Pet peeve: diaper changing pad in the women’s bathroom but not the men’s room. I mean, one changing station is better than none, but the pattern of having only in women’s bathrooms annoys me like crazy.

How many dads does it take….?

I hung out with some kids in my extended family recently. Over malts I cracked some of my best lightbulb jokes. They dug ‘em, dug ‘em so much they started writing their own new ones. Pretty awesome.

One of the kids busted out “how many dads does it take to change a lightbulb? They prefer for the mom to do it, just like a diaper.” Not funny, on two levels – not a well-crafted joke (as opposed to “how many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb? Fish”), and a sad reflection on the kid’s experience. And, while accuracy is not the best measure of a joke, this joke’s not fully accurate. Yeah, some dads don’t change diapers. But fact is, men change diapers too. Some do, anyway. All ought to. (I said something like “well, I change a lot of diapers,” which got the reply, “okay, but dads in general.” I should have pressed the point a bit more.)

I think this kid is gonna grow up to be a restaurant owner. Kid’s got an attitude that seems pretty common in my experience. Seems like loads of restaurants I’ve eaten in (out of the few times I’ve been out to eat since the birth of my daughter) all make the same assumption as that lousy lightbulb joke – including the malt shop where we hung out at during this lightbulb comedy session.

I will admit, sometimes a part of me is secretly relieved when there’s no changing pad in the men’s room. It means I don’t have to change the diapers for that meal. I’m not proud that I feel like this on occasion. That’s not my better self feeling that relief. I certainly don’t need that part of me encouraged. My wife already takes on more of the childcare work than I do. I don’t need to be in environments that reinforce that, and that let me get away with it appearing like it’s not my fault. So, there’s an ethical component to the lack of changing pads in men’s rooms, tied to occasions when I’m feeling selfish and petty relief.

Most of the time when there’s no changing pad in the men’s room my over all feeling is anger and annoyance. A few things about this bother me. I resent the implication that as a dad I don’t change diaper. I do. I change a lot of them. Not having a changing pad in the men’s room feels to me like (and I think encourage) a widespread lack of awareness of the work it takes to raise a baby, and the work that I in particular do. Yes, my wife does more childcare work, but I do a lot too. It’s rewarding, but it’s hard and tiring too. Lack of changing pads feels to me like one small piece of most folks being totally unaware of all this.

Plus it’s not like dads never go out with just the baby. In my case, the less places there are where I can change the baby, the harder it is for me to be out and about with her – that means less me-and-baby time, and more work for my wife. There’s a lot of different types of families – our daughter has a dad and a mom who live together. There’s also dads who are raising babies without moms involved, either solo or with another dad. I’d imagine that lack of adequate changing facilities is an even bigger problem for them.

For my family, when there’s no changing pad in the men’s room, that leaves a few options. Either my wife has to do all the changes, or I do them in the women’s restroom, or I do them in men’s room in an improvised fashion without a pad. The third of those options really, really sucks. Changing the baby in the women’s restroom is fine by me a lot of the time, I don’t mind being pushy, but that takes energy and sometimes I’m tired and don’t feel like being pushy. If my wife has to do all the changes that means I spend more time by myself at the table, which isn’t fun. It also means my wife does more work and doesn’t get to eat a hot meal. I love my wife, she works hard at her paid job and in the unpaid job of caring for the baby. I don’t like to see her workload go up. I don’t like to see her unable to eat a hot meal. This can also cause tensions – she quite rightly feels frustrated sometimes at the amount of childcare she does; our arrangement is less than ideal in the apportionment of paid and unpaid work that each of us has to do. None of this enhances a family night out.

The other thing that bugs me about lack of changing pads is that sometimes, pretty often actually, I genuinely want to change the diapers. I know I might sound like I’m trying to score feminist guy points (who likes to change diapers?! — of course I don’t like dealing with baby pee and poop, that’s less than pleasant), but I’m being sincere here. On principle I try to do my share of childcare, I want to be that kind of husband and I want my daughter raised to expect analogous treatment from the people she’s involved with later in life. But that’s not the main thing.

I’m good at soothing my daughter when she’s upset. I’m good at distracting her when she would rather be someplace else doing something other than sitting through a diaper change. I like being good at this stuff, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. Plus, it’s satisfying emotionally because I’m making this person I love deeply feel happy, or helping keep her from getting unhappy. I get to do that when I change diapers. What’s more, I’m good at that stuff because of the time I spend caring for my daughter. Doing childcare is where I got those skills, and is how I keep them.

I also like changing diapers because my daughter needs to have her diaper changed and I like being part of meeting my daughter’s needs. The reality is that she needs my wife more than she needs me right now – my wife is the one who supplies the breast milk. My wife’s the one who grew her, and the one who spends more time with her now. I know this will even out over time – and my daughter really adores me, she smiles big whenever she sees me and we have a great time playing together – but sometimes I feel jealous of my wife’s greater importance for the baby. This means it’s satisfying emotionally to provide for the baby’s necessities that can handle, like diapering.

Above all, I like changing diapers because it allows me a bit of one on one time with my daughter. I have a more flexible work schedule than a lot of people, which allows me to be a more involved parent and to take on more of the household work than I would be able to if I worked more normal hours. I also make an effort to put family above things like socializing (and sleep, that’s part of how I make up for some of the demands my job places on my time). Even so, my job takes up a lot of time. My job makes me miss a lot of time with my daughter and with my wife and makes it harder to do as much of my share of the work of parenting and partnering.

I crave more time with my family than I get, and especially time with my daughter. Some days the diaper changes are some of the only time I get to spend with her while she’s awake, or at least the only time where she’s the center of my attention: when I’m changing a diaper I’m not washing dishes or grading. I’m focused on my baby. I get to play with her, talk to her, listen to her, make her laugh, look at her, make eye contact with her. Plus before and afterward I get some time to hold her, giving and getting snuggles. These aren’t big chunks of time around diapering but they matter to me, a lot. If I can’t change the baby at a restaurant, I get less of that. And more than that, if folks don’t recognize all this, if they think dads prefer for moms to do the diapering, they just don’t get something really crucial.

So, hey, restaurant owners – put in diaper changing pads in your men’s room. Mom’s doing all the diaper changes isn’t funny.