A few weeks ago, a coworker sent out a mass email suggesting that we throw our pregnant customer service manager a baby shower. With a slight foreboding, I glanced up at the other recipients of the message.
Women. Just the women.
My heart sank, and another soft wave of defeat rolled over me, the same kind of gut-nudging wave that pulses from statements like,
“Let’s do guys versus girls!” when heard for the 887th time;
“I’m taking his last name because I hate my last name,” stated as though it’s a fresh and free-willed motive, totally uninfluenced by orthodox, for effacing a piece of one’s identity;
“Boys are just easier than girls,” coming authoritatively from a mother of boys, or any mother for that matter.
My initial response was to treat the email like an unspoken-for pair of grundies, holding it at arm’s length between thumb and forefinger until someone else dealt with it. Then, halfway through a Liz Lemon-caliber eye roll, I realized that the best thing I could do in this situation was respond first.
So I replied to all with a quick message: a baby shower is a great idea, but let’s do it at the office so everyone can be involved.
Others agreed. Then another person suggested that we invite the father. Virtual nods of assent all around. All right, I thought, a little hope restored. OK.
I am not anti baby shower, you understand. If there were a human being relaxing inside of me day in and day out, rolling over, kicking, and—if it’s like prenatal me—top rocking, I would gladly accept your plush lambs, baby animal onesies, and ham-wrapped pickles. But I would expect you to invite my partner if I have one, and I would expect him to sit beside me through it all, just as excited as I am about this celebration in honor of us and our unborn child. I expect these things for a very plain and uncomplicated reason, and that is it’s his goddamn kid, too.
Of course, this isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch. For a while now, plenty of dads have been changing diapers, spooning carrot puree, and fishing poo from the bathwater like equal partners. These men understand that it’s their kid, too.
So why isn’t it their baby shower, too?
Some may argue that the bond between a mother and her baby is unlike any other, and so to be surrounded by the support of other mothers is an invaluable part of preparing for a baby. But when men are excluded from the exchanges that occur within these networks of support and anticipation, it sends the message that their role as a father is less noteworthy, less deserving of recognition. It sets the stage for a tacit understanding in which the baby and any baby-related items and ass-aches are ultimately the woman’s domain.
On the afternoon of my coworker’s baby shower, we crowded around our snack-laden conference table, white Chinese lanterns bobbing overhead. As we settled in, we all wrote our own wishes and pieces of advice for the parents-to-be. When our messages were read aloud, I couldn’t help but note that the ones from the men (none of whom had children of their own) were some of the most sincere and thoughtful of the group.
The men at this baby shower were happy to be there, and it was clear that they possessed the emotional capacity to be engaged in the anticipation surrounding the event, as any adult human with a modicum of sentimentality would. Unfortunately, they were in the company of a few women who were hyperaware of their male presence.
These women found it worthwhile to point out, several times, that this was the guys’ first baby shower, in a way that said—I don’t know—go easy on them? Tone down your usual brand of crazy, because there are guys here, and they’re being nice enough to put up with us and our frivolity? Several times I had to suppress the impulse to announce that this was my first baby shower, too, so where’s my fucking cookie? One woman kept insisting that the guys hand in their advice cards before they sit down to eat because—again, I can only guess—they’ll forget? Because they can’t chew and write at the same time? Because coming up with a heartfelt message is, for them, tantamount to choking down the pile of broccoli that stands between an 8-year-old and dessert?
The father-to-be sat quietly beside his partner as she opened gifts and gave warm thanks to the givers. When she handed over a present for him to unwrap, he hesitated before taking it with an air of humoring her. But I doubt he acted this way because he didn’t care. I would bet he was simply taking cues from everyone else.
I think we need to expect more from men. Because it’s in them to care about the same things we care about. It’s in them to be excited about the upcoming birth of a child. But they are also products of a culture that tells them their level of involvement should be different.
And when we make comments that foster a notion that caring is a stretch for men, we’re putting a certain pressure on them to maintain some semblance of aloofness. We’re telling them that our expectations are relatively low, and exceeding them would only garner unwanted attention.
I’d like to see a baby shower where the father is more than just physically present. I’d like to see the parents-to-be open gifts together, accept advice together, and thank everyone for their support together. I’d like to see an environment where they both feel comfortable enough to show genuine excitement. When we expect these things instead of reacting to them as though they are total anomalies, we’re contributing to the foundation of our friends’ new life as parents in a very real way. We're giving them the most important piece of advice there is: Do this thing together.
Megan Borgert-Spaniol lives in Chicago.