parents

The sad reality of how many dads feel looking after their own kids.

Jacqui with her son.

The other day, as I was taking my eldest son to the bathroom at the shopping centre, I overheard something that deeply saddened me.

Something that has stayed with me for days because I’m just not sure what the answer is, or whether there really is one in this situation.

There, standing outside the parents’ room was an elderly gentleman, probably in his mid- to late-60s. With him, his wife and what looked to be a young grandson, probably about four years of age.

The child needed to use the facilities and asked granddad to take him. The man turned to his wife and said, “You better take him. If I go in there people might think I’m a paedophile.”

Excuse me? I was honestly shocked, I mean it’s not the kind of thing that you expect to hear down at Westfield on a Thursday afternoon. What is this world that we live in that makes a man say such a thing?

A world where a mature, aged man cannot take his grandchild to the bathroom without fear of being labelled a creep or a pervert by other people inside. Are parents‘ rooms really for females only because every man out there must automatically be tarred with the same perverse brush as some bottom-dwelling individuals of the same gender? Would the situation have been different if he was a woman?

No doubt, women don’t need to think twice about being viewed in such a disgusting manner (although I can assure you, child sex offenders are not just male). This man, so innocently standing with his young charge, was fearful of being labelled something so disgustingly awful simply because of his gender. I didn’t really know what to think but it did make me question how I would feel if I was in that situation. I don’t think twice about marching my kids into the parents’ room when its change time.

“I feel like… I’m being stared at sideways.” (Note: this is a stock image.)

I asked a father-friend of mine what he thought and his response was equally as upsetting. “I feel like if I go into the mothers’ room, or parents’ room to fix her nappy, I’m being stared at sideways, like I don’t have a right, or like I should be monitored changing my own daughter’s pants, just in case I am some kind of sicko.”

Wow.

Now, before you get all happy on the keyboard and shout statistics at me, just hold up. I probably know them better than anyone because I helped write the bloody things. For many years, I worked with the NSW Police and in Child Protection. Day in and day out for more than seven years, I worked with victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. I know all the facts that you can throw at me. I’ve lived them. I’ve seen the faces, I’ve heard the stories, I’ve stood beside the victims in courtrooms trying to fight for some piece of justice.

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No one, more than me, believes in being vigilant about your children’s safety. I won’t leave my kids with anyone. I struggle with control, and I am deeply damaged beyond explanation from my own experiences. I am one of these people who automatically assume the worst in people I don’t know because I’ve seen too much to trust in the word of another, especially when talking about the safety of my children.

But this snippet of conversation I overheard at my local shopping centre struck a chord with me. For all the unpleasantness we must protect our kids from as parents, someone does lose. Innocent men must walk around daily life, interacting with the children they love with a shadow of doubt hanging over their heads, just in case.

“It’s sad to think that men are guilty before being proven innocent.”

What I’m trying to say is that it made me sad. Sad to think that men are guilty before being proven innocent. Sad to think that a person, with just as much reason to be taking a child to the restroom as any mother, must feel so uncomfortable with being accused of something so sickening. It makes me sad that a few people, who I would go so far as to call less than vermin, would make a caring grandfather rethink whether he should assist his grandchild in using the bathroom.

I don’t know if there is a solution to this. I know I for one am not about to change my mother bear protective instincts because I may upset someone, because if something ever did happen to one of my kids, I would never forgive myself. But it does make me adjust my attitudes and think about how it must make other people feel to have such a horrible question mark placed above their heads. I guess I’m just sad, sad that as a percentage of the population, such a small number of damaged individuals have made us assume the worst of all men when it comes to young children.

How do you react when you see a man in the baby change rooms? Or with a child in a public toilet? Do you think as a community we are too wary and judgmental? 

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