I Helped a Girl at the Playground (and Felt Terrible About It)

As challenging and as stressful as it may be, I feel incredibly privileged to be a stay-at-home dad. I get to spend so much time with my daughter, witnessing her major milestones and encouraging her every step of the way. It also means that I can take her to the park in the middle of a weekday afternoon, even if she can’t really play on much of the equipment just yet.

Earlier in the summer, during one of our trips to the local playground, I had the most unsettling experience when another little girl approached me for some help. What I did next rocked me to my very core, even though it really shouldn’t have. It shouldn’t have bothered me and I shouldn’t have felt terrible about it.

Can You Help Me?

It was a rather simple request, really. The girl, who was probably about 5 years old or so, needed some help getting onto one of the contraptions at the playground. The idea is that you sit in this bowl shaped seat with your legs dangling out the side and you spin round and round in a wibbly-wobbly kind of fashion. She just couldn’t get in that seat herself. She wanted a boost.

I wasn’t there alone. There were plenty of other parents — the overwhelming majority of which were moms (which shouldn’t be that surprising given that I’m oftentimes the only dad at story time) — including my wife. This little girl didn’t ask my wife for help. She didn’t ask one of the other moms for help. She looked me square in the eyes and asked if I could help her get in.

I confirmed with the little girl exactly what she wanted and I felt terribly apprehensive about it. As I picked her up to place her in the spinning seat, a nagging fear crept into the back of my mind that the girl’s mother would come rushing across the playground to scream, “GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY DAUGHTER!”

Why Do I Fear Myself?

It never happened. In fact, for the life of me, I don’t even know where this girl’s mom (or dad or nanny or caregiver) was. Realistically, no one else at the playground was paying attention to us or likely no one noticed what just happened… because it was an event that didn’t matter. Why, then, did I feel such an intense fear and sense of apprehension about helping a girl at the playground?

More and more, we find ourselves living in a culture of fear. In a culture where any man at a children’s playground is obviously a sicko, a predator and a pedophile. I’m part of a group of dad bloggers on Facebook and we all work to fight this unfair perception. The problem is that I feel like I have unwittingly internalized this culture of fear. I’m obviously not a threat to your children, so why did I feel weird helping the girl?

Stay Away From My Princess

I’m also a hypocrite. On our recent trip to Hawaii, we stopped for a break in the mall and a single man sitting by the fountain commented on how cute our daughter was. He proceeded to “chat” with her. I shouldn’t have felt threatened. He was keeping his hands to himself and he was, as far as I can tell, just being genuinely nice to us. He was probably a dad himself.

And yet, in the back of mind, I felt the intense drive to protect my daughter from this obvious pedophile. And I felt terrible for thinking that, because I wouldn’t have had the same thoughts if it were a single woman instead.

Most people are good and have good intentions, regardless of age or gender. Maybe the little girl asked me for help at the playground because I am a man. Maybe, in her experience, she found that men are generally stronger and can thus more easily lift her into that spinning seat. Or maybe not and I just happened to be the person closest to her at the time. And honestly, it doesn’t really matter anyhow.

The Path of Greater Acceptance

It’s perfectly understandable that parents want to be protective of their children. But sometimes, over-protectiveness could be doing more harm than good. I don’t know. Parenting is hard and fighting widespread public perception is even harder when you internalize the culture of fear yourself.