, April 2000

    A Letter to Tony
    The author shares a few Dad-to Dad tips with England's Prime Minister.

    By Bruce Kluger

    Dear Prime Minister Blair (may I call
    you Tony?):

    Talk about a media darling! Seems
    I can’t open a magazine or log onto
    a web site these days without seeing
    your smiling face alongside a story
    about the birth of your fourth child,
    and what kind of paternity leave you
    will now elect for yourself.

    Clearly this is a personal decision—
    and I certainly don’t want to pressure you, mate—but permit me to speak on behalf
    of at-home dads everywhere when I say that we’d love for you to join our nappy-
    changing, pram-pushing contingent out here. Having worked out of my living room
    for more than a year now, I can say without reservation that it’s a blast. However, we
    could always use a high-profile, world leader such as yourself to be our poster boy.

    Before you make your decision, though, let me give you a bit of the nitty-gritty of at-
    home daddydom, just so you know what you’re in for:

    Define your terms: Although once a rarity, fathers-in-the-house have become so
    growing an assembly—two million in this country alone—that, like every other
    cultural clique, they’ve spawned sub-groups. I, for example, am a "work-at-home
    dad" (as opposed to "stay-at-home dad"), which means I have part-time help so that
    I can actually do some writing. Without this assistance, the PC at which I’m currently
    perched would be running an Elmo CD-ROM.

    Be forewarned, though, full-time stay-at-home dads are a hard-working bunch and
    somewhat touchy about this distinction. In other words, don’t go bragging to your
    pals down at Parliament that you’re a full-timer when you’re not. If you think radical
    feminists are an ultra-sensitive gang, try getting on the bad side of a ticked-off dad
    with a ladle in his hand.

    Have Your Crumpets and Eat Them, Too: Just because you’re opting to rule the
    roost doesn’t mean you can’t also rule the country. FDR called the shots from a
    wheelchair; Churchill ran the show from a bunker. You can do it all from the
    changing table. But you need to make a schedule and stick to it.

    For example, let’s suppose you’ve spent the morning tending to the baby, and with
    the arrival of naptime, you suddenly find yourself with an hour to kill. Don’t sit down.
    Instead, use the time wisely and hit the phones:

    11:00-11:15: Check in with Labour
    11:15-11:30: Check in with Tories
    11:30-11:45: Check in with Commons
    11:45-12:00: Check in with Lords

    Of course, my favorite part of working out of the nursery-office is terminating
    unwanted calls. I guarantee you, nothing will bring an end to a rambling
    conversation with, say, the Queen (can that woman talk, or what?) quicker than the
    sudden announcement, "Oops, love to chat, but it looks like my little Princess just
    made a present for daddy...."

    Dining Room Diplomat: Although you’ve chosen a domestic setting, you can
    remain at the forefront of the international scene, and all with a little imagination. Let’
    s say it’s midday, and you’re whipping together sandwiches for the older kids. Why
    dine alone? This is the perfect opportunity to monitor the Northern Ireland peace
    plan or manage the chaos in Belgrade, and all by having the deal-makers over for
    lunch. What’s the worst that could happen—that Nicholas and Kathryn will make a
    scene in front of your guests by bickering over the jam? No prob. What better way
    to hone your peace-making skills than by practicing them on children?

    Learn to Love the Teletubbies: Your nation gave us the Beatles, Monty Python
    and the English Muffin—for which we’ll be forever indebted. But this fab foursome is
    another matter. You’re on your own.

    Mastering the Play Date: You’ve glad-handed at Royal balls, soccer matches and
    international summits, so you think you’re the expert on making small-talk with
    people you barely know, right? Welcome back to square one. Try sitting in a living
    room with a perfect stranger for two hours watching your two infants drool on one
    another. I’d suggest some entertaining conversation-starters that have worked for
    me in the past (e.g., "You know, they just let me out of prison last Monday and I’m
    feeling pretty good," or "My kid hasn’t slept in four days—is that normal?") but my
    guess is they wouldn’t fly for you. When in doubt, bring a magazine.

    That’s Entertainment: One of the casualties of having a newborn in the house is
    that it heralds the end of the Saturday night movie. When our daughters were born,
    my wife and I dropped out of the hip cinema circle faster than you can say "Oh,
    behave." Although I don’t know the particulars, my guess is that Baby Blair will take
    a similar bite out yours and Cherie’s film frolics. My suggestion? Renew that video
    membership. Do you have Blockbuster in England? Tower Video? I’d suggest—they guarantee delivery within an hour—but I can’t imagine
    Downing Street is on their route.

    Count Your Blessings: Speaking of Cherie, I don’t know if you know this or not,
    but your wife rocks. At 45, she remains smart, sexy, stylish and a legal whiz who
    kicks butt in court. Part of being an at-home dad is appreciating the fact that Mom
    has been riding the parent-career seesaw a lot longer than you and doing a pretty
    good job of it—and Cherie is no exception to the rule. If you’re wise, you’ll tell her so.

    Get thee to a gym: When you begin working out of the house, it’s important to
    take daily diversions, just like you used to at the office. In your case, though,
    instead of strolls through St. James or lunches on the Thames, you’ll want to find
    neighborhood sanctuaries at which to clear your head and get your blood flowing.

    Which brings me to my suggestion—and I sure hope you don’t take this the wrong
    way—but I’ve noticed of late that, even as you carry your historic nation upon your
    shoulders, those shoulders aren’t as mighty as they once were, and perhaps it’s
    time for a little free-weighting. I found there’s nothing like a quick visit to the gym to
    keep me pumped, primed and fit for carrying a wailing baby around for hours at a
    time, or bending over a crib, or stooping to retrieve pacifiers.

    And if nothing else, the gym is a great place to watch babes.

    See you at the market.

Photo of Prime Minster Blair, wife and son from BBC News.