I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been out with Evelyn alone and I’ve somehow invited dad stereotype comments such as “where’s mummy today then?”, “are you babysitting today?” and “you’ve been allowed out alone with her have you?”.
I’ve grown tired of asking them if they think I can pass her off as my own, or straight up implying I’ve kidnapped her before I walk away making guesses at her name so she reacts to me. It’s as if people think the Y-chromosome lacks the genetic code responsible for the ability to change a nappy without ending up peed on and wearing baby-crap.
The dad stereotype – gender roles
It’s usually the older generation, and it’s almost always women. Don’t get me wrong, I know they mean no harm. It’s light-hearted but it’s reminiscent of a time where mum/dad roles were clearly defined and separate with no overlap. It’s not the majority of the time either, rather about half of the time, but even that is too much.
I don’t say this from a purely defensive point of view though. The dad stereotype is as damaging to mums as it is annoying to dads. It lends itself to the attitude that dads can be forgiven for not being “hands on” in the early days because they just don’t have it in them, and I take exception to that. Fair enough, I may not have been able to breast-feed Evelyn without her spending half the night coughing up hairballs, but I’m capable of (almost) anything else mum is – with the exception of that mum-comfort, that much I happily concede.
Jingles like “That’s why mums go to Iceland” and shop names like “Mothercare” propagate this stereotype. As do the baby sections of most shops, with their perfect unrealistic pictures of mums and babies cuddling. Mum looking like she’d had more than 3 consecutive hours of sleep and baby looking like she hasn’t spent the best part of 26 hours screaming – hardly realistic!
I reluctantly admit that my subconscious does a subtle double-take when I see a picture of a dad and baby somewhere, but should it be like that? I’m instantly irked at the fact I thought it looked strange, but that’s market conditioning for you!
Baby-change facilities: No Entry!
I’ve seen this all too many times. Whether or not Kathryn was with me when I was out and about with Evelyn, I wanted to be the one to change her half the time. It’s only fair, right? Well it seems most establishments scattered across England don’t agree. They didn’t seem to foresee dads wanting to change their child’s nappy – and they’ve clumsily situated the baby-change facilities inside the ladies toilets.
Now, it may have taken 3 ASBOs and a restraining order or two, but I’ve learnt my lesson about entering that magical carpeted royal chamber that is the ladies toilets. There are some gents toilets around that have the facility, but why oh why do they put the pull-down table next to the urinal. No thanks mate, I do not want your splashbacks reminding my daughter of her christening thank you very much.
I was forced to improvise most of the time and used the boot of my car. Evelyn didn’t care, but I did!
I have to say at this point that John Lewis is the créme de la créme where baby-changing facilities are concerned. I’ve walked half way across a city centre before just to change Evelyn there!
“Family changing rooms” – just no dads please
My final gripe on the topic of changing facilities (sorry, I know I’m just flat out moaning now) is when I took Evelyn for her swimming lesson on my own. Kathryn and I normally take her but she was ill this time, so I decided to brave it alone – how hard could it be? I could get Evelyn changed in the family changing room and then get changed myself in the men’s changing room with Evelyn warm and clothed, easy!
We got dressed for swimming beforehand and just put another layer of clothes on over it. Everyone does that, right? Anyway, we had a great lesson. Evelyn was finally taking to it and I got that smug/proud feeling I get when things go to plan and make me look like superdad. There were other kids there, some crying so much that I’m sure the water level raised a few inches, but all went swimmingly (sorry…) for Evelyn and me.
That was until we got out of the pool. I took Evelyn to the family changing room (note – this was NOT for getting dressed yourself. This was for getting your child dry and dressed). I opened the door slowly as to not knock some poor kid out, and I was talking to Evelyn as the same time. The door suddenly stiffened, then I felt the type of force on the door that could only be exerted by a semi-naked woman panicking. Seriously, this should be one of Newton’s laws in itself as there was some serious horse power in this.
“You will just have to wait”
I heard a very stern “Excuse me, can you give us a chance to get dressed here?!”. I stood there, Evelyn and I both in our swimming gear but wrapped in towels over it, the winter breeze flowing over us both from the open main entrance nearby. “I need to dry my daughter, it’s freezing out here” I said, as calmly as I could. “Well you’ll just have to wait, I’M not dressed yet”.
That was it, she’d pissed me off. “It’s not a room for you to get dressed though is it?”. No answer. Now usually I’m the argumentative type, but I had Evelyn to think of here and I had to get her sorted. The male changing rooms were ridiculously small, 4 people maximum and just straight open space, there were 3 men in there but they each had a child with them (older, not from the swimming lessons but able to dry and dress themselves) and there was no area to put Evelyn down to clothe her.
I used the disabled toilets, which happened to have a pull down table for changing a nappy. I was livid, Evelyn was cold and I felt ridiculous standing there in my towel in a toilet area!
Official advice – “Skin on skin with dads is creepy”
You read that right. Take a second to read it again, a couple of times if you need to. Ridiculous, right? What if I told you that this was a quote from a midwife giving an antenatal class? Ha, imagine how funny that would be.
Well, it was a quote from a midwife giving an antenatal class.
This was our second or third class. We looked forward to the class because we would talk for hours afterwards about our plans and how excited we were about the baby. The midwife spent a good 20 minutes squeezing apples through tights, and pushing dolls’ heads through a mock vagina knitted by some old woman. Once done with this display which frankly screamed “YOU SEE WHAT WE GO THROUGH? DO YOU?”, she moved on to the topic of what to do the minute the baby arrives. She spoke about breastfeeding, skin-on-skin with mum, and the placenta delivery.
I was excited to ask about skin-on-skin with dad at this point, but I didn’t have to because she shot me down with one sentence which seemed completely out of place. “Some dads like the idea of skin-on-skin, but it’s creepy” she said. She visibly shuddered and made a noise which I can only type out as “euuurgh”. Nice.
Me, being the argumentative type I mentioned earlier, said “I’m definitely doing that though”. Either she wasn’t expecting any dads to want to do it, or she wasn’t expecting anyone to speak against her. She paused just long enough for me to know that she’s realised what I’d said, then she moved on with the class.
Did it put me off? Absolutely not – skin-on-skin was something I’d looked forward to throughout the pregnancy. In fact, here’s a picture of us right after I’d taken her off my chest and wrapped her up for warmth:
It was then that I realised that I couldn’t do things like swimming or long shopping trips outside close proximity to a John Lewis without Kathryn with me. Most places are very maternal-centric and I can’t be wasting time arguing my point to people who are not inclined to listen or reason. It’s changing, slower than I’d like, but it’s changing.
Since then I’ve stumbled across thedadnetwork.co.uk – they have a great page where you can view a list of dad-friendly changing facilities in your area. You can contribute to it too, and I suggest you do if you know of any that aren’t on there! I wish I’d known of this sooner.
Still, the issue remains that we shouldn’t need to compile a list of places where a dad can comfortably and lawfully change his child’s nappy, should we?