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The Unlikely Warrior Fighting for Men’s Room Baby Changing Tables

Donte Palmer wants to change the way the world sees fatherhood, and he's starting with changing tables.

When Donte Palmer posted a photo of himself in a men’s restroom, squatting down awkwardly, toddler splayed on his lap as he struggled to change him, the 31-year-old father of three wanted to make a point: men’s restrooms need to have the proper facilities so fathers can change diapers without having to suffer the demeaning act of squatting to balance them. He made that point — and he also started a movement. Palmer’s Instagram photo, which was taken by his 12-year-old son Isaiah, received thousands of likes; Palmer himself received messages of thanks from more than 10,000 other dads frustrated by the same situation. Realizing a universal need to spread the word about the lack of changing tables in men’s restrooms, he began the hashtag #SquatForChange so more businesses will add tables to their facilities. It caught on because, surprise surprise, fathers don’t want to feel like second-class parents. Now, Palmer is looking at starting a non-profit to continue spreading the word. We caught up with Palmer and spoke to him about fatherhood, changing tables, and the importance of the #SquatForChange movement.

So why did you decide to post the photo? Did you intend to get the response that you got?

Initially, the picture was posted just to get a reaction from my family and my friends. The next morning I woke up and other sources had started to pick up the story. It overwhelmed me, initially. There were so many emails and text messages and phone calls. So many messages! There was a lot of support around the nation and around the world. People were saying, “Hey, we are listening to you and supporting you.” It was one of those things where I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t even want the attention. But it was a platform my wife and I talked about. We knew it was an issue. She said I should step into it, that I’m already a father, already a mentor. She wanted me to step into that role, and that’s where we came up with #SquatForChange. I just decided to push for it. This is something that needs to be addressed.

Would you say that putting changing tables in men’s restrooms is your primary goal?

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Initially, it was. That’s still the cause, that’s why we created #SquatForChange. But it’s deeper than that. This is about our fight for equitable rights. It’s a fight to shed the gender boxes that society has placed on men, making us the protectors and providers, and on women, that they’re stay-at-home home moms, raising the baby. We want to shed that box. We want to say, we are the ones who warm bottles. Women can go to work and be the breadwinner of the house, financially, too. We just want to shred all of those stereotypical gender boxes and say, ‘Let’s do this together.’

In some ways, you’re fighting for dads to also be seen as primary caregivers, instead of the ‘babysitter’ or whatever lazy jokes people make about dads.

Absolutely. There are times where I even get upset when my wife beats me to the daycare! I look forward to that stuff. I just think, society has pushed us into these roles, where we have to be these masculine and strong, non-caring men. But we’re more than that. It’s a joy for me to walk into my son’s daycare and he hear him yell “Daddy.” I look forward to those moments. Fathers around the world, we may disagree on a lot of things, but one thing we can agree on is our love for our children. That’s powerful to me.

The support has been overwhelming, but some people are saying that the message is forgetting that moms have it tough, too. What do you think about that, the people criticizing your message?

I take it with a grain of salt. For the negative comments, I typically stay away from those. At the end of the day, it’s a great cause that I’m fighting for: to put changing tables in men’s restrooms so we can have a sanitary place to change our babies. This argument has never been to downplay or downgrade what women do, because like I say all the time, I’m married to a superhero. I learned how to be a parent from her, I learned how to be a mentor from her. She taught me how to be a better man. Women give birth to nations. We’re just fighting for equitable rights for fathers. We just want to change the narrative around fatherhood, around the world.

Aside from changing the way that people think about fathers, and about the fight for changing tables, what does #SquatForChange mean to you?

Squat is pretty much, sitting against the wall, doing a squat, with our babies in our laps. We will keep doing this, and we will keep changing our babies that way, until that change comes. It’s just a sign of protest, where fathers are getting highlighted.

So what are the next steps for the movement?

I have a team of advisors now. We’re trying to create something to keep pushing the narrative. So it might look like a nonprofit, aimed at making the world understand that changing diapers is a man thing, too. Hopefully, and potentially, a big corporation would love to stand behind us and assist us with this stuff. Some celebrities have reached out to us saying they want to help. I can’t give too many specifics because it’s still in the really early stages, but with the changing tables comes a lot of stuff. We could do a program to support fathers, to support step fathers. There are so many things we can do with Squat for Change. Representing pure, positive relationships with our children is the beauty of it all. Fathers come from all different areas of life; different cultures, different backgrounds. The one thing we can all agree on is being a father. That, to me, is pure gold. That’s why squat for change is strong, and definitely trying to build it out, so we can keep pushing forward.