One of these mothers is not like the others

You haven’t lived until you’ve carried a kicking and screaming two year old girl through a shopping centre while trying as hard as you can not to look like a kidnapper. It stirs up an interesting mixture of thoughts and emotions. When it happened to me recently, I felt a number of things: disappointment and frustration at my daughter’s misbehaviour, a touch of embarrassment and more than a little indignation at the thought of all the judgmental onlookers shaking their heads and muttering to one another about how the parents are usually to blame, fear that somebody might ask me why I was forcing a child into my car against her will, relief that nobody did, and concern about how easily a person with more sinister motives than mine could do exactly what I was doing and get away with it.

I have a fertile imagination. My mind is in a constant state of rehearsal, conjuring up endless hypothetical scenarios and playing them out over and over to every possible conclusion. As I carried my screaming daughter through the shopping centre, I imagined what might happen if somebody were actually to confront me on suspicion that I was up to no good.

I had no documentation confirming our biological relationship or legal status. I wasn’t even sure that I could rely on her to back up my fatherhood story, especially given that I’d just refused to buy her a chocolate milkshake. If she decided to deny that I was her father, where might things go from there?

I ran through some of the possibilities.

Maybe the shopping centre security guards would interrogate me under a swinging lightbulb, just like they’ve always wanted to do.

Maybe they’d let me go when I showed them how my daughter’s ears look exactly like mine.

Maybe they wouldn’t.

Maybe I’d have to fight off an angry mob of shoppers; some of them armed with pitch-forks that they got from the hardware store, and others armed with leaf blowers that they got when the pitch-forks sold out.

Maybe I’d grab my daughter and we’d run and hide in a maintenance shaft underneath the shopping centre, where we’d befriend a strange old man who’d been living in the bowels of the centre and secretly doing good deeds for the shoppers and staff, and who would later turn out to be Santa.

Maybe I’ve seen too many movies. Far too many movies.

Seemingly innocuous parenting tasks can be uncomfortable for a father to perform on his own. Ask any man who’s sat on a bench at the playground and quietly breathed a sigh of relief every time his child voluntarily acknowledges, and thereby justifies, his presence. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a grandfather. I don’t think I’d even bother trying to take photos of my grandchildren at the beach. The glare of suspicion alone would give me a horrible sunburn.

If my wife is at a playground and she sees another person’s child get stuck on a piece of play equipment, she’ll help the child down without hesitation. I, on the other hand, will stand paralysed with fear, dreading that awkward moment where the child’s guardian sees me interacting with their charge and starts heading my way, moving as quickly as they can possibly move without making it too obvious that they’re rushing to save a child’s life, then pretending to apologise for the kid bothering me when what they really want to say is “Let’s not make a big deal about this in front of the other playground users but get your hands off my child before I call the police.”

Our society is inching toward gender equality but we’re not quite there yet. We still have income disparity, we still have glass ceilings, and we still have men who feel like the only way they can respond to a distressed child’s plea for help is to look away and pretend they didn’t notice, like when a pregnant woman gets on the bus.

I hope I’ll live to see the day when men and women are treated equally, in the paddle pool as well as in the boardroom. My children are already starting to ask questions about why Daddy insists on dressing up like a woman when he takes them to the playground. I’d like to be able to tell them it’s just because Daddy looks good in heels.

3 Responses to 'One of these mothers is not like the others'

  1. penny says:

    Very entertaining

  2. Mark says:

    I just signed up to take my 3 year old daughter to swimming lessons. Now I’m worried – I hope I don’t have to let anyone drown!


  3. Glenn Murray says:

    Very funny mate, but so true. Rest assured, you’re not alone in feeling this stuff. I’ve spoken to other men about it, and they feel equally disturbed. Bring on the heels… You’d look fab!

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