It was a Saturday morning in mid-February. Tasks in hand and the little one strapped into her seat, I sailed off for a day of being super Dad. Just me and my 15-month-old daughter Cara for a day in town running errands as the snow lay thick on the ground outside.
I really look forward to these days as work really robs me of time with our little one. Instead of the usual ten minutes in the morning and forty-five at night, I was getting to spend a full day with my little princess.
It all started off so well, Cara loves the car so with a drink in hand and safely wrapped in her car seat she drifted off to sleep like the flick of a switch. We pulled into the multi-storey carpark and before waking her, I got out the buggy, the change bag, the bits and bobs I had to return to the shop, the shopping list, and then, of course, the baby. Up to this point it was all smooth sailing and felt like the most natural thing in the world for me; being a Dad.
Not long had passed before a delightful aroma drifted up from the seat below. Cara was pretty content, but I knew something was brewing in there so the time had come to do the necessary and change my little one. The first bump in the road had arrived but I am Super Dad, I can handle this, no problem! Check the grey matter, find the nearest public toilet and off we go.
Two lifts and probably five hundred metres later, the first thing that hit me when I got to the toilets was the sign for the mother and baby room. ‘I'm not a mother but I do have a baby in hand, am I welcome here’? After a few seconds of pondering, I thought, ‘surely I am’ so off I head into the room with Cara perched on my hip and changing bag slung over my shoulder. But I was wrong. This place wasn’t for me. I didn’t know where to look, all the mothers seemed to though, they stared straight at me. Some were breastfeeding and others were changing their little ones. I didn’t feel at all welcome and turned right on my heels and headed out. Once again, I consulted the grey matter in search of somewhere more appropriate but sadly in this town, there aren’t too many options.
I was looking to perform the most basic of childcare tasks and I couldn’t, because I was a man and not a woman. My only option was to do it in front of the passing public on a shopping centre bench not exactly designed for the task at hand. Far from ideal for sure. Cara did not complain but there was the odd cursory glance of why is he doing that there. No direct comments but it was certainly not a welcome sight to anyone.
This whole experience did not make this Super Dad feel any less super, but it certainly made him dismay at society. Why at this stage in our evolution can we not accept that a father will just as likely be changing a little ones’ nappy in a shopping centre as a mum will? Why is it a ‘mother and baby’ room? Why is the symbol for this facility a silhouette of a woman performing the changing task? It was a sour experience in an otherwise fantastic day.
To end my rant, I’ll simply say: sort it out society. I love being a Dad but I didn’t love this experience. Everywhere should have easily accessible parenting rooms with facilities for all. Somewhere we can all feel comfortable while doing this wonderful thing that is being a parent.
Jarlath is a married father-of-one living in Derry in the North West of Ireland. Working as a software engineer it is always his first instinct to fix things, words are not always the easiest to come by but when something needs said, there is no better man to just say it.