Father of the Year, or Creepy Man at the Playground

The other day Rob and I took the kids to the playscape at a nearby mall. Within five minutes, Rob was the pied piper to half a dozen kids who were alternately chasing him and being chased in a colossal game of hide and seek. Our boys, of course, loved every minute of it, and I loved watching how other kids were drawn into the mix. My favorite moment: twin girls followed him, saying, "Monster! Monster! Chase us!"

For probably an hour, Rob was Monster. Growling and roaring through the playscape, he had kids squealing in delight and surrounding him en masse. When we left, a group of kids followed him to the gate, saying, "Don't go! One more time, please?"

I love watching Rob play. There is something infectious about him as a person. A small example, but no accident: he was voted Prom King and Class Favorite in high school. He has that kind of charisma that draws people in, young and old alike. Whether at a playground or our house gathered with all the cousins, Rob becomes the center of the game. He creates the game, just by his presence, and has so much joy in making the kids laugh. I'm not sure who enjoys it more -- Rob or the kids.

While children on the playground come running to play with Rob, the parents are a mixed bag. Many smile and laugh or, as the security officer in the mall did, they will approach me and comment on how fun it is to watch him play with all the kids.

Then there are the other parents. The ones who scowl from their seats or watch with narrowed eyes. Some parents just don't like chasing games, even on a playground where kids are, by definition, supposed to play. But I know that there are others who disapprove simply because Rob is a man, playing with kids.

It's a sad fact of today, but there is a real fear and concern when it comes to men and children. Especially strangers. People have a distrust and a clear wariness, not without reason. Turn on the news and you'll see the cause for this concern. As a wife, I am so proud of my husband and the way he doesn't just spend time with our kids, but is willing to bring that joy to random kids on the playground, or our neighbors outside in the yard. But I have to hold myself back on the playground from running around reassuring the other parents who are fearful or have misgivings.

It hurts me to know that parents might be creeped out -- and yet I understand it. Even Rob is aware of this, and I can see how he tries to play and present himself in a way that's clearly friendly, not sketchy. Still we both know that the worry exists. I wish we weren't in a world where people have to fear for their children this way. But the reality is: we do.

Is there room in our culture for a man to play with kids on the playground? As a parent, would you be creeped out by this, or love seeing a happy father including other kids in play?



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