In raising children, being active parents, educators, and dealing with all the things that come with children, men seem to be missing. Yes, over the past twenty years or so, men have stepped up to the plate and men have contributed more to the raising of children then their parental predecessors. My father wouldn’t even change diapers (so I’m told), where as I seem to be elbow deep in the mess. However, it seems that it is still a mommy’s world when it comes to dealing with children; particularly babies. As a new father, I am perplexed by this observation. I am distressed by it, as I was under the impression that, as a community, we had become more egalitarian. It appears that this is not the case.
My first experience with this was after my family recently went for our first outing as a trio. Our new baby, just about eight weeks old, has been aptly sequestered in the confines of our house. Aside from going to the doctor, breast-feeding classes, and the grandparents’ house, she has only seen our kitchen, nursery, living room, and a bit of our neighborhood. Nevertheless, we ventured out for several jaunts on the weekend of her eighth week. To Target and lunch we went, to gatherings and the Third Street Promenade we schlepped, and finished with a President’s Day dining at a pizzeria up the street. In all cases, I found myself having to adjust to circumstances for my baby girl, simply because I was not a girl. The places we went, from casual to upscale, were not at entirely geared towards fathers, or even fathers helping mothers. It was about adapting to a world that was not adapted to me, a father.
Day 1: We finally emerged from our home, ready to face the outside world with our new, shiny, beautiful baby girl. We have truly been blessed as she has had no complications, no major problems, and overall, is the kind of baby parents dream to have (I will mention that I am abashedly biased). So, we ventured out to a deli close by. With the car seat’s movement, in and out of the car and into the restaurant, our little girl slept the entire time at the restaurant. She barely opened her eyes to see what was going on, and blissfully napped through our Turkey Pastrami. Perhaps, the exhausting work of growing at such a young age kept her down for the count. My wife and I reflected on how silly we were to wait so long to take her out to the world. We wondered if outings would be this easy (knowing full well that we were fooling ourselves).
As an attempt to be an involved father, the baby sat on my side. My wife, who is still on maternity leave, attends to the baby most of the time. Just to note, this imbalance of attention is mostly due to circumstances. Some of the circumstances are obvious: such as, no matter how hard I try, I simply can’t produce milk (at this point, we have not purchased a pump). Second, I do not have paternity leave, nor an abundance of days off to use, leaving my wife to spend her maternity leave with the baby alone. So, when I can, I try to help out with the baby. Nevertheless, when there are the two of us together, I try to get as involved as I am allowed too, both by nature and my wife.
In continuing our adventure, that was pleasantly normal, we ventured to Target. This part was fairly common place for us, like any other weekend retail trip. Naturally, we now had a passenger in our cart, but as she had done so far, she was a sleeping angel. The place was full of people, as you would expect on a weekend. After, what I think might have been an hour of putzing around and getting our knick knacks and groceries, the baby became fidgety. I took the baby to walk around and soothe her, as she seemed to settle down with the sway of the cart. Eventually, she was squirming enough for us to think she might need a change of diaper. OKAY! Our first public diaper change, and this was not a drill. This was truly exciting. My wife was shopping for something specific, and I was eager to attempt my fatherly duty for my baby’s alleged duty. I felt involved, engaged and an important part of the parental team. So, I scooted on over to the restroom area; and, not a moment too soon as I also needed to use the facilities.
Immediately, upon arrival to the restroom area I was greeted with “caution” tape over the “Family Restroom.” A janitor cart outside the door, and crossed tape like it was a crime scene, hinted to it being a bit too long for the “Family” room than we could wait. Well, I’ll just use the diaper changing station in the men’s room. First, I have to take care of myself.
Stop! What do I do with the baby? I wasn’t going to place her next to me in her car seat, on the floor, next to the urinal. Not only did I gasp at the idea of “over spray” hitting my baby girl in the eye, I clearly did not want anyone else’s hitting her either. I quickly envisioned a fierce scolding from my wife, not to mention my mother, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law, for placing my baby so close to such a possible germ threat. No, it was clear that it was not a good idea. I really wanted to fulfill this obligation, not put the baby on to my wife, who had not been out shopping in almost two and half months. The obligation to relieve myself was also beckoning loudly. Only two stalls to choose from, one being for people with alternative needs (i.e. a wheelchair). I could place her in her car seat in the corner, away from everything; I could do what I needed. She has the benefit of a diaper, so a few moments longer wouldn’t cause a catastrophe.
When finished, I washed my hands, and turned to look for the changing table. I should have looked in the “Family” room or the ladies room, as there was nothing in the men’s room. Absolutely, nothing! Okay, I get it, why on earth would a man need to change the diaper of his eight week old when obviously the baby would be with the mother at every given opportunity? Silly, I know! So, I went out to some “recycling” bins that were flat, and figured I could at least check to see if my baby needed a new diaper. On further inspection, she didn’t need any immediate change. I figured her excitability was to the new and exciting sounds and sights around her, or she was hungry. So, quickly I went back to my wife, reported that no diaper change was needed and that she was hungry. Obviously, my role in assisting the baby was halted. So, we checked out, went home and the baby ate a hearty helping of fore and hind milk.
Interestingly enough, this was not a unique situation for the weekend. However, it was a glimpse into what challenges I would face as a new and involved father. I would also contend that as a man, I have been conditioned to not really care about such things, or to overlook the trivial nature of something small like this. Or, was it a small and trivial thing? My daughter is small, but by no means trivial. Though it is clear she could care less where her diaper is changed, just rather that it is changed. So, the discomfort is really mine. I wonder what hygienic rules apply to changing diapers in public? This truly presented a challenge. Challenging that it was, it was easily addressed by finding a corner to ultimately take care of my baby. What if the contents of her diaper or results of her need to relieve herself were more than what the diaper could handle? That might pose a greater need for privacy, or facilities to help in cleaning her up. Maybe I got off lucky for my first public diaper changing. Yet, what does the future hold, if not a lot of diapers? I am revisited by the dryer scene from “Mr. Mom.”
The weekend proved to show several circumstances where having the proper tools to take care of my baby would be helpful, but were not available. However, the weekend also proved that, as a man, I was limited to what extent I could help my wife. I felt stifled, a bit, as my desire to be a contributing partner was diminished by lack of access to adequate places to change my baby’s diaper. I also was in new territory. One that only a few men I know might be able to relate. I know for certain my father would not be able to offer advice, nor my father-in-law; and, even from that point on, the people are numbered. It’s not to say that other men have not had to face these same issues. It is to say that not enough men have had to face these issues to make any change. Further, it might be a situation where maybe men are not taking enough of an active role. I will continue to consider this as I go through the next few days. Nevertheless, regardless of the reason, the facts still remain: it’s a good idea to help your wife and protect your baby from overspray.
by Jon Abelson
Photo graciously provided by Qole Pejorian , through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved