Thursday, May 6, 2010

From the Mouths of Dads

I wrote the other day about how our society's screwed up perception of all men as predators hurts men, and ultimately hurts children...  Rob commented on that post.  I don't want anyone to miss what he said, because this is exactly what I'm talking about.  With his permission, here's Rob:
I am in the same situation as BJ - I feel very awkward when coming into contact with other people's children if I do not know their parents really, really well. I volunteer in the church nursery every Sunday and refuse to change diapers because I just don't want to deal with the hassle when we have paid folks in there to do it. The room is often full of children and anywhere from three to seven adults, but I just won't do it. (And it's not just because poop stinks!)

I had direct experience with the “Stranger Danger” feeling on Tuesday night when I took Abby to the mall for dinner, just the two of us. When we were walking through the mall while holding hands I got smiles and “aww, how sweet” comments the whole time. When we went to the playground part of the mall, she shot in well before I did, after throwing her shoes at me. Everyone accepted the child that was running around, but nobody associated her with me.

Strange looks were shot around as soon as I walked into the playground, by myself, and started scoping things out. Every parent took time to scope out where their child was in relation to me. It was palpable, and very awkward. I got Abby’s attention and made her come over and give me a big hug and a quick tickle and all of the sudden I was in conversation with the moms and dads around me.

It was such a change that I noticed it. I guess it’s the first time in a long time that I have taken Abby out by myself to someplace like that.

I don’t have a solution for how to change the perceptions, but I can tell you that they are real, and they affect the way that I choose to do some things now, and that makes me sad.
This is what I'm talking about.  Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences, Rob!


angel0199 said...

I don't think Rob's situation is necessarily because he is a man. In a play area situation I am always trying to match the kids with parents(so I know who to give the evil eye to when the too big to be in there child knocks mine down for the 3rd time). So I definitely notice any child or parent who doesn't seem to have a match. Though there are a lot of children in my area who were adopted internationally so matching everyone up isn't always easy.

However, people do pay extra attention to a man alone with a child. Even if they think it is a dad on the up and up they still assume he doesn't know how to care for the child. It is the whole "bumbling sitcom dad syndrome". And that is sad because, at least in my circle, there are a lot of really involved dads including some who know how to change a diaper and put a hair bow in.

Joe said...

Having been led over here by Rob himself, I find myself in the position of evaluating whether he is indeed a dangerous Pied Piper, leading me astray.

But seriously, I must say after reading this and the previous post on the topic that I feel the same way about interacting with children in public—and I am not at all an imposing physical presence. But I feel much freer to interact with other people's kids in a setting where I have my son with me. I certainly feel like I've internalized the societal message (i.e., all males are dangerous to children) and don't want to do anything that would make me appear as such. In any event, thanks for raising the issue so cogently.