Before we had our first child, my husband made a solemn vow: He was never going to use a Babybjörn to carry our son. “It just looks emasculating,” he told me when I protested.
“How?” I asked. “How is it emasculating?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It just is.”
I was surprised: This was a man who wore pocket squares, binge-watched MTV dating shows and quoted the works of Susan Sontag. I’d always assumed he was relatively comfortable with his masculinity — at least enough to embrace what the parenting community calls babywearing. But apparently, strapping a piece of nylon to your chest and sticking a squalling, shitting infant inside it was enough to send all of that crumbling down.
The fear of emasculation for new dads still feels common. On Tuesday, British journalist and professional asshole Piers Morgan tweeted a photo of actor Daniel Craig toting his infant daughter, Ella, in a baby carrier. “OH 007. Not you as well?” Morgan wrote along with the hashtags #papoose and #emasculatedbond. Men immediately called him out on it; Avengers actor Chris Evans tweeted, “You really have to be so uncertain of your own masculinity to concern yourself with how another man carries his child.”
Thankfully, men like Morgan may be a dying breed. As babywearing in general has become more popular (baby carriers are the fifth-most-gifted items on parents’ registries, according to 2017 data), babywearing dads are becoming more common too — and objects of massive thirst on social media. One look at Instagram’s vast universe of parenting content suggests many people find babywearing dads sexy as hell. Fathers strapping on their kids drive massive engagement on popular accounts like DILFS of Disneyland and Daddy Doin Work.
There are a few recurring tropes: The dads are often broad-shouldered and bearded, their biceps covered in Maurice Sendak–inspired tattoos. Sometimes they’re wearing Babybjörns; other times they’re wearing slings or wraps (long, flowing garments that are popular in the attachment-parenting community and require a master’s in architectural engineering to figure out how to put together).
But they all have one thing in common: making women (and other men) very, very horny online.
“Dammit are these single dads orrrrr …” one commenter writes on a recent DILFs of Disneyland post.
“Mommy like,” another chimes in. The tongue-out emoji makes multiple appearances.
It’s true that historically, men have been somewhat averse to babywearing. “In German, many people say, ‘Babywearing is breastfeeding for dads,’” Jessica Thier, a community manager for the German baby wrap company Fidella, tells me over Instagram.
It’s also worth noting that for newbies, babywearing is also fairly complicated: “I feel a lot of men get put off by the long flowing woven wraps or think that it’ll be harder to use than it is,” says Simon Milham, a father of two whose wife is a babywearing consultant and who regularly posts photos of himself wearing his children.
The progenitor of the viral babywearing trend is arguably Doyin Richards, an author and creator of Daddy Doin’ Work, which has 26,000 followers on Instagram. In 2013, a Facebook photo of Richards doing his older daughter’s hair while wearing his baby daughter in an Ergo carrier went viral, garnering thousands of comments and shares. It is to date his most engaged post, Richards says, in part due to what was the sheer novelty of it at the time. “I think the dynamic of a strong man caring for two little girls was heartwarming to see,” he says.
Some of the photos are posted by dads themselves; others by their partners as a way to advertise their paternal bona fides. “We always get positive feedback when people see [my husband] Jimmy wearing the kids,” says Tavia Carlson, 31, who runs the family travel blog and Instagram account Big Brave Nomad. “I think people like knowing that the dads are actually involved. Not only are they there with us, they’re actively parenting and taking care of the kids.”
For brands like Fidella and bloggers like Carlson, it also has the benefit of being a surefire engagement-booster: Carlson estimates that one post of her husband wearing their baby on vacation at Lake Como got 10 percent engagement, a relatively high number for Instagram.
It doesn’t take a gender-studies major to note that there’s an obvious double standard here: We’re not going to see any listicles about the hottest baby-carrying celebrity moms going viral anytime soon. It’s perhaps telling that the hashtag #babywearingdads has three times as many posts as #babywearingmoms. Although there are many photos of babywearing moms on Instagram, they rarely generate the same breathless enthusiasm, nor do they inspire such unadulterated horniness. When Richards posted his own photo in 2013, moms were quick to point this out. “Women responded more than men, but their initial reaction was twofold: I was either ‘the greatest dad ever’ or I was an asshole for being recognized for doing a task that many others do without fanfare,” he says.
What is arguably more concerning than the paucity of Hipster MILF content on Instagram is how Piers Morgan’s tweet reflects our culture’s stubborn refusal to ditch some regressive parenting roles. In terms of dividing up household labor and childcare, there’s still a sizeable gender gap, with women doing an average of 60 percent more unpaid work at home than their male partners. And even though women are investing far more energy both at work and at home, they’re more likely to be actively penalized in the workplace after having their first child, while men are more likely to get a salary bump and/or a promotion.
In a world where mothers are still assuming the lion’s share of the parenting and reaping few of the rewards, it’s no wonder we’re so turned on by babywearing dads: When the expectations for dads are this low, seeing a man assume even the tiniest amount of parenting responsibility is so novel as to border on pornographic.
So if you’re a new dad with a beard and some children’s-book tattoos, you might as well lean into it. Don a tight T-shirt and a Babybjörn and rack up a few likes in the process, Piers Morgan be damned. “Being a good dad is truly the manliest thing a man can do in his lifetime,” says Richards. “It’s easy to see how true that is by the amount of men willing to call [Morgan] out on his ridiculously antiquated views.”
As for my husband’s own relationship to babywearing — as is the case with most aspects of parenting — his expectations didn’t quite align with reality. Shortly after our son was born, we received a Babybjörn as a gift, and it became indispensable: We quickly realized how few coffee shops in our neighborhood were large enough to accommodate strollers. My husband became so fond of it that we eventually invested in another carrier; more than a year later, he’s now a full-on Carrier Dad. Judging by how many eye-fucks he gets when he walks down the street with our kid, he’s well aware of how sexy he looks with it on.