Our Cool Dad is a dedicated and wonderful father. Just ask the two boys he’s completely passionate about and capable of moving mountains for. In a relaxed and open conversation, Guillaume Lalung, 37, spoke about his experience of fatherhood, his infinite love for his family, and some of the causes that move him.
By Bárbara Perino
Photography courtesy of Guillaume Lalung
Bárbara Perino [B.P.] – You have two kids, nine-year-old Luan and one-year-old Lonô. Let’s start with something easy: how would you describe yourself as a father?
Guillaume Lalung [G.L.] – I try to be a cool dad, but the kids must be respectful. If that’s the case, then everything else will be fine. I was raised by women – by my mother and my aunts – so I strongly feel my kids must have respect for women. I don’t like it when kids scream at their mothers because, for me, our mothers are everything. Luan knows this and Lonô is learning.
B.P. – You were living in Paris before coming to Lisbon. How did that happen? Was it because you fell in love with Rita [Pereira – Portuguese actress and mother of Lonô] or were you already living here?
G.L. – We met here. I couldn’t see my life in Paris so I had to make a change. It was very hard for me to leave behind my friends, family and even Paris itself. But I was done with the city and I wanted to see something else. I wanted to take a year to do nothing, to see the world. I came to Portugal with the idea of staying on. Portugal has everything I need: good food, good life and the weather is great. And, of course, after meeting Rita, I really wanted to stay.
B.P. – How has life in Lisbon been?
G.L. – Now with coronavirus, it’s hard. I used to have my business, my events and parties. Everything was great. This was supposed to be our year, with lots of celebrations and festivals. But that’s not going to happen, not in 2020. Otherwise, everything’s fine. I like the vibe in Portugal.
B.P. – What about your work? You are a producer, right?
G.L. – I organise parties. I have a DJ and some employees. I work behind the scenes to take care of everything.
B.P. – Your partner Rita is a Portuguese actress and we would like to introduce her to our international readers. How would you describe her?
G.L. – Rita is amazing. Something about her that I really respect is that she always fights for what she thinks is right. She says what she needs to say, and she doesn’t care what people are going to think. We are the same in that way. When I don’t like something, I say so. She’s also a phenomenal mother. For example, after becoming a mother, she became an even better cook so she could give better food to our son. It’s hard when you’re famous, but she balances everything. She works hard but is always there for our family and for me. She’s amazing that way.
B.P. – Luan, your nine-year-old, doesn’t live in Portugal. How do you deal with the distance?
G.L. – He lives in Paris with his mother. But he is on a big break from school in France and is with me for that. At the beginning, it was terribly hard, because we have a strong bond and we love to be together. I came to Portugal and it wasn’t too bad because it’s only two hours away from France. Me and Luan spend a lot of time on the phone and I know everything about what’s going on in his life.
B.P. – Wait until he’s a teenager.
G.L. – Everyone says that [laughs].
B.P. – What do you think are some of the characteristics that the boys got from you?
G.L. – Luan walks like I walk and talks like I talk, but, physically, he’s like his mother. He has her face [laughs]. And Lonô… well, people say he looks like me when I was a baby. And I agree. Personality-wise, he’s unique. A bit of a mix between me and Rita [Pereira].
B.P. – How do the kids get along?
G.L. – They play together. I wasn’t afraid because I always felt they would be good together. Nowadays, Lonô is asking for a lot of hugs and giving out his fair share too. Sometimes Luan is playing and Lonô just comes up and hugs him. They sleep in the same room, so when Lonô wakes up at eight in the morning, they go to the living room to watch cartoons until Rita or I wake up. Luan is doing his job [laughs]. He takes care of his little brother.
B.P. – Do you think Luan and Lonô are very different or do you see similar traits?
G.L. – They both love food [laughs] but they are two very different souls. When he was a baby, Luan slept all night. Lonô didn’t [laughs]. Having Lonô was a totally different experience. It was completely new.
B.P. – We saw you have tattoos related to them. How many and why?
G.L. – One side of my body is for my family. You know how some people mark the heights of their kids on the frame of the door or on the wall? I did that on my skin. I have another tattoo that is a portrait of me made by Luan when he was two. I also have a tattoo of a drawing done by my niece. I got it for my sister when she had leukaemia – she’s fine now, don’t worry. When you have leukaemia, you can’t be in contact with other people. I asked my niece to draw something to put up on the glass for my sister to see and I ended up getting a tattoo of it. I like tattooing moments that are meaningful to me.
B.P. – How different is it being a father for the second time?
G.L. – It’s totally different. First because you have another kid and you have to be ready to deal with both of them all the time. For me it was difficult because I had to go back to sleepless nights. There are all sorts of things you forget, like how much food is enough or just how to organise your life with a new-born. It’s different being a dad of two, for sure, but it’s different in a good way. It’s impossible to be different in a bad way, I think. Not with kids.
B.P. – Was it harder or easier?
G.L. – For me, Luan was so easy. You have those months with colic that are awful, staying up all night trying to get him to sleep. But it was easy. I was 27 at the time and I read a bunch of books about pregnancy and new-borns. I was crazy. I knew everything that you should and shouldn’t be giving him. I was on top of my game and Luan slept well and grew up fast. With Lonô, he was always waking up in the middle of the night and I didn’t have that the first time. I’m from the West Indies, the Caribbean, and it came to a point where my mum was sharing all the local tricks to make Lonô sleep. He sleeps better now. He hasn’t been waking up at night for the last three months. If I have a third one, I think that I’m ready for both scenarios, sleep or no sleep [laughs].
B.P. – At Lemon we believe in modern parenting. A cool dad is not just cool. It’s a dad who educates the children, who’s always there and does his part. How do you see the role of being a father?
G.L. – Nowadays, both parents are involved in raising the children. Being a dad is not work; it’s a role you have to take on. When Lonô was three months old, Rita went on vacation and I stayed at home with my son. She was getting all this hate and a lot of people were saying “Poor dad, all alone with his kid.” I felt they were saying I was weak, that I couldn’t handle my kids by myself. The truth is I told her to go on vacation because I got this! When Luan was born, I stopped working to raise him. I stayed at home with him for two years before going back to work. But people always had an opinion, usually against it. Like I need help to take care of my own son. It’s because, for some reason, people think that if the mother is not around, the father won’t be able to do the job. But that’s not true!
B.P. – In what language do you and Rita speak with Lonô?
G.L. – Because we live in Portugal, we know he’s going to talk Portuguese with his friends, family, and in school. French is going to be harder. Rita talks in Portuguese with him, I talk in French and, when we are all together, we speak English.
B.P. – The Black Lives Matter movement has taken centre stage over the last few months and you have talked about it on social media. Is it something that affects you?
G.L. – Always! White people know what the issue is because we tell them, but they don’t live it. Rita understands it and she has always been 100% behind me, but the truth is, when I started telling her the stories, she didn’t think it was possible. At the beginning of our relationship, I received a lot of racist messages and I stopped showing Rita because she doesn’t need to know about all of them. In Paris, it was very hard and I’m going to tell you why: there, you have both black and white people. My skin was too light to play with the black guys, and too black to play with the white guys. I was in the middle with the other guys like me. Recently, I wanted to get a house here in Portugal, but it was impossible because I was black. I met a guy selling a house and asked if I could see the place and the guy, smiling at me, said the house was already taken. Rita was on the way and I said “Baby, ask to see the house”. She came and, also because she’s famous here, she asked if the house was still available. They said it was and she was like: “Wait, my boyfriend’s just coming” and then they saw me… It’s a shame because you get used to it even though you shouldn’t. We have been fighting for a long time and now something has happened, and people are fighting even more. It’s amazing, but it should have happened a long time ago.
B.P. – Do you talk to Luan about this?
G.L. – Luan knows what I’m going through and I tell him what I can. It’s part of history. I’m doing homework with him right now and even at school they don’t talk enough about slavery and things like that. I’m trying to explain to Luan in a way he can understand. I’m always teaching the culture of my mother to my kids and they have come to know what happened and learned to be careful. When I was young, my mother made me ring the bell twice every half an hour to make sure I was okay. And I was just playing basketball outside!
B.P. – Has Luan ever felt any kind of discrimination against him?
G.L. – Luan no, but my niece has. My sister’s daughter is darker and one time she came home and was asking me why people say she can’t play with them because she’s black. She was like, “I’m not black, I’m brown”. You can understand that this is something that comes from the parents. Kids are not born like this. Luan doesn’t see himself as black or white. He sees himself as a kid. That’s why I don’t want to explain too much now because I feel that if I do, I’m going to destroy a bit of his childhood. He didn’t understand why I was talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. I explained to him that I’m fighting for him, for the future.
B.P. – We know that basketball is one of your passions. When did you start playing?
G.L. – I started playing volleyball and later on I found basketball. I wish my son played basketball, but Luan is more about video games than sports. I hope Lonô will like sport more [laughs]. I started playing basketball very late and I hope Luan will be the same. Lonô is young but we already have a little hoop at home. He’s going to play basketball, I swear! [laughs] In Portugal, football is king and it’s really hard to find a basketball club. We have to create more opportunities for kids to become aware of this sport. I was planning an event in Portugal that mixed music and basketball, but because of the virus we had to postpone.
B.P. – What activities do you like to do with your family?
G.L. – We go to the beach together and to the pool. Rita loves going outside, to be in the nature and see animals. I like to be at home, but if she wants to go out, I’ll go with her. This is good for the kids too, to be away from the TV and the videogames.
B.P. – Kids nowadays love games and TV… it’s crazy.
G.L. – I’m a gamer too [laughs]. I’m a big gamer actually, but I’ll tell you why. I can spend hours with the kids, but eventually I need three hours to play and clear my head. Some people prefer to go out with friends, but I prefer to stay in and play. You’ll hear me screaming and whatever but, after three hours, I’m good as new.
B.P. – What’s the most important lesson you want to pass on to your kids?
G.L. – Respect – to give it and receive it. Respect is key. If everyone respected everyone else, there would be no war. People would be better. Also, to be positive and hang around people with good vibes. Bad vibes are a big no-no.
B.P. – What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your kids?
G.L. – To be patient. You have to be patient to feed them, to put them to sleep, to do everything with them. I’ve also learned, and I know it is a cliché, a new kind of love. You give so much love to these little humans.