Donte Palmer didn't think twice about squatting on the floor of a public restroom, steadying himself against a wall, and laying his young son across his lap so he could complete diaper duty. After all, you do what you have to do for your kids. In fact, he was so focused on trying to change his child's diaper that he didn't notice his oldest son, Isaiah, using his phone to snap a few pictures. But a simple photo of a dad changing his son sparked a massive online conversation about fathers, who shoulders the burden of parenthood, and how we can better equip men to be equal parenting partners. A conversation that took Palmer by surprise.
"I didn't know the pictures were taken until we sat back down at the dinner table at the restuarant we were eating at and [my son] showed my wife and I," Palmer tells Romper via phone. "I had never at this point realized how silly I looked when I was changing my child, but it just showed I would do anything possible and everything in my will to get those needs done when it comes to taking care of my children."
But it was the silliness of the situation that prompted Isaiah, 12, to snap those photos. "Isaiah is a jokester. He’s a comedian. So he took [the pictures] to laugh, and of course we laughed about it because of the way he presented them," Palmer says. "But he just took it because he thought it was funny."
Two weeks later, Palmer revisited the picture his son took, because though it was funny he couldn't shake the realization that it was also a sad representation of how little support fathers receive, especially in public spaces. "I was like, you know, that was a powerful picture," he says. "Dads do need resources." So he decided to post it on Instagram, thinking at most he'd receive a reaction from family and friends.
What happened next still blows Palmer's mind.
The photo went viral, and before he knew it the dad of three was receiving media requests, reading about himself online, and wondering how he could turn a simple Instagram post into real, substantial, and sustainable change. Palmer and his wife came up with the hashtag #SquatForChange, which later became an organization "dedicated to arming dads with the proper changing tables they need to be hands-on with their children."
Five-thousand changing tables is a great number, but I see tens of thousands of fathers being helped out.
"In the beginning it was really overwhelming," he says. "Too many emails and Instagram messages to count coming through. But then my wife and I sat down and navigated it in the right way, and I started to enjoy it. I felt so honored to have fathers from across the world, and mothers, reaching out to me and congratulating me, from Uganda to Australia to the UK back to the States."
The post also landed Palmer and #SquatForChange a partnership with Pampers and Koala Care. As part of their "Love the Change" initiative, Pampers announced that they're providing 5,000 changing tables in men's restrooms across the United States and Canada by 2021. "Five-thousand changing tables is a great number, but I see tens of thousands of fathers being helped out," Palmer says. "They’ll be able to use these tables to provide for their children."
But real change also occurred inside the Palmer household after the now-famous photo went viral. Palmer's son, Isaiah, takes full credit for what has come of that captured moment. After all, he was the photographer. "He now knows the seriousness of that picture and what he has taken, so he’s really proud of that moment," Palmer says. And that point of pride has motivated Isaiah to do better in school. "It’s a boost of confidence. It sparked his grades. He’s a straight A student now."
And it also allows Palmer to set an example for his children — that men need to be involved in not only the parenting process ("You’ll catch me at home now. I'm more of a stay at home dad, and I'm fine with that," Palmer says), but in advocating for an equitable division of parenting responsibilities.
"I feel that, as men, we need to speak out and fight for equality when it comes to parenthood," Palmer says. "We need to give our women a break. You guys have done the ultimate thing of bringing our kids into the world, so at least we can do is fight for changing tables and provide for opportunities to be able to pull diaper duty and change diapers."
So, yes, for Palmer crouching on a probably dirty restroom floor in order to change his child's diaper is worth it. You do what you have to for your kids. But you shouldn't have to, and now — thanks to his son's quick thinking and love of all things funny — tens of thousands of dads won't have to.