When my kid was born, I knew nothing about parenting. It was 11 years ago, but I remember being intensely worried that I’d make major mistakes when it came to basic baby care: drop my newborn daughter into a bath of scalding hot water. Carry her the wrong way in the Baby Bjorn (upside down, say). Let her fall asleep in the Asphyxiation Position (face down? face up?) Diaper her head instead of her butt by accident.
At the time, I looked for books that might help me learn the ropes of parenthood and discovered that virtually everything written about the subject was directed towards women. (The chick-lit influenced “Girlfriends’ Guides” by Vicki Iovine were particularly popular.) But that didn’t bother me. I could still read those, I thought. Why not? It doesn’t matter whether a book is marketed to men or women: good advice can be useful for anyone, right?
But when I actually read them, I discovered that most of the books for women about parenting had one guiding theme:
All men are idiots, so DO NOT COUNT ON THEM TO HELP YOU DO THINGS.
I resented the hell out of that. Sure, I myself was mostly an idiot parent when my daughter was first born. But not because of my Y chromosome. It was because I’d never been a dad before I became a dad, and therefore had to learn how to be one on the job. Like all parents, regardless of gender. But as we know, there’s a deeply held belief that men are utterly incompetent when it comes to caring for babies. It’s right up there with the one about how women become shrewish nags the day after they get married. Welcome to every family sitcom from the 90s.
This was long before Stay-at-Home Dads became cool, before daddy bloggers stormed the shores of the Internet. These days, of course, you can’t throw a cyber-rock ten cyber-feet without hitting a dadblog site (including mine). Hands-on dads are certainly more present than they’ve ever been before, and many of us love to write about our mad-sick-awesome dad skills on our blogs. Or at least revel publicly in our doofus mistakes. Several of us have even written books about how to do the dad thing right. In fact, the entire How To Be a Parent genre is going through some serious gender-bending.
The latest addition is a book called “A Dude’s Guide to Babies: The New Dad’s Playbook.” Its authors, Richard Jones & Barry Robert Ozer, have decided that dudespeak is the best way to talk to men about parenting; to help prepare them, comfort them, and possibly talk them out of early fatherhood panic attacks. The book covers significant territory: how to be supportive of your pregnant partner, how to actually hold a new baby, how to deal with poop, how to stay calm during a Baby Tantrum, how to deal with the reality of male postpartum depression. All good, all relevant topics. I myself learned a lot about baby proofing when I read the chapter about safety, making me realize that it’s a miracle my daughter survived her toddlerhood, what with all the unprotected outlets, hanging curtain cords, and pointy-sharp coffee table corners that filled our house during her during the early years.
I like their mission. I do. I think I’d like Jones and Ozer if we had beers together. They seem like good guys, and they know their stuff. But as I read their book, I couldn’t shake the notion that they, like the women who wrote parenting books before them, seem to think that dudes are… still sort of idiots. And that if we’re not spoken to in dudespeak, we won’t understand anything:
“We’re sure you dudes have seen this before. The wife wakes up the husband and tells him, “It’s time.” She’s in labor. And he completely loses his sh— stuff. Runs around screaming and panicking and then charges out into the night to race to the hospital, forgetting only one thing: yea, the mother-to-be. You don’t want to be that dude.”
Dude, I don’t think that dude exists anymore.
It’s hard to say whether you should buy this book for yourself or the future daddy in your life. I think for a lot of guys, the book will be comforting as well as informative. And it may be that dudespeak is the best way to give advice to some guys. Example: How to hold your baby correctly? Try the Heisman cradle. Apparently, a baby is just a football with a soft skull. (Then again, I remember holding my daughter that way, and it worked.)
Tiresome dude lingo aside, I appreciate the fundamental philosophy that runs through the book, a notion that is in fact their motivation for writing it in the first place: dads don’t have to go through dadhood alone. New moms tend to circle together and create support groups for themselves. Men often don’t. But Jones and Ozer firmly believe that the more camaraderie among dads, the better. After years of being part of a growing circle of dad bloggers who provide each other with support, advice and kinship, I fully agree.
Which means that ultimately, I’m on board with the Dude’s Guide.