“There he is. Over there. In the shadows. On a bench. He’s wearing a knit hat. His beard is a little haggard. Maybe he hasn’t slept in a while, or maybe, just maybe he’s some sort of bearded creeper. He’s just hanging out in a park, surrounded by kids and staring. He’s the only male here. Is he a dad? I haven’t seen him with any kids. He’s just sitting there. Watching the kids play. Something’s off. Oh, no. He made eye contact with me. Is he smiling at me? What’s his deal!?”
As a house husband, I’m often the one taking the kids to the park, or gymnastics, or school, or dance. You name it. It’s me. The dad. Out doing what society often perceives (incorrectly, I might add) to be a mom’s job. A generation or two of aloof and distant fathers has made sure this increasingly inaccurate perception persists.
So it seems only natural that when I end up being the only dad in a sea of moms, moms conditioned by society (and other idiot men) to perceive a lone male as a danger and potential threat, I’m met with suspicion and furtive glances suggesting I may not be welcome. Even as I type this while sitting in a large bookstore, there happens to be a children’s book reading. I had walked over to check it out, and the looks followed. The mom’s held their children’s hand a little tighter, and I felt a little sad.
When I first felt like the Bearded Creeper, I thought, “Surely I can disarm these ladies with a little charm, a dash of humor, and a soupcon of razzle dazzle.” I quickly learned this was a bad approach. My socially awkward demeanor made all my attempts at being friendly appear like bad attempts at flirtation. I also decided the healthy response wasn’t, “Take it easy, Grandma. I’m just being nice.”
This situation was made worse at my daughter’s gymnastics class. It was the type of class where the parents are out on the mats with the kids. Let’s just say the dad in baggy jeans and old man New Balance sneakers didn’t quite fit in with the former gymnast, yoga-pants wearing, latte moms. My charm was equally awkward in that situation.
Hang on. Is it possible I’m not charming?
I don’t blame women, protective moms especially, for reacting to me as they do. How can I? I’d have to be ignorant of certain social realities to expect anything different, but it bums me out. Even worse? I don’t know what to do.
A friend of mine often says, “If you want better people, make better humans.” As a father, this resonates with me. I can’t, on my own, fix societies failures. I can’t make every mom at the park feel better with a little joke, and to think I can is hubris. What I can do, and what all fathers can do, is commit to making better humans, and in this case, better little boys.
So I model the healthy male behavior I hope my son will exhibit. Like choosing to be nice when others aren’t. Being respectful, without demanding someone “earn” your respect. Being helpful, but not imposing yourself on those who may not want your help. This is the same way my father taught me how to be a better human. These small, nuanced actions and choices demonstrate the value of each life.
Modeling good male behavior may feel like an easy out for combating the quagmire of social ills all modern societies face. Angry social media posts are far sexier. Fiery rants and public rage are also quite popular, but the real work starts at home. There we can work together to create better people.
Or, you know, we could all just shave.