BOOK REVIEW – ‘Daddy, where’s your vagina?’ by Joe Schatz

Reviewer: Dan Barron, Northern Dads Playgroup.

Firstly, what a great title! Do we discover the answer? You’ll have to read the book won’t you. This is a great book, full of practical advice and funny stories straight from the ample nappy bag of Joe Schatz, a stay-at-home-Dad of 3 daughters, and creator of the Dad Blogs hub over in the US. It is an honest and open account of his experiences looking after three very busy, and very different little girls. If you’re a stay-at-home-Dad who is looking for confirmation that what you’re doing is worthwhile, and that you’re not in fact going mad, buy this book! It would also be a great book to give to partners, or relatives, or even ex-work mates who may be a little mystified by the fact that you are at home while your partner is out earning the dollars. I’m sending one to my Mum in the UK so she can get some idea of what I’ve been doing for the last 6 years or so (and so she can stop sending kitchen paraphernalia to my wife!).

Joe starts by describing his own family’s journey, and dispels some of the myths surrounding Dads being at home as primary carers. The book is part biography of Joe’s many adventures at home with his three daughters, and part parenting advice. Any stay-at-home-Dad will find themselves identifying with many of the stories and situations which Joe describes; like being the sole Dad at playgroups, or knowing what’s on telly in the middle of the night because you’re wandering round with a baby on your shoulder.

The scenarios, and many of the solutions Joe comes up with, will be familiar to many stay-at-home parents of either gender, but what’s really refreshing about his book is that it’s a father’s take on things. Most of the men writing (in print at least), about early childhood stuff tend to be coming from an academic perspective (are you listening, Dr Spock?) or to start from the assumption that Mum is at home, so its great to read something from a fellow layman. And Joe comes across as a level-headed and thoughtful father who talks about his experiences without lecturing, or insisting on this or that approach.

Joe talks about the isolation of being at home, especially with a baby, and while many Mothers experience this, it’s often compounded further when it’s a Father who is at home. There is far less likelihood that a Father’s male friends and family are going to be at home with kids too, so a Dad really does have to start from scratch, to get the social and support networks happening. For many women, female friends, family and even neighbours in the street are more likely to be the ones at home, and so informal friendships and support happen that much easier. Joe hits the nail on the head when he talks about the need to get yourself out of the house, and to get talking to other grown-ups, no matter who or where!

I liked his section about the need to move away from the ‘learned hopelessness’ of some Dads who allow themselves to take a back seat hands-off role while their partner does all the parenting. I also loved the section on how to deal with a surplus of toddler art (yes, that’s art), and on how to say no to a preschooler without actually saying no! Joe has a lot of great insights and reminders for parents (like this writer) who are getting deep into their parenting ‘career’ and can get overwhelmed with the day to day. He is very honest too and I found myself nodding along and saying ‘yep, that’s it’ to so much in this book, like the explosive nappy stories, and the horror messed-up house stories (his story of his little girl and the jar of Vaseline really took the biscuit). I also have to agree with his view that vomit is the worst of the all the dribbly things we end up cleaning up!

I have one tip to pass on from the Northern Dads Playgroup here in Melbourne – if there isn’t a Dads Playgroup in your area, it’s not too difficult for you to start one. It might take a while to kick it off, and the Dads might be geographically farther apart than most Playgroup parents, but in any large city they’re out there, waiting to break out of isolation! And the great thing about meeting with other stay-at-home-Dads, as opposed to just talking to your mates, is that they understand where you’re coming from.

I’d recommend this book to all stay-at-home-Dads and their loved ones, but also I think it would be a fascinating insight for any first time or soon-to-be parents. I could see it being a standard read for the ante-natal classes, to encourage and normalise the possibility of the father being the one at home once the baby is born.

Good work Joe!

To order copies go here.