore? (pg 195)
More serious conflicts arise when they enroll Elijah at a preschool, a relatively mainstream one where they serve lemonade and watch videos. It seems an odd choice for such an avowed alternative couple and when it turns out that Elijah has a biting problem it goes downhill fast.
Pollack's writing style in Alternadad is straightforward,
including a lot of dialogue that seems true to life - so much dialogue that I wonder if the author sat down and wrote out all
of his conversations directly after they happened. At times it almost seems like Neal wanted to become a parent simply so he could record how he went about being the hippest parent ever.
Admittedly, some of the ideas that he incorporates into their daily life do seem pretty neat. Neal has written about music and is obviously passionate about music,
so he incorporates a music hour into Elijah’s daily life to expose him to all types of music. He gives an extensive tutorial for the reader on songs for kids that fit his criteria of good music, or at least approach it. Some of ways Neal attempts to prove he is still hip, like partying and smoking pot, are less admirable.
Also, some of the anecdotes included do not seem to quite mesh with the rest of the chapter that they are in,but rather appear to be there just because Neal wanted to tell that particular story.
Neal and I, actually, superficially, have a lot in common. We are about the same age, got married at about the same time, and our families each had a first baby in 2002. We even overlapped living in the Philadelphia area. However, I am afraid I would be the typical mom that he disparages, one who likes Sheryl Crow and does not get his cocaine jokes. The book is a worthwhile, although slightly long, read, but even after
finishing it I still do not quite understand Neal or why he does what he does.
As an alternative, for a very thoughtful and humorous memoir that examines the impact of having children on a career I highly recommend
Dispatches From a Not-so-Perfect Life or How I Learned to Love the House, the Man, the Child by Faulkner Fox, which is surprisingly also set in Austin, where the majority of Alternadad takes place. For Neal Pollack, having a child has become a part of his career, and you can follow the further adventures of Elijah and his mom and dad on Neal’s blog at