Monday, July 14, 2014

Swim


Sometimes as a SAHD, we face the ugly past. With change in perceptions of gender roles comes this conflict between the ways of old and the progressive modern dad. Unfortunately, we aren't just seen as a dad but something much more nefarious. It may happen at a park or at a class in which a stay at home dad might be the only man there. We often don't receive caveats for being there. A man, in a public area where there are children, must be a threat. 

Many of my fellow stay at home dads have experienced this clash of culture and often it has happened in front of their own children. A SAHD in my circles had such an encounter with a mom and her short sided opinions of a dad trying to enjoy a day with this children. I felt it was necessary to tell his story and he offered to share it with me. If you want to leave a comment for him, call him Swim Dad. Here is his guest post:

I am veteran SaHD, with nine-year-old twin boys.  Recently, I took the boys to the Swim Club where we are members, it's not fancy or exclusive, but it is a club not a community pool.  We got there about 1:30 and it was pretty crowded, I found two free lounges amongst the towel strewn ones.  The boys jumped in and I settled down.  

I didn’t bury my face in a phone or close my eyes for a nap, as shocking as this may seem to some, I watch the boys in the pool.  Not because I don't trust the lifeguards, not because I don't trust the boys, nope, I watch them because they are stupidly reckless at times.

The whistle blows for “adult swim” the boys jump out, grab a baggie of pretzels and begin enduring the long wait.  About a dozen young girls, aged ten to twelve, tweens I guess, came my way and I realized I had the middle chairs of their twelve chair claim.  The boys were, uh, watching the girls so I asked them if they’d mind moving, they thought not, realizing that that would mean engaging the girls.

To make a short story longer I asked the girls who said oh no, no, no.  Number Two said “Oh, we don't really mind, it'd be the right thing to do... you know.”

This seemed to convince the kindly ringleader of the girls and they moved from the last two chairs and we moved off the ones in the middle, there was bumbling and giggling, the boys were being silly and the girls were being flirty.  It was cute.  We settle in and adult swim ends and we move on.

Except... except a storm was brewing across the water and it was not in the sky.  I group of five, sometimes six, women were talking animatedly and trying conspicuously to not look my way.  I figured they were the mothers of the girls and I left it at that, but, I did sense something.

Adult swim again.  The boys come back grab some PB crackers and sit again, talking and watching the pool and , uhm, other things.  The girls all go over to a picnic table, grab snacks and return to the lounge-chairs.  The girls closest to my boys begin talking with the girls about snacks.  One of their smooth opening lines is: “I don't really like those Blue Ranch Doritos... they're kinda dry.”  They talked with the girls about cookies and Gatorade and chips and glazed donuts.  I prompted Number One a couple times trying to keep him in the conversation.  The girls had Fig Newtons which the boys hate and I said I liked and one of the girls went to get me one and the another girl said I've got one and, soon, I was munching a Newton.

I know this is getting long but, I wanted to paint the scene as pleasantly and memorably, as sweetly, as possible.  Summer pool. Boys, girls. Cotton clouds.  Blue sky.  Laughter, conversation and...

“Excuse me!?  We don't really think it's a good idea for you to be talking to these girls!”

Huh, what the, who are, where did you...?

I look up at the blue suited MommaBear beside the chairs, one of the mothers I'd seen earlier.  I take off my sunglasses and and say, “I'm sorry, what'd you say?”

“We don't think you should be talking to these young girls.”

“Why, Daddy?” comes from behind me.

“Later, Son,” I tell him.

“Mom, what on earth is your stupid problem,”  The Fig Newton girl asks.

“Well, why on earth would a grown man sit in the middle of a bunch of young girls anyway,” the woman answers.

Tone.  It is all about tone and undercurrents and I know what this woman thinks of me instantly, her and that group of women – and it is not nice, in fact, it is ugly.

I smile.

“There wasn't anyone here when we put the towels down and... why does it matter, Dad?”  The other son this time.

My boys are confused, the girls are mortified and I am thinking hard.  I know the woman, I've seen her here holding court and ignoring her kids and I've seen her somewhere else but I can't remember where.  I have to make a decision, a hard decision.

“Let's get going, boys,” I say, smiling at the younger girls.  “Thanks for the Fig Newton.”

“But, Dad...”

“Let’s go home and watch the first game of that double-header, boys.  We should probably just go.”

I smile at the unkind woman as she smirks behind her mirrored aviators, positively quivering with vengeance and mangled justice.

I've packed up quickly and stand up.  “Say goodbye to these lovely ladies, guys.  Let's shove off.”

“But, Dad...”

I don't get too far when I hear the sweet Fig Newton girl.

“Jeez, mom, what is your stupid problem?  He's a nice guy and those boys are so cute.  Mom, they go to our church.”

That's where I'd seen her.

We walked out past the pod of mothers, laughing about how much they hate figs and how hard it must be to play a double-header.  It was the right conversation to have today, today...

You can argue all you want about this.  Should I have stood my ground?  Maybe.  Should I have taken on the bully of a mother and whittled her down to the cold fish she truly was?  Too easy, really, too cruel.  Should I have gathered the two or three other moms I knew there that day who had treated me with dignity and kindness when I was new here, and knew my wife, and presented them as character witnesses at this trial by innuendo?  Procedurally, I wasn't sure how I'd go about that.

Some may think what I did was a chickenshit way out.  Well, you know what, this isn't the summer for explaining predators and irrational fears and prejudice and adult bullying and simplemindedness and the treatment of dads in society and envy and, well, dirtiness.  No, this is the summer for hitting baseballs, jumping off boards and eating watermelon while the hot Ohio sun fades behind the distant trees.

BY: Swim Dad

13 comments:

  1. As a stay at home father of two boys, this is one of my biggest fears. I would like to think like you I would have simply left, but my big mouth tends to get me into trouble. I think you did the right thing, sometimes it isn't worth the fight.

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  2. You're a bigger man than I.

    A cold dish of dressing-down would have been served, much to the detriment of all.

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  3. This is one of those situations in which men are unfairly painted with a broad brush. I once got yelled at by a mom for being in the men's room at the same time as her son.

    I was in a stall taking care of business when this woman poked her head in and asked if anyone was in there. I didn't respond so I guess she thought it was empty, but as I told her I was under no obligation to let her know I was there.

    Anyway, such is the fun life we sometimes get to lead.

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  4. I would have spoken up and said something to the moms. What will I teach my son by walking away and not speaking up for fatherhood? I bet the moms also didn't realize they were teaching their daughters not to trust men. If dads seek change, they need to speak up. How else will people know their behavior is unacceptable and that change is in order? When ignorance comes your way, use it as a teachable moment, even when you're dealing with a group of immature adults.

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  5. You showed incredible restraint here swim dad. It is a shame that you, an active engaged father, are automatically suspicious. The fact that the daughter of the unkind woman seemed to get it gives you hope for the future.

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  6. Swim Dad,

    Whatever you decided to do would have received criticism, but I support you in the decision you made. I'm sorry you had to endure that...

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  7. I hope we get an update after you say "Nice to see you again" when you see her at church! Ha! Way to play it cool. - Concretin Nik

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  8. I think you made the right call. Belittling this woman would have felt great ... but you would have created a bigger scene and her fellow moms would have rushed to defend her. By ending on a classy note you gave her food for thought -- even if it's unlikely she'll nibble on it.

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  9. Kill 'em with kindness- too often it is all you can do. Though the desire to make your point can be hard to supress, doing so enabled you take take the high road and most likely prevented a scene that both of you would have regretted.

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  10. I have three daughters and they would probably be careful who they sit next to and normally don't speak to foreigners. However, the really dangerous people i think are those who hide in the shadows.
    Nice reaction.
    You can read about how i raised them.

    http://pappiebear.blogspot.ch/2014/07/how-to-get-girls-to-do-push-ups-and.html

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  11. Hey, I get it. I'm a dad with two sons. As tempting as it may be to coach your sons how to talk to young girls in bikinis by demonstrating how to share snacks, I can understand how the mama hens might react protectively to this.

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  12. My husband has encountered those looks plenty of times at the park. Being a large guy, people look at him and my son together and I see the looks. Those "did this man kidnap this kid" looks. If he talks to someone else's kid, you see the moms watching, waiting. My husband is a great father and I'm sick of this mentality that a man at a park or pool must be a predator.

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  13. I get this same response in many places I go during my job as a child-care and summer camp director. They can see me leading a group of nearly 100 children while wearing a very obvious and professional looking uniform and name tag...and yet still look at me as if I could be a predator on their own children.

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