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Why I Secretly Wince Every Time My Son Runs Around Naked

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Photograph by Twenty20

There are many advantages to living in my current hometown of Marietta, Georgia rather than the hellish frozen tundra that is my former home of Chicago. Chief among them is not having to bundle my baby up in 17 different layers of clothing during the city’s brutal eleven-and-a-half month winter, then risk having our baby get pneumonia upon leaving the home anyway.

Hell, in Marietta, where it perpetually seems to be 85 degrees in the blinding sun, our 19-month-old son Declan doesn’t really even need to wear any clothes at all. He’s free to be a footloose and fancy-free hillbilly baby running around clad only in a diaper or less, causing mischief everywhere he goes.

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My wife and in-laws think my baby running around naked is just about the cutest thing in existence, particularly if he’s running around naked save for an old lady’s shower cap while cackling with deranged glee as I found him doing one colorful afternoon. I love raising a baby in the South, and I love that my little dude doesn’t have to perpetually get bundled up, but I'm also invariably the first person to say, “Hey, it’s adorable watching Dex run around naked, now let’s put a diaper on him.”

This is partially because I'm a man, so the dangers posed to exposed and vulnerable naked genitals is not something abstract or theoretical—it’s a deeply personal, visceral sense memory that is triggered any time genitals of any kind appear to be in peril. Hell, that’s why when a character in a comedy is hit in the nuts a big portion of the male audience is liable to reflexively wince in sympathy.

Because here’s the thing: Messes can be cleaned up and diapers can be changed but I want our baby’s spirit to remain as pure and as untempered and wild as it possibly can...

Now, I’m not saying that something bad will happen to my son’s junk unless it's appropriately protected at all times. The "Jackass" crew isn’t hanging around my house looking for babies to subject to their unique brand of testicular-abuse-based physical comedy. Though our house isn’t exactly baby-proofed, it’s largely without danger. But I don't want to even allow for the possibility that something might go wrong for Dex without having a diaper on to protect him.

The other danger, of course, when a baby and their parents temporarily decide to forego diapers for an extended period of time, is that there will be an accident. This is much more likely and less serious than my fears of Johnny Knoxville appearing out of nowhere and kicking my son in the nuts, and it’s something that my wife is OK with.

As a uniquely gifted and sensitive preschool teacher, my wife understands toddlers, their limitations and their possibilities in a way that I never could. Letting our son run around without a diaper is a gamble my wife is comfortable with. For her, the life-affirming sense of freedom and independence and autonomy that comes with being able to run around bare-ass and unashamed is more than worth the possibility that a baby might pee on the floor.

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Because here’s the thing: Messes can be cleaned up and diapers can be changed but I want our baby’s spirit to remain as pure and as untempered and wild as it possibly can, and if the occasional clean-up is the cost of that wonderful wildness, then that’s a price we’re happily willing to pay.

For the time being, of course.

If he’s still running around naked and cackling with demented glee 15 years from now, we’ll know his mother and I might just have given him a little too much freedom.

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