Being Dad: Justin Baldoni
The Jane the Virgin star opens up on his fears around becoming a parent, raising kids outside of gender stereotypes and living with a ‘threenager’.
Justin Baldoni, who first won the hearts of his 2.4 million fans as the strong-yet-sensitive love interest of Jane the Virgin, will never forget the moment he discovered he was becoming a father.
“I had just come home from finding out that I was going to be on Entertainment Tonight – which was a first for me as an actor. I was in my first season on Jane the Virgin, it was taking off and we were experiencing all the excitement that comes along with being a part of an amazing show.”
It was 2014, and while Justin was settling into the character of Rafael Solano, his wife Emily– a Swedish-born actress – had recently starred in the sci-fi-thriller Coherence. “I walked into our living room and Emily looked nervous and terrified. I told her about being on Entertainment Tonight and she blurted out ‘I’m pregnant’ as she covered her face with her hands. I remember looking at her and having this bodily reaction that I couldn’t control – I threw my hands up in the air like I was being arrested. Which in some ways is how I felt. We were just getting our feet financially, we had just gotten married six months earlier, and we still felt like kids despite being 30 years old.”
Like many an expectant parent before them, they didn’t feel ready to raise a child – and thought they didn’t have “the tools in place” to do so. “But those nerves, that fear, led us to prepare in the only way we knew how, which was to work on ourselves; trying to become the best version of ourselves so that we could, in turn, raise a human being that might benefit the world.”
Now a father of two – almost four-year-old Maiya and Maxwell, 18 months – the past few years have seen five successful seasons of Jane the Virgin, Justin’s directorial debut with documentary series My Last Days and feature Five Feet Apart, and the growth of his production studio, Wayfarer, into a $10 million enterprise.
Add to that Justin’s exploration of masculinity.
In November 2017, just days after his son Maxwell was born, Justin gave a TED talk titled ‘Why I’m done trying to be man enough’ in which he challenged gender stereotypes and describes his own father, who was sat in the audience, as “awesome”. Reflecting on his earliest childhood memories, Justin notes that his dad never missed an opportunity to cheer his son on.
“Whenever I had a game of any kind, I could always count on looking to the sidelines and seeing him there with a smile on his face and a camera in his hand… I think so much of my service-based mentality, and the way that I express love, comes from him. Not necessarily because of anything he said, but because of what I watched him do. It’s been such a profound reminder for me, with my own kids, to remember that it’s not about what I tell them to do, it’s about who I show them I am.”
When offering his advice on avoiding gender stereotypes while raising kids, Justin says that for himself and Emily, it’s about celebrating the children they have. “Giving them the space to learn about what they like and dislike, giving them opportunities to discover what they have fun doing, what they like wearing – those types of things.”
He also thinks it’s okay if those ‘those types of things’ happen to fall into your stereotypical ‘boy or ‘girl’ categories.
“One day when Maiya was younger, we put her in an adorable, stylish blue outfit. I think it was pants or overalls. She immediately wanted to change into leopard print pants, topped with two pink tutus and the sparkliest shirt you could imagine. But that’s her! And that’s amazing! As long as her choices are authentic, and not because she feels she needs to be this way or that way, or wear the tutu, because she is a girl.”
Soon after recording his TED talk, Justin launched an accompanying web series, ‘Man Enough’,” where he and fellow male celebrities discuss male privilege and open up about their emotional struggles. “Honestly the thing that I struggle with the most is how to balance work, success, and providing financially for my family while also being present in the moment and shutting off work when I come home,” Justin replies, when asked what he’s currently grappling with as a parent.
“It’s really tricky as I’ve been building so much professionally and have been on Jane the Virgin for so long that my kids are used to me coming and going. Which also makes me really sad because when I’m home they’ll automatically say ‘Don’t leave’ and there’s nothing that breaks my heart more. I really hope to continue to learn to show them that I am present and that they don’t have to compete with my work.”
Justin’s parents and sister live just 10 minutes away, and this family support, along with Maiya’s daycare and a much-loved nanny, allow Justin and Emily to keep across their various on and off-camera projects. One of these is Emily’s start-up, Amma, a collection of organic cotton ‘cocoons’ inspired by the wrap that Justin’s mother, Sharon, fashioned to breastfeed baby Justin in public. “I was the beta-tester for the first version of it when I was a newborn,” Justin laughs. “I have learned there are as many experiences of breastfeeding as there are women breastfeeding. Each woman has her own unique experience with it.”
When talking on early parenthood from a father’s perspective, Justin understands why men can feel helpless during pregnancy. “But I also think it’s a massive opportunity to engage in, and to partner with your spouse or partner, and really with your child,” he says. “You don’t start being a father when your child is born. You start being a father when your child is conceived – so by getting my wife food when she was craving it, or even trying to anticipate what she might be craving and having it on hand, to going to every appointment with our midwife together, to taking pictures of her growing belly and reminding her of how powerful and beautiful she is. All of these are ways that men can show up for their partners and turn that feeling of helplessness into hopefulness.”
Justin and Emily planned to have un-medicated homebirths for both of their children – “but one of the first things that we learned when going through this process was to not be attached to where your child is born or how they are born.” Maiya was born at home, in their bed, after 36 hours of labor. Maxwell’s birth was “a bit crazier, but still just as beautiful”.
After three days of false labor (and very real labor pains) with Maxwell, a hospital delivery was deemed the safest way to go. “Despite not dilating for over three days, in the car ride to the hospital Emily dilated six centimetres and Maxwell was born an hour after arriving at the hospital,” says Justin. “I think that regardless of where your child is born, or how they are born, whether it be home birth or hospital, medicated, un-medicated or c-section, it is a beautiful thing. I think our job as men is to support women and their intuition and power and what they think is best for their body and the baby.”
These days Maxwell has a permanent smile on his face, and is repeating everything his sister says. “Maiya, on the other hand, has become what we call a ‘threenager’. She is learning so much at day care, especially from the older kids, and she’s coming back home and telling us exactly how she feels about… well pretty much everything.”
Justin keeps his head in check by starting every day in the gym in his garage (“it’s never where I want to be at 6am, but it’s where I need to be”), and with Jane the Virgin having recently wrapped its final season – and another directorial outing, Clouds, set to start shooting this coming fall – he’s looking forward to “entering a little bit slower of a season”. “Without my family none of this means anything, so I can’t wait to get more of that meaningful time with them.”