There's no better way to discourage a dad from taking the baby for a walk than to hand him a flowered diaper bag and a stroller that's too short, forcing him to bend forward when he walks.
A dad needs to be able to be cool. He doesn't want to hunch, he wants to throw out his chest, in pride, when he's out with the baby. Also, a dad needs to be able to hold his own in discussions with other guys, discussions about wheels and ease-of-handling and other vehicular topics.
This according to Greg Allen, who used to live in Utah but who now commutes between New York City, where the Allens keep an apartment, and Washington, D.C., where his wife, Jean, works as an astrophysicist. Allen makes films. But three or four days a week he's a stay-at-home dad, caring for their daughter, 3-month-old Ada.
Before Ada was born, Allen and his wife went shopping for infant gear. "In the process of trying to find stuff I could stand," he says, he started a Web site called daddytypes.com. On his site he writes amusing critiques of baby toys and furniture. (Unable to find a changing table he liked, he spent $50 on a bright red metal tool cart and outfitted it with a pad.)
His site links to Web sites of other dads. And other fathers e-mail Allen with their own discoveries. (Lately, they've been alerting each other to the location of changing stations in local men's rooms.)
Perusing Allen's Web site, as well as some of the others he links to, you might conclude that today's new dads fall into one of two categories: Gear-heads or geeks.
To the uninitiated, gear-heads and geeks may seem equally enamored of baby stuff. But there is a difference between the two types of dads, explains Salt Lake father Jon Armstrong. Gear-heads come to the fatherhood role from a background in sports or camping. Geeks come to fatherhood from a background in computers.
Armstrong used to live in San Francisco, where he was an art director for an online magazine. He's a geek, he says.
"Geeks always look at how things are designed," he says. "If there is a clever aspect, that appeals to geeks." This year, with the birth of little Leta, Armstrong is in design heaven.
Even before Leta was born, Armstrong noticed the Baby Bjorn carrier. He knew he and his wife, Heather, had to have one. They were so much easier to use than the previous generation of infant sacks and slings, the kind of carriers he'd watched his older siblings use with their kids.
With the Bjorn, Armstrong says, "You put it on and hook up one side . . . then the other arm . . . a couple of snaps and you are in. It is brilliant." The Bjorn is his No. 1 favorite piece of baby gear. But he's also proud of being the first of his friends to discover Huggies Disposable Changing Pads, a handy little item that has already saved grandma's carpet on two occasions.
As opposed to Armstrong, Mike Lamb is probably more of a gear-head. He was spotted on a recent morning in the Salt Lake REI sporting goods store, deep in conversation with a clerk about Yakima racks. Car racks. The kind you buy to carry your bike, skis and kayaks.
While Lamb talked racks, his 9-month-old, Eva, lounged in the top berth of what is surely one of the most complex strollers ever built. (Several seats. Compartments galore.) It's a Jeep stroller, Lamb explained. And, yes, he admitted, he loves this stroller and other nifty equipment that comes with fatherhood.
Lamb and his wife, Jacqueline, just took Eva and her big sister to Disneyland, where the Jeep stroller was great in crowds, because it is narrow tall and long as opposed to the double-wide jogging strollers that some people try to use on jammed walkways.
Not that joggers aren't cool, too. On a nearby aisle of this self-same sporting goods store languishes a jogger that bears the official sanction of the Ironman competition. (You want to talk sturdy?) It is bright yellow, costs $335, and comes with accessories such as a hydration system and a weather shield.
The Lambs own a jogger, but it is big enough for only one child. They are currently trying to decide if they need to buy a double jogger. How many strollers does their family really need, they wonder?Comment on this story
Armstrong believes you have to keep your perspective. Baby equipment is much more functional and rugged and appealing than it was when he and his wife were babies, he says. Still. Do you really need a $500 crib? Do you have to own the same kind of stroller that Gwyneth Paltrow owns? The Armstrongs try not to be too trendy, he says. "We are really kind of cynical about some of this."
Meanwhile, Greg Allen is having a lot of fun talking about equipment with other dads. They discuss the latest baby bottle the way they used to discuss the latest Palm Pilot. He sometimes wonders if dads would be less involved in caring for their babies if there weren't all this cool equipment.Yet when you see a photo of the two of them together, of Allen with his first child, he is staring down at her with a look that clearly says she is the most beguiling creature in the world with or without her accessories.