How the Heck Did I End Up With an Italian Son?

04/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For years he's been the man regaling TIME magazine's worldwide readers with incisive accounts of the trials and tribulations of Italy's (at times philandering) politicians and the Vatican's (timelessly pious) pontiffs.

Now, correspondent Jeff Israely is set to regale us with an incisive account of how the heck he ended up with an Italian son.

The book he is working on is autobiographical. It is full of self-deprecation (he doesn't understand quite why his Roman wife dismisses his eager suggestion to name their firstborn Gennaro - chosen from nothing less than the Italian Soccer Almanac); curiosity (would American mothers ever dream of weaning their babies with super-salty parmesan cheese?) and a lot of humour (when his wife cooks him dinner for the first time, saying she'll make Risotto...he says he had visions of a miserable plate of Uncle Ben's being put in front of him).

I recently caught up with Jeff (father of Tommaso and Ruby) to chat about a number of issues, starting with the main differences he sees between Italian and American dads.

"I'd say by now, most of the West shares the same new standards of what it means to be a good father: more aware, more involved, "piu' presente," as the Italians say. But of course both Americans and Italians fail continuously. We're men after all! So it becomes a matter of distinguishing HOW we fail. Sure, in the end, American dads probably contribute more to the day-to-day child rearing than Italians. But, most of all, we put extra energy into pointing out how much we are - or would be - contributing," he told me.

Never one to stray too far from his journalistic roots, he adds: "As we've seen from U.S. foreign policy, Americans make a mess with misplaced idealism and an inability to come to terms with the limits of our power. Fathers are no different. Whereas Italian fathers are more realistic, and consequently fail in their lack of ambition to improve on the constraints of evolution and social tradition."

Taking his theory to the extreme, he tells the story of the American father who took hormones so that he could breast feed his baby. "Meanwhile I've heard of Italian fathers who claim they can't even manage to warm up a baby bottle!"

So what motivated him to write this book?
"The book began after 10 years in Italy, more as a way to talk about the country and its people, than as an explicit attempt to understand my children or fatherhood itself. But in beginning to write it, I saw that being a father to Italian kids was a key to my understanding of their country."

As for what it's like to live with Italo-American kids...
"There was the time that I asked my son Tommaso (who wasn't yet five) to taste a strand of spaghetti to see if it was cooked 'al dente'. I said 'It's great to always have a half-Italian around to help me in the kitchen'. And he said: 'No, Daddy, I'm 'mezzo americano e tutto italiano.' Half American, All Italian was about right."