What do you give a first-rate father on a second-rate holiday?

    Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer and son, Seamus. (WNV/Frida Berrigan)

Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer and son, Seamus. (WNV/Frida Berrigan)

There is a dirty diaper sitting on the back of the sofa. It was neatly wrapped, the urine soaked cloth enveloped in a star-printed outer layer. I walked by it two or three times before it registered in my tired mind. And then I flashed in irritation: “Gross, Patrick!” My husband had changed the baby’s diaper and then left it right there.

I started to piece together our oft-interrupted night. Baby up at midnight to nurse. Up again at 2 and again at 4 and then again at 5:30 — at which point Patrick took the voracious little eater away and I slept deeply until 7:30. Bliss.

Patrick, on the other hand, walked a gassy, restless, grumpy baby for the better part of two hours. Seamus would drift off, nuzzled on Patrick’s shoulder, and then he’d try to get the two of them comfy on the couch. But, then Seamus would wake up again. More walking and the cycle repeated three, four, five times.

I picked up the diaper and brought it upstairs to the pail with all the rest of them. I did not even give him a hard time about it.

That was good of me, because dads get a bad rap these days. They don’t do housework. When they take care of the kids, it is called babysitting (not just by the well-meaning folks at the next table on “girls night out,” but by the Census Bureau). Their earning potential is down.

And they get Father’s Day — which is kind of a second-rate holiday promoted mostly by the Father’s Day Council, an association of menswear retailers. By the 1980s, they declared success; writing that Father’s Day “has become a ‘Second Christmas’ for all the men’s gift-oriented industries.” Of course, Mother’s Day is similarly commercial, choked by chocolatiers, jewelers and flower arrangers. But it will always have that illustrious peace origin story, with Julia Ward Howe’s Peace Proclamation.

Growing up, we always asked our dad what he wanted for Father’s Day. We’d get a raised eyebrow and a look that said something like: “What I want more than anything for Father’s Day are children who know better than to ask me what I want for Father’s Day.” But, we had to ask. I mean, what do you buy a man so ascetic that he reuses dental floss? One year, we got Phil Berrigan — priest, peace activist, hardcore nonviolent resister — a tie.

Patrick is not quite as ascetic as Phil Berrigan, but he definitely doesn’t want a new tie (did you know that most dads would prefer no gift to a new tie gift?) or a foosball beer bottle opener ($48 each, I kid you not). What is special enough for him? He is a social worker who helps dads resolve disputes with their children’s mothers, develop life skills to be responsible parents and navigate the court and social services bureaucracies. He teaches “Dr. Dad” classes at a local hospital for expectant fathers — coaching them on basics, like how to hold a newborn, change a poopy diaper, sooth a crying child, support mom through the early weeks and take the baby’s temperature. He loves the class. He helps turn apprehension and jitters into excitement and confidence. In a few weeks, Patrick will start a new program, going into homes with new babies and supporting dads for the first three years of the child’s life.

He brings all this knowledge home too. He is lightning fast (and gentle) changing Seamus’ diaper, even though the little bruiser thrashes and screams and grabs at your hands the whole time. Sometimes it takes me 15 minutes to change the boy’s diaper. But, with Patrick, Seamus starts out belligerent; then he gets distracted by his dad’s elastic face and amazing noises. Pretty soon they are both giggling and Seamus is clean and dry. Patrick plays and soothes and cooks and instructs and tidies and sweeps and tickles. Of course, he has had some practice in the daddy department; he also has a six-year-old daughter.

One day in 2006, his ex-girlfriend called. She was pregnant. Patrick did not hesitate. “I’ll be there,” he said. “I can do this.” He was and he did, and now we are. Rosena goes back and forth between two households, at home wherever she is — a delightful and imaginative child, as well as an enthusiastic and loving big sister.

Patrick and his sister were born to peace activists Rick Gaumer and Joanne Sheehan. From an early age, his parents took them along — not just to anti-nuclear demonstrations and interminable War Resisters League meetings — but to international gatherings in India, Sweden and Germany. His parents were also part of forming land trusts, communities and cooperatives for everything from baby-sitting to grocery-shopping, so Patrick grew up watching people working together, building alternatives, addressing social ills. Constructive program is what Mohandas Gandhi called it.

At 18 years old, Patrick refused to register for Selective Service, forgoing federal grants and loans to go to college. Throughout his life, he has continued to make hard choices, remaining principled even when it came at a cost. Luckily, Earlham, a Quaker College in Indiana, offered special grant and loan programs to conscientious non-registrants, so he was able to get a bachelor’s degree, studying Peace and Global Studies, and traveling to the North of Ireland to work in conflict resolution.

I think it was there, on the old sod — as a student and for a year after college — that Patrick developed his gift for gab. The man can literally talk to anyone about anything without compromising his values or letting anyone slide. I have seen him call people out — even his closest friends and the biggest dudes — for being racist, sexist, homophobic or just jerks. He does it without malice, contempt or gotcha and the people around him respond by becoming more compassionate, considerate and open-minded.

And whether it is describing radio waves or the life cycle of the cicada, recounting the story of where honey comes from and how clouds are formed, and explaining why some dogs aren’t nice or how princesses benefit from slavery and exploitation, Patrick is constantly in dialogue with Rosena — and now Seamus — about how the world works, how it should work and how it will soon work so much better as they apply their energy, enthusiasm and good ideas.

The man deserves more than an oven mitt that looks like a baseball glove ($12) or homemade gin kit ($40, actually pretty cool) or this column (FREE) for Father’s Day. But this (and a new pair of secondhand slippers and a couple handmade cards) is what he is getting. I think that — and a break from crack-of-dawn diaper changing — will make him really happy this Father’s Day.

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