Soon after Ian was born, Kelly and I visited the mall. As much as I enjoy browsing for nursing bras, I decided to take Ian for a walk while mommy shopped. He started to whimper. He started to whine. He started to scream. Ian doesn’t like being inside.
I rushed outside to try and calm him, but nothing seemed to work. As a new and sleep-deprived father, I was frustrated and already dubious about my skills as a parent. Everything I tried only made him scream louder.
If I had seen this situation from afar, I would have thought it a bad time to tell the bedgraggled father how cute his baby looks. Enter Helpful Lady One and Helpful Lady Two, arm-in-arm and shopping bags in hand:
Helpful Lady One – “Oh, how adoooorable!”
Helpful Lady Two – “Yes, he’s darling!”
HLO – “Aw, where’s mommy?”
HLT – “Is he cold?”
HLO – “Maybe he’s hungry!”
HLT – “Where’s mommy?”
HLO – “He looks a little tired.”
HLO & HLT – “Where’s his mommy?”
Maybe I looked as though I needed some help. Perhaps there was a touch of imploring in my apologetic looks to fellow shoppers. But, really, I just wanted to be left alone.
Me – “Wow. I can’t thank you enough. I thought babies preferred lounging naked in chill winds. Until you happend along, I was thinking of seeing just how long he could go without food. You know, as an experiment. I guess I should’ve more closely read my Daddy Manual’s disclaimer, ‘You are inept. What exactly do you think you’re doing? Give him back to mommy, the real parent.'”
This has happened more than once. And it never happens to Kelly.
Since Ian was born, I’ve become painfully aware of the general stereotype of the American Father. From the Helpful sisters to JcPenny’s “Where’s your mother?” ad campaign, fathers are seen as clumbsy, reluctant, and as a last resort for raising children.
Granted, I’ve admittedly put a diaper on backwards. But I’ve yet to diaper Ian’s head. It doesn’t bother me so much that the world seems to assume that, as a new father, I have no idea what I’m doing. Of course I have no idea what I’m doing! I’ve never done this before. But neither has Kelly. We both make mistakes, and Ian is still very much alive. What’s frustrating is that the world also assumes that, as a new father, I have no chance of figuring out what to do on my own.
Thursday night, a woman in a grocery store wanted to make sure that I was putting Ian safely in the cart. A half hour later, she made sure I was holding him correctly.
While waiting with grandpa outside of a teddy-bear store this weekend, Ian and I played with some shiny, beaded necklaces I had tied to his stroller. “What a cute baby! Oh. But does daddy have you in the sun too much?” Sunshine makes shiny things shinier. I was happy, he was happy, and as far as I can tell, Ian’s skin hasn’t fallen off. It’s not as though I had given him a magnifying lens to play with.
So, unless a baby is in danger of losing his life or something that can’t grow back, please, leave daddy alone. He doesn’t quite know all the rules yet, and has a suspicion that a lot of them are bunk.