Some of you may have missed the real big news about diapers and gender equality. That’s why you have me.
It began innocently enough. Huggies, the diaper company, was floating an advertizing idea on their Facebook page. Yes, Huggies is on the Facebook, if you’re looking for a friend who won’t turn you down. Some people were upset by the ad. It said that the “ultimate test” for Huggies diapers was – surprise – Dads. The Huggies people were going to move five Dads and their babies into a house together for five days while the Moms were shipped off to a spa for a “well deserved” vacation. Presumably, hilarity would ensue at the Dad-and-Baby house. The only thing more amusingly incompetent than a Dad is five Dads.
Into this controversy steps world-famous stay-at-home Dad, Chris Routly. Yes, you read that right. He’s famous for being a stay-at-home Dad. Like you, I wouldn’t think that staying at home with the kids was a pathway to fame – in the way that having octuplets most certainly is. [I never tire of references to the Octomom. There’s someone who takes parenthood seriously.]
I learned of Chris and his story when I heard him interviewed on Jian Ghomeshi’s show on CBC radio last week. That’s how famous Chris Routly is: he was on Q. [For those of you who have jobs – Jian is the new Peter Gzowski. Q is a partial replacement for Morningside.] [For those who have always had jobs, trust me, CBC radio is very important to those of us who don’t get out of the house in the morning and don’t have anyone around who can talk.]
Chris is a SAHD [the acronym is not intended to be ironic, I’m sure] with a toddler and a newborn – both boys, both in diapers. His wife has a job somewhere. Chris has a website: The Daddy Doctrines. His website is impressive – quite a bit splashier than this one. When I had two kids in diapers, I wasn’t designing websites and writing blogs. I was deciding whether to use my tiny bit of free time in a day to have a shower or take a dump. I tried to alternate. In addition to Chris’s advocacy work on behalf of SAHDs, being a media star, showing off his beautiful boys and writing his reflections on the very profound experience of Daddyhood, every Friday Chris publishes a new recipe on his blog – complete with commentary and pictures. Really. When I had a newborn around, I wasn’t experimenting with recipes. I was trying to figure out what I could make with one hand. That would be a useful cookbook for new parents – One-Handed Cooking for the Non-Amputee. Chris is obviously handling this stay-at-home-dad business with more grace, skill and aplomb than I did. I was a mess. I also was not famous. In fact, staying at home with the kids actually made me less famous. It made me disappear.
But this isn’t about me. Chris found the proposed Huggies ad insulting. He took Huggies to task by starting a petition on www.change.org. Yes, his petition about diapers was on “change.org” [sometimes these things write themselves]. In his letter to Huggies, which accompanies the petition, he expresses dismay that the ad portrays Dads as “little more than test dummy parents, putting diapers and wipes through a ‘worst case scenario’ crash course of misuse and abuse”. He found a subsequent Huggies ad particularly galling:
Another commercial even touts the ability of HUGGIES to remain leak-free when dad is too busy watching televised sports to change a soiled diaper until after the game.
Is that what HUGGIES thinks dads do? Leave our children in overflowing diapers because sports is more important to us? Really?
He’s writing at a time, of course, when most serious Dads have PVR. Just a quick click on the ‘pause’ button on the remote, the program freezes and Daddy can run out to take a pee, get a beer, answer the phone, change a diaper, whatever.
Back when my kids were in diapers, parenting technology was not as advanced. There was no “pause” button for regular programing. A diaper change had to wait for a time out and commercial break, especially if the score was close. Babies go through the diaper change routine several times a day. A potential game-winning drive, the clock ticking down? Be serious. Easy choice.
I never felt guilty about that until Chris the Crusader became insulted by the implication that he might be a Dad like me.
Okay. I was kidding. I still don’t feel guilty about it.
Change.org invited people who signed the petition to share their reasons for doing so [http://www.change.org/petitions/we-re-dads-huggies-not-dummies]. I looked at a hundred entries [I am a tireless researcher]. Sixty three of the signatories were women. Thirty six were men. One came in from a couple. So, of those offended by this insult to men, almost two-thirds were women. Most wrote to praise the fine diaper-changing skills of their husbands. Don’t be dissing Daddy or you will hear from Mommy. I suspect they worried their fragile partners would be discouraged by the ad’s message and would stop doing their share of the baby toil. Perhaps men didn’t respond in large numbers because we were watching sports. [Or just so darn busy being “involved” fathers. When have you ever heard a mother described as “involved”. Duh.]
After a thousand people signed the petition, Huggies withdrew the ad. Victory.
The petition ended up getting slightly over thirteen hundred signatures. That’s an overwhelming response? Browse through the petitions on change.org. and you’ll see that thirteen hundred signatures is extremely lame. The only petition that even comes close to this tepid a response is the one urging Starbucks to stop using insect parts to colour their strawberry flavoured drinks – a petition that kicked the shit out of baby daddy butt wipers, four to one.
Nonetheless, the Huggies reversal is a victory for gender equality, a blow against hurtful stereotypes. Progress.
Right. A woman becoming a CEO is progress. A man changing a diaper?
Was it sexism that prevented us from taking our rightful place at the changing table and diaper pail? Yes, it was. It was the sexism of presumptive incompetence – which has worked to the benefit of men throughout history. Were men prevented from changing diapers because, like women aspiring to be CEOs, people didn’t believe we could do it? No. We didn’t do it because, well, we didn’t want to. It’s gross. If someone else is going to do it, somehow feels compelled to do it – go ahead. Being a CEO is very different. People actually want to be CEOs.
Then, one day, someone said – “Go change the baby’s diaper, you selfish, lazy asshole.” And we did. Anybody can change a diaper. Do you have opposable thumbs? You can change a diaper. So can an ape.
Like most gross jobs, it takes some getting used to. My brother had a big mean biker friend who was a new father. Not a “bike on the roof rack of the Volvo, spandex bike shorts” type of biker. This guy was not a cyclist, he was “biker” – as in big and ugly, tough and intimidating. The first time his wife left him alone in the house with the baby, the baby let go a huge gooey blast. Bikerman started to deal with it, but became violently ill from the sight and smell of it. He carefully placed the baby in the bathtub and puked violently for several hours, until his wife came home and he could get to the hospital to deal with dehydration and a hernia. The baby was fine.
That story also makes me think that it would be a good idea for all change tables to have a high walls and water source, so you could hose the little fella down from a safe distance.
What babies have inside them often finds itself outside and all over them. Babies are often snot-covered, pooh and pee drenched, and barf soaked. All at the same time. And it doesn’t seem to bother them. It’s not an emergency necessitating the interruption of a Blue Jays rally in the bottom of the ninth. And it is not incompetence or lack of “parenting” expertise to recognize that the big job of making your baby temporarily presentable can wait a few minutes.
Parenting is important, especially now that men do it, but the day-to-day feeding, bathing, changing, laundry and other chores of parentdom are not brain surgery. I used to say that one of the things I loved about being a stay at home parent was that it’s the very rare, really important job that you can do while drinking. But, that could have been the booze talking.
Yes, it is important and, in its way, valuable work – especially when men do it. But think about how much we pay child care workers to do that work for us. More than bloggers, yes, but still, not much.
Significantly, there is no Nobel Prize for child care.
The point, for me, is that it’s not a job. It’s not a skill. Taking care of your kids is just life. Kids need to be taken care of. Maybe guys, some guys anyway, are more laid back than some Moms about changing diapers. Maybe we think that the whole world, especially the sports world, doesn’t have to stop immediately if we catch a whiff of poop in the air. It could be a nice firm dry one that can wait a while. It could also just be a fart. It could be the dog. It could be Mom’s turn. The suggestion in an advertizing campaign that Dads might be more relaxed about such things – that we integrate the child-care duties into the rest of our lives – isn’t a threat to our worth as parents. Despite frequent cries of anti-male sexism, when I look around, I don’t see men as an oppressed minority, shut out of any field they want to be in. And Dads especially, do pretty well. We get showered with effusive praise for performing the most minor parenting chores, things that mothers do without anyone noticing. Low expectations are a wonderful thing.
Parenting is unglamorous, thankless, often unpleasant work, performed out of love and devotion and necessity, and for which the rewards are immense, though intrinsic.
I’ll end this with an observation that emerges from my long and bitter experience as a father. Chris may have been offended by Huggies’ implication that his parenting might be less than stellar. Wait, Chris. In a few short years, it won’t be Huggies telling you you’re an incompetent parent. It will be your kids. Savour this time.