No, I’m Not a Pedophile
“Hi, my name is Samantha and this is my daughter Ellen…”
The words seem innocent enough, and given that they weren’t directed at me, I shouldn’t have thought anything of them. But I did. And specifically because they weren’t directed at me.
When my daughter and I entered the pool, there was a mom and her two boys playing next to the stairs. It was a big pool with plenty of room in the shallow end, so my 4-year-old and I carved out our own spot adjacent to them. My daughter wasn’t a confident swimmer yet and spent most of her time near the stairs playing with the dolls and pool toys she had brought.
I work from home in the wonderful world of freelance writing. This professional choice allows me to have the flexibility to take off at 2 PM on a Tuesday to bring my daughter to a park or a playground or a pool. Usually, there are a few other kids around the same age as my daughter — not yet started school, so plenty of time for a trip to the park. The parents are almost always moms, and while they often group together, I rarely interact with them.
I respect a woman’s right not to interact with a strange man.
I stand apart for two reasons. (1) I’m a happy introvert, so standing apart is perfectly OK with me. I say “happy” introvert and not “natural” introvert because I can easily shift into an extrovert when the mood strikes. Why doesn’t the mood strike at a playground or a pool? (2) I respect a woman’s right not to interact with a strange man. In fact, I respect a woman’s right not to interact with any man, friend or stranger, should she not feel comfortable.
I have a similar behavior upon meeting or leaving a group of friends. If I’m not sure if a woman wants to hug, shake hands or simply be left alone, I stand and wait for her cue. I know some women that love big hugs, whether in greeting or in goodbyes. I also know others that are quick to put their hand out, a shield against any further intimacy.
So when I’m at a playground or a park, I choose to stand slightly apart. I’d rather err on the side of caution than to make a mom uncomfortable with a strange man talking to her while she’s alone.
I was practicing this very philosophy at the pool. The mom had carved out her play area with her kids, and my daughter and I were having fun with whatever game she was inventing at the time.
And then the other mother with her daughter arrived. The daughter was around the same age as mine, perhaps a year younger or a year older. They entered the pool to my right, played for a moment, and then with daughter in arms, the mother circled behind me. I initially assumed they were going further into the pool, but she continued circling until she met up with the mother and her two sons.
“Hi, my name is Samantha and this is my daughter Ellen…”
They clearly didn’t know one another. I even eavesdropped for a “I’ve seen you around the pool…” that never came. No, she side-stepped the man — bearing in mind that her daughter was around the same age as mine — to introduce herself to the other mother who had two sons.
Did she think I was a pedophile?
Again, I respect a woman’s right to choose. But I did feel bad for my daughter who so desperately wanted to make a new friend. I could see the focused stare from the corner of her eyes, the use of her peripherals to scope the new girl out. Did it break her heart a little to see the young girl playing with the boys? Maybe. My daughter is pretty strong. She has a natural ability to shift her perspective, so if it did hurt her feelings, it was only for a moment.
No doubt, it hurt mine for longer. Not that I thought anything of the woman’s actions. I just feel bad for my daughter who so often is left to play alone in a park or playground. She’s naturally shy, so she rarely jumps into the middle of a bunch of strange kids to play whatever game they are playing. And this situation isn’t new to her.
My wife thinks I’m crazy when I bring up the idea that some moms might be uncomfortable because they think I could be a pedophile. Heck, I play with my daughter when we are out. I don’t just stand on the side watching. My daughter loves to coax me into a game of tag that can range across the entire playground. And if other kids join in, the more the merrier.
“They don’t think you are a pedophile,” she says.
No, I don’t think the woman avoiding us actually thought I was a pedophile. Grouping together based on gender seems to be our social norm, whether it be at an after-work function, a party, or (apparently) in a swimming pool. My wife and I often did just the opposite at parties. She’d hang with the guys, while I’d be around the girls. Mostly, we’re just drawn to the group whose conversation we find interesting rather than simply having similar genitalia.
But while my wife casually dismisses my concerns, I remember she doesn’t know about the incident.
The incident happened when my daughter was two. My wife doesn’t know about it because she was asleep at the time. Or, more accurately, she was in a medically-induced sleep while her tonsils were taken out and her deviated septum fixed.
Her parents, daughter and husband (that’s me!) were in the waiting room. The procedure was lengthened by a little straightening that was happening in the nose region, so the whole operation was to take a few hours. My daughter was playing, and having spent the last couple of hours entertaining herself, was starting to move that play further and further out. During one of my frequent checkups, I noticed her diaper had some chunk to it, so I whisked her into my arms, snatched up our bag and took her into the restroom.
Here’s one thing about our society that needs to change: the lack of changing tables in the men’s bathroom. C’mon people, it’s 2020.
It’s a one-seater, so at least I was able to lock the door to give us a little privacy. I do admit, I sometimes would get tickled by the look on men’s faces when they enter a public restroom and see me and my daughter. Hey, don’t freak out! She knows everyone pees. And so long as you aren’t waving your thing about — which would be uncool no matter the occupants — we’re all good.
But back to the story. Locked door. Changing on the floor. Luckily I have a small blanket to put under her to keep the bacteria transference to a minimum. It’s one of those messy ones, so it does take a bit of time. I get her all cleaned up, bag strapped over one shoulder, daughter in my other arm and exit the bathroom…
“Excuse me sir,” the security guard asks. “Is that your baby?”
I give her credit. She’s got no indication on her face that her opinion sides one way or the other. And I should note, being 100% a white guy, my 3/4 Hispanic daughter doesn’t appear to take after me, at least in the looks department. In the smart-ass responses she currently slings at me when I ask her to do her homework, yes, she totally takes after me — and let me carve out this moment to apologize to my own mother — but as for appearance, we don’t exactly look like father and daughter.
So how do you respond when you’re blatantly asked if you are a pedophile?
“Yes, she’s my daughter,” was the best I could muster. Heck, I wasn’t even mad. Perhaps slightly amused. But mad?
My mother-in-law asked me about it when we returned to our seats. The security guard was still eyeballing me. I’m sure there were others staring too — someone called security, after all — but at the time, I didn’t think to look around for who might have alerted them.
“It’s fine,” I told Nanna. “I’m glad they called security.”
It’s true. If you see something involving a kid and you think it is strange, call security. Call the cops. Do something. We can never be too protective of these situations.
Basically, call me a pedophile. I’m cool with it.
I just wish my daughter didn’t suffer from some of the fallout.