The Sensitive-Dad Revolution
Will the English guys wearing fake belly babies help or hurt fathers?
Dear three pregnant dads, First, a question: Am I the only person who thinks there is something Napoleonic about your quest? After all, Napoleon is the man who famously said, “There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.” So what if you’re not invading Russia? You are invading the realm of women the world over.
For those who aren’t familiar with your story, it goes like this: You are three 40-something British dads–Jonny Biggins, Jason Bramley and Steve Hanson–who have hatched a (possibly bonkers) plan to honor moms. For a month, you’re each wearing a 33-lb. belly-breast suit, 24/7, to simulate as best you can the sensation of being nine months pregnant. Call it sensitivity training for the modern father, just one part of a larger revolution in which dads are very, very involved. And–let’s be frank–it’ll be a traffic driver to your website, 3pregnantdads.com, which has convenient links to your e-commerce operation that sells personalized books.
I’ve decided–even though you used to work in advertising and are promoting a book for Mother’s Day, celebrated on March 15 in the U.K.–that I’m not going to be cynical about your motives. There is something sublime in your pursuit. You are all sons, and husbands of women who gave birth to your children. So indeed, you have much to be thankful for.
What you’re doing is even a bit heroic, if it yields some understanding of how uncomfortable pregnancy can be. Giving birth is its own kind of amazing torture that you won’t experience, but being pregnant lasts a lot longer and doesn’t get much play in the whole miracle-of-life narrative.
And you’re helping take dads to a whole new level, in accordance with the zeitgeist. As savvy marketers, you know that we’re in the midst of rebranding “men who have children.” This means we must all now take dads very seriously. If you watched the Super Bowl this year, you know that it was all about “dadvertising.” Meaning dads are no longer a clueless subhuman species who can’t change a diaper or remember the name of the pediatrician. Now dads are intelligent, feeling men who can adjust a Halloween costume, potty train a child and even pick up a teenager at school in a shiny new sedan.
You may have missed this during your period of confinement, as it were, but three weeks after the Super Bowl, the fourth annual Dad 2.0 Summit was held in San Francisco. The Dad 2.0 Summit is also very much about taking dads seriously. Absolutely no bumbling allowed in this annual, increasingly popular dadfest, which was cooked up four years ago by a blogger and an entrepreneur who thought their kind were getting a bad rap in the media. They also knew dads could monetize their ever larger digital footprint. Luckily, you Three Pregnant Dads are prepared for this new audience, thanks to your sophisticated blog, complete with frequent video entries.
But now for the ridiculous. First, you’ve got to admit that there is something deeply silly about your stunt drunken lark tribute. Not that I am opposed to the silliness of dads. To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, if a woman can’t laugh at her father, she can’t laugh at life. In fact, there would have been 45% less laughter in my childhood if not for my father. Yes, he is a funny man, intentionally and not. (He once got his hand caught in the ice machine in our freezer, and even though it was scary and painful at the time, we drag that old story out again whenever we need a good laugh.)
Second, with all that blogging about pregnancy, you verge on narcissistic, clueless, first-time-mom behavior. You know, when a woman of your acquaintance has a baby and acts like she invented childbirth. Super annoying.
And you three are, well, a bit like that. Oh: it’s really hard to tie your shoes! Your back really hurts! You can’t get a good night’s sleep! Next time, have a doctor give you an injection of progesterone and throw in a little third-trimester heartburn, and then let’s talk about discomfort and sleep deprivation.
But now all of that is nearly behind you, because you’re almost full term. On March 15 you will all “give birth.” My question is: Then what? Will you be able to keep the movement alive?
I have two suggestions. The first is sublime: Take an extra-long paternity leave, while convincing your co-workers that you do really care about your job. Don’t believe them when they say you are not leaning in.
And second: Learn to French-braid hair. It sounds ridiculous, but trust me. Mastering a French braid is a small accomplishment that represents the million insignificant-seeming things we do for our children throughout the course of our lives. And–like pregnancy itself–it isn’t easy. Only the very best dads can pull it off.
Kristin van Ogtrop
This article originally appeared in TIME.