As a new father, I change a lot of diapers. Mothers are not the only ones who should be stuck changing diapers, and not simply because men and women should, as a matter of principle, share the child-rearing responsibilities. I like changing diapers because it provides an important bonding opportunity for me and my daughter. I also derive satisfaction from making sure my daughter is clean and avoids diaper rash.
Changing diapers obviously does not by itself make me a candidate for father-of-the-year. Being a parent is a round-the-clock responsibility. Feeding, cleaning, laundry, doctor appointments, play time, and, of course, changing diapers. But it is unavoidable that diapers (buying them, fitting them, changing them) become a big part of your life. Where ever and whenever you go about your life, you need to take the baby with you, or ensure there is someone to look after the baby while you are away. If the baby is with you, you must be prepared not only for the expected (e.g. the baby will get hungry) but also the unexpected, and this means you inevitably find yourself having to change a diaper at inopportune times. Thus, I find it reassuring whenever I see a changing table in a public men’s restroom.
But I want to propose an improvement that would obviate a vexing inconvenience I have encountered in some public restrooms for men, particularly the men’s restroom I encountered while attending a recent Washington Nationals baseball game with my fiancée, her father, and my infant daughter. We sat in the luxury Delta Sky360 Club Seats behind home plate. Our tickets afforded not only prime seating behind home plate, but also access to an air-conditioned restaurant and bar where you can sit down before the game and enjoy an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet. There are also stands where you can help yourself to hot dogs, cracker jacks, and peanuts, unless you want go to your seats and wait for servers to come around and take an order. Beer and wine are also free, and if you prefer to watch the game from the air-conditioned indoor bar, you are welcome to do so. You can even hang out in a lounge area that overlooks the batting cage used by players before the game. These Delta Sky360 Club Seats tickets will set you back, but you get your money’s worth.
But while it appears the developers of the state-of-the-art Nationals baseball stadium spared no effort in designing luxury accommodations for well-heeled fans, there was a major oversight in the design of one basic amenity. In the men’s restroom located inside the restaurant and bar, there is a changing table provided for dads who need to change an infant’s diaper. This is in itself no oversight. As a dad who came to the game with his infant daughter, I appreciate that the developers were not remiss in putting a changing table in the men’s room. As stated above, I like to change diapers. I enjoy the bonding experience with my daughter, and I like keeping her clean and free of diaper rash.
But alas, I only wish they had put more careful thought into where to locate the changing table in the restroom. When the time came to change a diaper, I entered the restroom with my daughter and eventually found myself in a crowded area between a sink and a row of urinals, pulling down a changing table attached to the wall, realizing that I was being forced to conduct, in a very public and very crude setting, what, in my view, should be a private affair. Imagine trying to change the diaper of a baby girl (or boy) on a table in a room crowded with men either pissing in urinals or zipping up and turning around to wash their hands. Some, like my fiancé, might suggest that I’m being too sensitive or vigilant. I vehemently disagree. I think instead that it is highly indecent to change an infant girl (or boy) on a table within full view of a crowd of grown men pissing in urinals, zipping up, and washing their hands, in the same way that it would be highly indecent for public restrooms to have no private stalls for women to urinate or men to defecate. It is also highly indecent for a baby with curious eyes to follow grown men to the urinals and watch them urinate. Even though I tried to position my daughter so that she faced the sink, she is squirmy and is curious about what is going on around her. When I saw her turn to face the urinals, I quickly covered her eyes, packed up, and left.
This was no place to change a diaper. It would have a far different matter if the changing table were inside a stall, or at least away from the urinals, especially since my daughter was already tired and cranky and restless, making it far more challenging to change a diaper while protecting her prying eyes from unsightly visages, or preventing prying eyes not her own from peeking into business not their own. But it was not. The table was out in full view, like one of the tables out in the restaurant with a light shining on a cut of prime rib ready to be sliced up for customers with an appetite for red meat in their dinner. This was not simply about the gender of my child either. I would have felt the same disquiet if I had an infant son. This whole experience was, after all, not unlike relieving oneself in a row of urinals that do not have dividers. In my experience, men invariably do other men the courtesy of not waving their members around in full view of other men. They seek to do their business, wash their hands, and get back to the game, or whatever business of life is at hand.
Moreover, this is not only about the sanitary interests of an infant, nor about having the decency to afford some privacy to an infant. I imagine it is rather unsettling for men relieving themselves in the restroom to be forced to maneuver around a table where a father is wiping down the private parts of an infant before applying a diaper, however deferential or understanding they may pretend to be. It’s not unlike having guests over your house and deciding to change the baby’s diaper in full view of everyone, rather than having the decency to take the baby into the bathroom or bedroom.
The idea of putting a changing table in a public restroom for men is a sign of progress. It sends a signal that society does not expect only mothers to bear the responsibility of changing diapers. But in practice, it is a futile gesture if it is not placed in a private stall, or at least in a private corner. I have seen too many unsanitary facilities in public restrooms for men, and I consider it a matter of basic decency to be able to cordon oneself away from a crowd of men, either in a private corner or in a stall, to wipe down the area and afford an infant daughter (or son) some privacy in a private affair. Dads like myself, embarrassed and disgusted by the experience of changing their daughter’s diaper in front of men pissing in urinals, will be discouraged from using a changing table, defeating the whole purpose of having it there.
I like the idea of a changing table in a public restroom for men, but only if there is a private area to do the changing.
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