“I’m either the coolest or weirdest dad on the planet,” I say.
“The wrap is cool, but you are still a dork,” my wife says.
Cara lifts Henry, our newborn son, and slips one of his legs through the band of cloth hanging from my left shoulder, and does the same on the other side. Strapped to my chest in the soft band of orange cloth, Henry fusses and nuzzles his nose into my breastbone. I kiss him on his delicious scalp.
When Cara helps me tie the wrap it looks smooth and tight, but without her assistance I look like a cat tangled in Christmas lights. During the week, after she leaves for work, I must rely on YouTube for guidance. I enter “Moby wrap” into the search box. I hit play. A young woman appears on screen with a beaming smile, and skillfully wraps the long band of cloth around her torso while giving instructions. When she finishes, the wrap rests on her body like a fine piece of art. I hit play again. I follow her lead this time, but my wrap does not look fit to carry a frozen turkey, much less an infant. I hit play again.
Through his first year, Henry spends a good portion of the day in the wrap. I wear him to prepare dinner. I wear him on the subway. I wear him to the doctor’s office. I wear him to walk the dog. I wear him to the art museum.We nap together with him on my chest.
Walking down the sidewalks of Chicago with Henry strapped to my chest, I receive facial expressions ranging from joy to disgust. I didn’t expect the wrap to become a projection screen for others’ parenting views. Men mostly stare with bewildered faces. “Now, that’s the image of a man,” one teenage boy whispers to the girl by his side. Another scruffy bearded man in his 20s, possibly deranged, standing on a busy street corner, points and roars. The neighborhood policeman who leans against the wall of the 7-11 stops me to inquire. “The first time I saw you wearing ‘this thing’ I thought you were Middle-Eastern.” An odd thing to hear for a pale, blue-eyed male with a Southern accent.
When Henry learns to eat solid food, we visit the brand-new Whole Foods in our neighborhood. The floors, walls, and fixtures sparkle in the florescent light. We walk by perfectly arranged organic fruit, fancy cheese displays, and an elaborate smoothie bar. The blender buzzes behind the counter.
We know samples are plentiful in the afternoons, so we strike. The wrap allows us to navigate quickly through the store, maximizing our sampling potential. I pick up a sample, bite it in half, and feed it to him in the wrap. We share black cherries, pineapple, fine cheese, tortilla chips, bite-sized pizza, and hummus. Henry demands more cherries. We eat a shameful amount. At any moment, I’m certain a manager will ask us to leave. If so, it will be worth it.
Women are mostly impressed with the wrap. “Did you tie it yourself,” they ask? “Yes, I watched the YouTube video 1,000 times,” I respond. Waiting in line at O’Hare Airport, a young woman with a fashionable short hair style approaches me to discuss the wrap. For 10 minutes, she tells me about her experience with the wrap and how she proudly avoided a stroller with her children. She speaks like we are members of a special “babywearing” club. Before moving on, she nods as if we are part of a movement. I nod back.
I do not wear the wrap to make a statement. However, my inner rebel chooses to embrace it as a way to resist the macho masculinity that permeates our society. It is my stand against the narrow male identity equated solely with toughness, self-reliance, and aggressive behavior. It is my rejection of the posturing required “to be a man.” I am already a man.
Yet, I must also admit it makes me self-conscious. No matter how liberated I consider myself, I still worry about how others will perceive me. For someone who values equality in parenting roles, this might sound silly, but going against the grain of a hyper-masculine culture, such as ours, is not easy. Old messages are deeply embedded.
The old messages say to me: You look like a girl. You look weak. You look like a pansy. You deserve your man card revoked. I try to ignore them, but they never go away, only fade into the background.
It’s hard to say at what point I became one with the wrap. I can adjust it based on his weight and the demands of the day, which, in my mind, means I have reached a Jedi Knight level in the babywearing world. I’m considering making my own YouTube video.
Now at 17 months old, I dread the day he no longer fits in it. I will miss his body pressed against mine, arms pulling and tugging on my face, and feet kicking against my sides. It will feel like the beginning of the slow independence he will undoubtedly claim day by day.
This past week, I placed him in the wrap for a long walk through the park. Halfway through our walk, my shoulders started aching because the thin, cotton wrap no longer bears the weight load well. The days of the wrap are coming to a close. A growing boy needs more room to operate, so I will treasure the moments left. I will wear him until I must stop.