Book Review: “Daddy, Where’s Your Vagina?”

Schatz book coverJealousy runs in my family, so as soon as I heard about the new book “Daddy, Where’s Your Vagina?” by Joe Schatz, I turned green with envy. I went to journalism school! I could write a book! And I’ve lived what he wrote for almost six years! But he wrote a book, not me. So I shoved the green-eyed monster aside and found myself on a humorous journey through familiar territory as an at-home dad making his way amid a sea of at-home moms.

Self-published in late 2009, Schatz’s book joins a small field of at-home dad titles. They run the gamut from last year’s “The Daddy Shift” by Jeremy Adam Smith (Beacon Press), a journalistic look at at-home fatherhood’s effects on American society, to “The Stay-At-Home Dad Handbook” (Chicago Review Press), Peter Baylies’ 2004 book that offers practical advice about living on one income, cleaning the house without feeling overwhelmed and networking in a woman’s world. Another how-to guide from 2001 offers  a woman’s take in “Stay-At-Home Dads: The Essential Guide To Creating The New Family” (Plume) by Libby Gill – offers a woman’s take, including advice on timing workforce reentry.

What sets this slim, 169-page paperback apart from the rest is that parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny.

My wife and I were in stitches from his story about the exploding-up-the-back diaper that beat any we ever had. Minutes before a checkup, his nine-month-old daughter had a blowout. Funneled by her car seat, poop reached from hairline to ankles. Armed with too few wipes and a too-small onesie, he rose to the challenge like Superman over a tall building, making it to the appointment only 20 minutes late.

Other parts of the book are obvious: no at-home dad I’ve ever met set out intending to be one. Most of us made the choice because our wives earn more (or these days, we got laid off) and we don’t want someone else raising our children. Schatz, a former construction supervisor living in Havre de Grace, Md., began the at-home dad odyssey when he and his wife realized her job offered better benefits. In addition to his book, he shares his wisdom with the world through his Web site, www.joeprah.com. He’s also one of the operators of www.dad-blogs.com, which bills itself as a resource, network and community for dads and their blogs. He even appeared on The Tyra Banks Show earlier this year.

Sometimes his book tries too hard for a laugh, writing “My college prep high school taught me everything I needed to know about the Magna Carta, but nothing about changing diapers.” Uhhh, right. I know I do the same thing on this blog, too, but I’m not asking people to shell out 12 bucks to hear me.

Schatz really opens his family and himself up to his readers, letting us feel like we really know his three daughters. Bella is the snuggly chatterbox. Mady is the quiet, scheming obstructionist who hoards shoes behind her bureau and feigns ignorance when it’s time to leave the house. Third-born Sophia is a tornado who can cover herself in illicit permanent marker in an instant.

His candor is touching when he goes into painfully honest and graphic detail about a miscarriage, only days after announcing his wife’s fourth pregnancy at his surprise 31st birthday party. The strength any parent finds within is nothing compared to the strength he tapped to carry the two of them through the event and its aftermath.

Sometimes the chapters stop abruptly, like Schatz was interrupted by squabbling kids or a ringing phone. But most of the time, he nails the at-home dad experience.

Like how irritating it is to fill out a form and feel like less than a man when writing “stay-at-home dad” in the occupation line. Or how daughters really are conditioned through play to want to become mommies. After getting nothing but dolls and toy kitchen sets for presents, of course they are!

I’ve been an at-home dad for nearly six years, and he’s been at it for nine, so it’s hard for me to understand the isolation he finds as the token male among at-home moms. He’s right that the ratio of moms to dads at home must be better than 60 to 1. But I take issue with his notion that the dads-only playgroup rarely happens. You’ve got to make it happen. There’s been a weekly at-home dads group in Baltimore for three years.

The book is a good starting point for any new or prospective at-home dad.

And the people who love him.

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