Why you should care
Because paternity wear makes for happier babies.
When his wife went into labor, Nick Baker thought he was prepared. He’d been to every birthing class and read all the books — Dude, You’re a Dad!, Don’t Just Stand There and many, many more. He planned to be 100 percent present for his baby girl. Thirty-six hours later, little Eva was born, but his wife was too drained to hold her. Baker, a Los Angeles–based actor and waiter, remembered that skin-to-skin bonding was crucial for development. So he whipped off his shirt and cradled his infant daughter to his chest. Nurses stopped to gape … and praise him. “They were like, ‘OMG, nobody does that — you’re actually listening,’ ” Baker says.
But it’s cold going topless. Baker figured there had to be a better way to get that tactile connection. He couldn’t find anything on the market, so he created DadWare, a line of men’s shirts with a Velcro flap that provides easy access for newborns. He’s currently testing the shirts (and a maternity-gown version) on the obstetrics ward at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
I felt like a second-class parent. Products and services weren’t geared toward me.
Like a growing number of millennial fathers, Baker wants a bigger role in parenting than the one taken on by previous generations. The amount of time that dads spend with their children has doubled in the past decade, and only 35 percent of single millennial men think caregiving roles should stay the same. Clever clothing can strengthen this attachment, but the only options available used to be viral fodder — think Robert De Niro’s “manary gland” strap-on, faux-lactating boob in Meet the Fockers. Emotional and developmental payoffs aside, it turns out that there’s money to be made in the business of bonding, and a number of startups are addressing the surging demand for dad-focused fashion.
Here’s one: Martin Hill’s Boobie (renamed Beebo), a solo breast-like appendage that’s slung over one shoulder (available in pink, green and gray). The soft foam can grasp any size baby bottle, and the sling is great for hands-free feeding. “People used to approach me in restaurants and ask where they could get one,” Hill says. His invention resonated with so many people that it earned him a spot on Shark Tank, where Ashton Kutcher and Lori Greiner invested $200,000 in his company. “The Beebo products are genius and reflect a wish I expressed as a young father: to have a shoulder panel on my shirt that could serve as a facial tissue,” Dr. David Hill, author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro, told OZY in an email. “I hope to see many more products in this vein.”
He’ll get his wish. While the dad bod was all the rage in 2015, the dad-wear movement has owned 2016. In June, Google community manager Andrew Bentley founded Father + Figure, a New York brand that creates stylish shirts for comfortable cuddling. Accents of Moleskine (for softness) and twill loops (for burp rags) make the product line functional and fashionable. “I felt like a second-class parent,” Bentley told the Motherhood blog. “Products and services weren’t geared toward me.” Then there’s Lalabu, an Atlanta-based husband-and-wife startup. By the end of August, it had raised more than $47,500 through Indiegogo — 167 percent more than its target. The company’s dad-specific line builds on the success of its mom-facing Soothe Shirt; products for both genders feature a mesh-paneled baby pocket for easy carrying.
There are plenty of studies bolstering the gains in father-focused fashion, including “Fathers’ Experiences With the Skin-to-Skin Method in NICU” in the Journal of Neonatal Nursing and “Skin-to-Skin Care With the Father After Cesarean Birth and Its Effect on Newborn Crying and Prefeeding Behavior” (whew!) in Birth Issues in Perinatal Care. But despite best-baby practices, startups have to overcome the inherent stigma of dads worried about looking dorky. After all, no matter how many ergonomic denim layers or Moleskine pockets you add, these shirts are designed for the days of drool. They’ve intrigued some OZY fathers, but the general response is along the lines of, “If you can’t hold your infant in one arm, do some push-ups.”
Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, says these products aren’t essential, but they can make dads feel more comfortable, and she’d recommend them as gifts. “The best father-baby bonding activity is time together,” she says. “How a dad engages and how often [he and his child] are together are the crucial elements.”
For now, Baker is just happy he has a product that works for him after finding all the other options unwieldy. “I didn’t want to wear my kid on a shirt to the bathroom,” he says.
There’s bonding, and then there’s tiger parenting, and they’re quite different things.