Friday, September 13, 2013

We Are Not the Boogeyman

I’d like to begin by apologizing. I’m not sure what for, but you seem to be awfully scared of me.

Maybe it’s the 24/7 news cycle that goes into overtime whenever someone in power abuses a child. Maybe it’s the whispers in the neighborhood when a dad gets accused of hurting his daughters. Maybe it’s the idea, planted early and deep, that men are, by nature, aggressive and predatory.
I can’t speak for your mind, but I can speak for myself, and a darned lot, if not most, of the men out there.

Your child is safe with me. Your child is safe with us.


Kids love me. Friends’ kids, strangers’ kids, if they’re under 10 there’s a good chance that they’re going to take to me. Every time a kid hugs me, I cringe a little. Even when it’s a child I know well. When they treat me like a jungle gym and I need to grab them, when they reach to be picked up, when they want to hold hands or drive their toys around on me, I look around. If I don’t know them, I put a stop to it immediately. If I do know them, I am careful how I touch or handle them. I watch where their hands go and divert them if, in their tiny 3-year-old enthusiasm, they are about to grab (or even brush) the junk.


You might be afraid of me. I am equally afraid of you.

It’s a sad truth that men who interact with children are often viewed with suspicion. That people watch them a little more and questions their motives. That the same people who bemoan the lack of male influence in children’s lives are concerned when men want to be involved in children’s lives, especially unknown men.

It’s a sad truth that many men don’t get involved in children’s work-and-play because of the negative stigma attached to it, that being a caregiver or enjoying children’s company is somehow wrong or “unmanly”. And if you’re gay? Well then, you must have some sort of ulterior motive.

It’s a sad truth that men, particularly single men without children, are held to a different standard when interacting with children. Many of us hold ourselves to very careful standards. We guard our interactions, lest we do something that a person may think is inappropriate. We are careful how and when we take pictures. In some cities, we walk quickly by parks, very aware of the “No adults without the company of children” rule. We don’t linger too long, looking at children playing.


I am taught to be afraid of you. You are taught to be afraid of me.

During my teacher training, all of us were repeatedly instructed on the “touch touch pat pat” rule. It was ok to touch or tap a student on a shoulder to get their attention, or pat them on the shoulder to praise or comfort. Hugging or any other displays of affection were out-of-bounds. This was for our safety.

I never once heard of a female teacher reproached for this. I did hear from a few male teachers who were spoken to after female students hugged them, and they hugged back.

While part of me understood and understands the tendency of a school district to err on the side of caution, part of me hates to think of a child in need of a hug or an arm around the shoulder being pushed away for fear of a lawsuit.

This vigilant monitoring, or the potential for it, is why, when I was carrying a friend’s 3-year-old a few weeks ago and her dress shifted, resulting in my hand on her bare leg, I set her down quickly and picked her up again in a different position. Never mind that her mother was 10 feet away. Never mind that she had asked to be picked up. Never mind that it was a hot day and you can’t always control the clothing of a squirmy kid. Never mind that most of the people around us were longtime friends. My brain kicked in to “man survival” mode. My accidental hand-above-her-knee could be your “inappropriate contact”.

This “suspicion of men”, started early and repeated often, is why, whenever I watch a friend’s kid and they do something that yields a bruise, I worry that people will look at me and think that I am abusing this child. It’s why when a little girl tries to use me as a climbing tree, I hope she is careful of what she grabs as a handhold.

I’ve been told it’s why some men are afraid of children. They are not afraid of children. They are afraid of other people’s judgment.


I am in no way saying that there are not bad guys out there of every shape, size, age, color, and identity who hurt children. There are. We hear about them all the time. Every day. In local and national media. I was raised with “Stranger Danger” and “If anyone touches you…” TV commercials. I’m not saying that we should not be vigilant in the protection and care of children or trust them with just anyone who walks by.
But not every man who wants to mentor a boy is a predator. And not every man who wants to take a picture of a girl on a playground is a deviant.

I’d wager that most are not.

And it’s sad that they are, too often, treated like they are.

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