Diaper Diplomacy

Encounter with Jamie Rubin: In anticipation of his new life as a stay-at-home dad, the former State Department spokesman gets a lesson in fatherly duties.

By Jeffrey Goldberg

The New York Times, April 30, 2000
[Read this article at The New York Times’s website]

As part of my never-ending and so far entirely fruitless campaign to get high-ranking Clinton administration officials to change my children’s diapers, I recently dragooned Jamie Rubin to my baby girl’s room in order to teach him a thing or two about the real world.

For those of you not keeping up with the latest shifts in State Department personnel, a primer: Rubin, who was Madeline Albright’s assistant secretary of state for public affairs and her close adviser—as well as a C-Span media-briefing sex god—recently gave up his high-powered job and all its high-powered accouterments to follow his wife to London, where he will care for his new baby while his wife works.

This is considered notable for three reasons: 1) most men, much less most famous men, wouldn’t—even in moments of drug-induced magnanimity—contemplate trading their jobs for a life of spit-up and strollers; 2) one of the few powerful men to even think about paternity leave is Tony Blair, the British prime minister, and thus Rubin has been identified by alert journalists like myself as part of an incipient trend; and 3) Rubin’s wife is Christiane Amanpour, a television reporter of some repute and who is therefore considered inherently newsworthy.

So last month, shortly before Amanpour was to deliver their child, I invited Rubin over for a diaper-changing lesson. (Prior to this, the closest I had come in my quest was to get some useful parenting advice from Janet Reno, who told me that colicky children can be quieted by strapping them into a bouncer, placing the bouncer on top of a dryer and setting the dial to spin. Unlike some of Janet Reno’s other strategies, this actually works.) My baby daughter was a more or less willing participant in my scheme. The only stumbling block was Rubin himself.

Here was our shining symbol of progressive fatherhood—one day, pigheaded husbands throughout the industrialized world will hear their wives ask, “Why can’t you be more like Jamie Rubin?”—doing that thing all childless men do when in the presence of an exposed diaper: pressing himself into the wall and shielding his eyes as if he were being forced to watch the amputation of one of his favorite limbs. And the diaper in question was not what my wife and I refer to as an “exciting” diaper—at no time was Rubin’s charcoal-gray Armani suit in any danger.

Don’t you at least want to look? I asked.

“No, no, no thank you,” he replied.

Thwarted, I escorted him out of the house—much to his relief—and we drove to the Maryland suburbs, where we would confront the diaper issue in a more antiseptic fashion. Our destination was the mecca of the highly scheduled, Land Rover-driving, new-parent set, a superstore with the simultaneously precious and deeply cynical name of Buy Buy Baby.

Buy Buy Baby sits at the apogee of Washington’s toddler-industrial complex. It holds a wondrous selection of thousands of toys and devices poor parents have managed to do without for centuries. Rubin, not yet a father, was unmoved by the bounty before him. Granted, he didn’t spend much time shopping. He was the only person in the store talking by cell phone to Sarajevo.

He was, however, enthusiastic about his main purchase that night: a $24.99 Diaper Genie, a simple device that seals used diapers inside a “fragrant film.”

Will you be using the Diaper Genie yourself?

“I plan to fulfill my responsibilities as a father,” he responded, which at the State Department is how they say no.

A few weeks later, Rubin’s period of denial came to a forced end. On March 27, the great event occurred, and Amanpour introduced to the world Darius John Rubin, an 8-pound-6-ounce boy who, unlike most infants, does not look the least bit like Benito Mussolini and is therefore quite handsome.

And by all accounts, Rubin, who has previously been known for the cut of his suits, the briskness of his manner and his healthy sense of self, has turned into a doting father.

“All of us wondered how he would bond with the baby,” Madeline Albright told me, shortly after the birth. “But he’s always holding him. He doesn’t want to let go. But he’s also figured out a way to rock the baby with one hand and hold the phone with the other.”

I asked Albright if his decision to quit impressed her. After all, I said, wasn’t he more of a man than Tony Blair, who has been covered with glory merely for mulling in public the possibility of perhaps taking some time off when his wife gives birth.

I was trying to start an Anglo-American incident, and Albright knew it. “I’m not going to go there,” she said, giving me one of those patented Madeline Albright looks that mean, “Get out of my office, you ant.”

Albright wasn’t biting, but Amanpour was. “He’s definitely out-Blairing Blair,” she said. “Jamie is ahead of the curve. I’ve had messages from girlfriends saying, ‘He’s even sexier than we thought.’ There’s something incredibly masculine and brave about this.”

Rubin, though, denied that he was auditioning for poster-boy status. “Everybody has to make compromises,” he said. “The fact that my wife has a career and I’m adjusting myself to it is a good thing. But I’m not quitting for years. It’s a shorter-term compromise, and then she’ll make compromises. That’s what marriage is about.”

And the baby?

“The part you don’t plan for when you’re like me is how much you fall in love with the kid,” he said, which is about as mushy as Mr. Superspokesman will ever get.

And how’s the diaper changing? You are changing diapers now, aren’t you?

“That’s between me and my family,” he replied.

The liberation of Jamie Rubin, alas, is not yet complete.