I can’t remember what it was that set my radar off. It was a combination of him being a stranger and yet over-familiar with my young sons, trying to put himself in situations where he was alone with the boys and the fact that, while he was the only one that summer that did not know my children, he was consistantly the most interested in them.
It was a couple summers ago. We had rented a cabin on Big Quill lake. It was one of those wet summers that the mosquitoes never stop biting. He was a stranger to us but related to one of the families we were vacationing with and very close to. This made for a difficult three days in the same house.
Because he made us feel uncomfortable, my wife and I spent those three days trying to keep this man from touching our children. Now, I should clarify that he hadn’t touched them in any way that me, or the boys’ uncles, aunts and grandparents haven’t. But seeing a near-stranger tickling, hugging, kissing on the cheek and at one point patting my son’s butt created an animal-like anger in me that made protecting them my number one priority.
I felt limited in my actions. I didn’t feel that I could say:
In the three days we shared a cabin with this man, either my wife or I were with our children, hovering when he entered the room or lay on the floor trying to play with, tickle or roll around with my sons. Often we just removed them from the room completely. When the boys went to bed, one of us always had eyes on him. The boys had their own room and I spent my nights sleeping on their hardwood floor, just in case this man made a night appearance.
He would talk about my boys with an endearment that seemed unnecessary. These comments are harmless but I couldn’t shake the sense that they weren’t harmless. I thought he might be messing or disguising his drive for grandfatherly wonder.
I understand that I may have overreacted. I hate pedophile paranoia. But I don’t hate it like I hate poverty, tyranny or genocide. I hate it like I hate potholes and badly-acted summer blockbusters. Men, in general, are trusted around children less than women. I have a friend who was meeting up with his girlfriend at a park near a playground. She was twenty minutes late, which was enough time for a busy-body to call the police and for them to show up and ask him a bunch of embarrassing questions that centered on the idea of him being a sicko. Luckily when his girlfriend showed up they believed him and let him go.
I used to work at a group-home for children and one day I took two of the children to a park event. There was music, face-painting, cotton candy and about 150 kids. I spent most of my time reading instead of doing my job and I lost track of the two eight-year-olds I was responsible for. I circled the packed park twice looking for them. Some worried mothers must have pointed me out as suspicious (I had a beard at the time). A police officer stopped my search, asking me:
I laughed, knowing what he was getting at and said:
Just then the children I was looking for run up to me and ask me for Freezie money.
Embarrassed cop winces for 5 seconds before saying:
HOW IT USED TO BE
That moment was embarrassing for me AND the police officer but not for one second do I regret that he did his job. While I do think pedophile paranoia is annoying, it is better than the alternative world my parents grew up in. That was a world where people looked the other way because it was uncomfortable to think of other adults in such a disturbing light.
My mother was eleven when an adult family friend was driving her home from a wedding. He rented the basement suite in her house and shared a business with her parents. When she got into his truck she knew something was wrong.
He had. Halfway to home on a country road, he pulled over and reached for her, forced her first kiss on her and groped at her prepubescent body. Being the strong female that she still is today, she fought him, opened the door to the truck and fell to the ground. She ran along the ditch and he sped off. He returned three times. When she heard the rumble of his half-ton she lay face down in the ditch. He would call from the road, trying to convince her to return to the truck. It was dark enough he couldn’t see her. When he left for the last time she walked home for seven miles. It was the middle of the night. She told her mother what had happened and later her mother told her Dad.
Both her parents were angry but besides her mother apparently hitting this man over the head with a pair of boots, and later forcing the man to apologize nothing happened. No charges were laid and he wasn’t evicted from their basement suite. My mother had to share the same house with this man for another three years.
Another woman who I love who grew up in the 50’s-60’s. She was a little girl when the gardener exposed his penis to her. She told her mother about it. Her mother was an intelligent wonderful woman but also a product of her time. Her mother’s response was to treat her as if she had done something wrong. As if she was somehow responsible for the man’s actions.
Thankfully, this is no longer the world we live in and if it means that we have to have a few awkward conversations with people where we say “What are you doing at this park?” or “I’m not comfortable with you being with my child” then that’s what needs to happen.
My boys won’t be traumatized by some hugs from a man who may or may not be a pervert. I am glad I took the action I did and that my wife was on board but I still have regret. I regret that I wasn’t braver. I regret that I wasn’t ruder. I regret that I wasn’t more confrontational. And really it doesn’t matter if my instincts were right or if I was just being paranoid. As parents, we are responsible for our children’s memories, health and what happens to their bodies. When it comes to our kids we unquestioningly follow the path of least regret.