FASHION & STYLE
My Dad, American Inventor
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOMAUG. 16, 2007
TOMMY HABEEB just wanted to be one of the new breed of involved dads: the hands-on guys who preside over bath time without creating a flood; the ones who return home from work early enough to crawl after their children toward the realm of make-believe. His ambitions did not include inventing the Water Bottle Nipple Adaptor.
Inspiration struck Mr. Habeeb on a sweltering afternoon in Dallas, though, when he found himself with a cold bottle of water and no way for the baby slung across his chest to drink from it. In short order, he was in his kitchen hacksawing off the top of a baby bottle and improvising a coupling to allow the nipple to be screwed onto almost any water bottle.
Mr. Habeeb — a producer, actor and reality-show host for programs like “Cheaters” and “Stag: Last Night of Freedom” (in which engaged bachelors enjoy a final eye-popping hurrah before saying “I do”) — is not publicly known for baby expertise. But that hardly discouraged him from bringing his invention to market earlier this year through a company called BabySport. And it has not dissuaded 7-Eleven and Amazon from buying the adaptors, which are sold for $1.95 to $2.49. Nor has it deterred the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“They stock tons of bottled water for emergencies,” said Mr. Habeeb, whose children are 18 months (Alexander), 3 (Zachary) and 14 (Richard). “We’re talking to them now about these adaptations for emergency situations.”Photo
CREATIVE SOLUTIONS Tommy Habeeb invented the Water Bottle Nipple Adaptor, used by his son Alexander. CreditBrian Harkin for The New York Times
In the history of child care products from strollers to the odor-eliminating disposal known as the Diaper Genie, plenty have been dreamed up by men and women alike. But as more fathers have taken hands-on roles in child rearing, tackling some of the grittier and more odiferous chores of parenthood and even becoming stay-at-home dads, their inventions are increasingly inspired by personal experiences like Mr. Habeeb’s. In many cases they are designed specifically for fellow fathers.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase,” said Amy Chezem, a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, a trade group for an industry that sells $7.3 billion worth of merchandise annually. “A lot of that has to do with the fact that dads are a lot more involved now than they were even a decade ago.”
According to a study in 2002 by the Families and Work Institute, a research group, Generation X fathers (those age 23 to 37 at the time) spent significantly more workday time caring for and doing things with their children (an average of 3.4 hours each workday) than Boomer fathers did (2.2 hours each workday). Generation Y fathers will continue the trend, the institute predicts.
“This is one of the strongest trends we’ve seen,” said Ellen Galinsky, the president of the institute. “When people ask ‘What is the story of your data?’ it’s a men’s story. Men are really different. It may be an evolution rather than a revolution. But it really is a change.”Photo
A DadGear vest with diaper-size pockets.
Several factors may have precipitated that change, Ms. Galinsky said, including younger fathers who saw their own parents give their all to companies that ultimately downsized; technology that enables fathers to be home while also remotely connected to the office; and a post-9/11 family-first mentality.
“I have heard so many men say, ‘My company is not going to hold my hand when I’m sick,’ ” Ms. Galinsky said. “The ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ song that this generation grew up with meant something.”
In response, he and Mr. Brosseau, 37, founded DadGear, a brand that includes diaper bags and vests that look like rugged outdoor clothing, messenger bags and backpacks (there are designs with skulls and flames, camouflage and collegiate logos), but also have plenty of pockets for diapers, baby wipes and bottles. The vests have a portable changing pad hidden in a back pocket.
The products are sold at DadGear.com and cost $67 to $113. Mr. Shoemaker said that in 2005, the first year the products hit the market, revenue was slightly higher than $40,000. Projected revenue for this year is $800,000 to $1 million.
“I love being a dad,” Mr. Shoemaker said, “but I don’t love the stereotype in this day and age that comes with it. And that stereotype is: ‘You’re a dad, you must be frumpy, you must be bald, you must have some goofy diaper bag. You’re no longer in your mind or anyone else’s mind an attractive, hip, sexy cool guy. You’re not that college guy.’ ”
“Why can’t a dad have a cool diaper bag?” he said.
Doug Bacon of West Hartford, Conn., was inspired by humiliation, not fashion. He donned his inventor’s cap after a luggage-encumbered trip to Hawaii with his wife and son, Gus, who was 2 at the time. “It seemed like we were carrying all of our possessions,” Mr. Bacon said, enumerating the necessities he had to schlep through airports and cities. “We got into the hotel there, and people just gave us the dirtiest looks,” he said.Photo
The Itzbeen timer.
After the trip, Mr. Bacon, who works from home as an account executive for a software company, was certain there was a less Griswold-like way to travel. “I was like, ‘Honey, what if we attach the car seat to the rolling luggage?’ ” he said. “Now you don’t need the stroller, the kid could ride in the car seat and you don’t have to carry your carry-on bag because it’s the rolling luggage.”
Mr. Bacon spent hours experimenting with wood and rope and eventually decided on fabric to craft a backpack-like device that can attach a car seat to a piece of rolling luggage. He named it ToteaTot and sells it on a Web site, Toteatot.com, for $29.95. Today he and his wife, Megan, have three children (Quinn, 10 weeks; Beau, 3; and Gus, 6), which means they have more tots to tote. But, he said, his eldest can now do the wheeling.
Greg Sheldon, the father of Will, 2, of Woodland, Calif., said he did not want to work full time so he could spend more time with his baby. “I wanted to be involved,” he said. “I didn’t see my dad hardly at all when I was growing up.”
When their son was born, Mr. Sheldon, an engineer, and his wife, a nurse, were so sleep-deprived they had trouble remembering when they last fed and put the baby down for a nap. So Mr. Sheldon wrote a computer program to remind them, which eventually led him to invent the Itzbeen baby care timer, which can display how long it has been since the last changing, feeding, nap and dose of medication. It reached the market in January, retails for $24.99 and is available at Amazon.com, Target.com and specialty retailers like Giggle.
As for Mr. Habeeb, he is working on a few new children’s products. But first, he has an appearance on “The Maury Show” to discuss “Stag: Last Night of Freedom” with Maury Povich.
“From a guy that makes TV shows that air after midnight,” Mr. Habeeb said, “it’s kind of fun to do something that really makes you feel good.”