My long-haired, bearded, tattooed husband is always the person approached with inquiries about bumming a smoke, or a joke about being a hippie, or those side-eyes. But once we had our daughter, something changed.
I don’t like to brag,1 but when it comes to noticing a stink-eye aimed in the direction of my husband Patrick, I’m pretty good. This comes from many years of practice on my part–after a while, you pick up right away when someone passes by in Kroger with a look of “check out at that weirdo” on his/her face. It isn’t that he’s doing anything wrong to garner this attention, mind you. He’s just being himself.
My metal drummer husband–long-haired with a wild beard/goatee, and a fair number of tattoos on his arms–is always the person approached with inquiries about bumming a smoke, or a joke about being a hippie, or those side-eyes.
But once we had our daughter, something changed. I decided to interview him about it.
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Me: Hey, nice to meet you Patrick DeRoche. KIDDING. So, what changed from before having our daughter, to after, in terms of how our trips out would go? Say, if we were grocery shopping.
Patrick: Well, the key difference is that now people talk to me for a reason other than to comment on my hair/beard or ask me where drugs can be found. Before our daughter, I projected a certain stereotype-the scruffy hippie druggy musician–but now I am just…a dad. This means that when I am with my daughter, instead of similarly scruffy guys asking for a light or asking me what instrument I play, I’m approached by women (often elderly women who have recently become grandparents and have heightened baby-radar) who want to coo at the baby and tell me how cute she (he? she!) is. “Aww, how old?” “You going shopping with your daddy?” they say. She takes the focus off of me and my weird appearance, or at least, she is enough to distract people from it temporarily.
Me: How did that feel? Oh gosh this sounds like some sort of therapy question doesn’t it? How does it FEEEEEEEEL?
Patrick: It feels fine. I am used to being approached by all sorts of people, so I’m not thrown off, but I can’t help but feel like I am just an accompaniment. Sort of like how people often acknowledge and pet a cute dog while ignoring its owner. She is the cute puppy, and I am just that guy taking her on a walk.2 I may answer the occasional questions: age, name, etc. But they are there for her. I’m not the main attraction any more.
Me: Why do people do that–ignore the accompanying parent or pet-owner and approach the child or pet for interaction? I do it all the time. It’s weird now that I think about it.
Patrick: Yeah. I have no idea why people do that, but it’s definitely A Thing.
Me: Is it the low-hanging fruit of interactions?
Patrick: People are attracted to cute things. It’s an easy interaction. It’s the same reason people buy guinea pigs. You don’t have to invest much; you just get to enjoy it.
Me: So other people’s perceptions of you may have changed, but has your perception of those people changed too, with these new interactions?
Patrick: Eh, not really. I don’t begrudge them for only approaching me now that I have this cute baby with me. I don’t think of these people any differently now that they are willing and happy to talk to me. I know the power of small cute things. And to be honest, I have come to zone out the side-eyes and glares that I get sans baby, unless they are so painfully obvious that I just have to stare back, but that usually only happens with kids.
Me: I haven’t ever asked you this, so I’m genuinely curious: have people ever asked if you’re “babysitting” her when they see you out and about together, just the two of you? Because they ask me that when I’m at work on Saturdays! “Oh, is he babysitting today?” It drives me bananas! Are they asking you that too? What do you say?
Patrick: Usually not. There is only one time I can think of where someone said, “Oh, so you’ll be babysitting tonight?” I wanted to say, “No, I’ll be parenting, because, you know, I’m her parent.” But that seemed rude, and it may well have led to a lengthy discussion about modern gender roles, or working mothers, or other aspects of our shifting society, and that would have been too much of a hassle at that moment. So I just responded “Yup.” It probably sounded painfully sarcastic, in retrospect, because that was where the conversation ended.
Me: If one day our daughter wants to dress in a way that makes people give her the stink-eye (I doubt she’d be growing a beard like yours, although I suppose nothing’s outside the realm of possibility), what sort of homespun folksy flannel-wearing dad wisdom might you impart?
Patrick: It’s probably going to come down to something like “People suck.” I was often teased by kids, or reprimanded by teachers, for my hair growing up, and that just made me all the more stubborn. So, my “dad wisdom” would be something like “Don’t listen to those who tell you that there is a right way to look, or the right path to take, or the right person to be.”
Me: If you could give all those beardy tattooed RVA dads-to-be any advice, what would it be?
Patrick: I like to think that most beardy tattooed people are already used to being looked at funny, so my only real advice is that once you have a baby, be prepared to talk to lots of elderly ladies. They just can’t help noticing the cuteness (the baby, not you).