Read this article in my home town paper and though Moms here would enjoy it also. I think all Dads should have to spend time with their daughters in the first year (flyng solo so to speak) to not only bond with their child, but also understand first hand what Mom's do, do!

December 20, 2008
Greg Layson
Mercury Staff


I wasn't more than 20 minutes into the first of 35 days of my parental leave when I suddenly realized I just might be in over my head.

Groggy, mere hours after my last afternoon shift of work ended and sans my morning shower, I asked my wife of 18 months what my nine-month-old daughter, Mackenzie -- our first-born -- was to wear this cool December morning.

"I don't know," my wife, Lonni, said smartly from the nearby bathroom as she meticulously primped her hair in preparation for her first day of employment in more than nine months. "You're on daddy duty now."

That's when it struck me.

For the next five weeks I was on my own, cooped up in a 750-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment with an active baby, who just happened to be teething, learning to walk and sampling solid foods when this wild, wonderful and rewarding experience began three weeks ago.

What to wear? What to eat? What to play? When to sleep?

Nearly every decision that would affect my daughter between the hours of 8:15 a.m. and 6 p.m. for the next five weeks would be made by me, a sports-obsessed, 32-year-old male with zero child-rearing experience -- unless babysitting the neighbour's toddler nearly two decades ago accounts for anything.

It was a scary thought.

Suddenly, I was one of very few Canadian men in charge of the cooking, the cleaning, the changing -- and there is plenty of changing -- and the errands, run in an outdated minivan no less.

According to Kerry Daly, the associate dean of the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences at the University of Guelph and co-chair of university research for the Father Involvement Research Alliance steering committee, I'm part of roughly 20 per cent of Canadian males who take any parental leave at all. And, roughly half of those men are on leave in Quebec, where the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan supercedes the federal government's standard parental benefits and has paternity benefits available exclusively for the father of the newborn.

"For men who are eligible for parental leave, it's a small minority who take it," Daly said.

Several factors are at play. But economics top the list.

Most men, as is the case in my family, make more money than the women in the relationship. So, when the wages are cut nearly in half for a year, it makes financial sense for the man to keep bringing home the bacon.

And, of course, there is the age-old and obvious stereotype that it's a woman's job to raise the children.

"At a lot of workplaces, it's just an assumption that the mom will take the parental leave," Daly said. "There's still a culture that isn't encouraging for men.

"Women tend to see the parental leave as their prerogative; as if it's their entitlement.

"Dad's always there as the backup, sort of playing second string, until he's called into duty. But the plan of action is almost always developed and executed by Mom."

My call to "daddy duty" came Nov. 3 when my wife's employer granted her a transfer to Guelph from Waterloo. But she had to head back early, on Dec. 1, to make it happen.

My tour, like my wife's job, began Dec. 1. And my first solo parenting mission was to dress my daughter.

Seemingly simple, except I quickly realized I had no idea what babies really wear. After all, my wife has dressed our daughter every morning since birth. And I'm a jeans, T-shirt and ball cap kind of guy.

I didn't know the difference between a onesie, a sleeper, a hoodie and diaper shirt -- much less which dresser drawer contained which item of clothing.

Shameful, I know.

When I finally picked out a cute onesie -- long sleeve or short sleeve? I picked long -- and a wee pair of jeans, I dressed our wiggling little worm.

Clothing a baby is, I assume, a lot like trying to clothe a freshly caught, flopping fish. There is this constant, writhing motion, and sometimes, it's wet.

The smallest tasks are the biggest challenges each and every day.

Have you ever sliced a grape into eight pieces? Put socks and shoes on a baby? Or a tuque or coat for that matter? They all seem simple enough, until you realize it took you 45 minutes to prepare lunch -- for a nine-month-old.

I could have cooked dinner for two in that time. If I had that much time available, of course.

"You just thought you were going to sit on the couch and watch sports all day," my wife said.

And she's right. I thought a double-play of SportsCentre would be a given. And then, I'd replay the plethora of West Coast college basketball games I recorded with our new PVR the night before.

No chance. At all.

"She gets bored really easy, so you always have to entertain her," my wife warned.

Right again.

My daughter, I assume like all babies, needs to closely examine everything, taste anything.

A few days ago, I caught her at the toilet paper, throwing herself a makeshift tickertape parade.

We keep the roll on the counter now.

Every button, string, nook and cranny is a new experience, a new sensation, worth exploring.

It's amazing to think something so simple can give so much pleasure, like window dressing for example.

One morning, my daughter and I laid on our tummies on the bed in the master bedroom and just watched the curtains heave inward and out with every random gust of wind. She was immediately fixated on the rippling pink curtains. And, after five minutes, even I was fascinated. When would the next gust come? How long would it last? Would the curtain reach our bedside?

The whole episode lasted 15 minutes, tops. But it's something I'll never forget.

But while there are these Zen spells of relaxation and contemplation, there are plenty more frantic moments in which she can't explain the problem and I can't provide the answer.

If only babies came with an owner's manual and translation dictionary, I tell my wife.

Is she crying because she's tired? Because she's wet? Because she's hungry? Because she can? Sometimes it's all of the above. Other times, it's a process of elimination and usually it's the former.

Nap time is a particular struggle.

As my daughter has grown, learned to crawl and now is starting to walk, a nap only means time not spent practising all those things; time not spent playing; time not spent with Dad.

Cries of protest slowly morph into fits of rage, which then end in eventual sleep. Not giving in -- to anything -- is the toughest thing I've ever had to do.

It's for her own good, I tell myself.

If only I had this kind of will power when it comes to eating right or saving money.

They say a baby changes everything.

And they're right. It's a whole new world and she's the ruler.

My life's previous focal points matter much less these days. Twice in my first 14 days of parental leave I've missed my daily shave and shower. I've missed lunch twice, too.

Despite the fact I'm a daddy, I went to a play date with a mommy group my wife had joined.

Including the nine-month-old boy at the date, I was one of three males in the room, which contained seven other moms and their children. The other male was the host's husband.

Never in my life did I envision myself sitting on a stranger's living room floor watching seven newborns flip, flop and lounge around while two moms breastfed and the rest of them rated which mall had the best Santa this Christmas.

And, it should be noted, this surreal Santa conversation took place hours after Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General Micha