I remember that look. The peering eyes of ice-cold judgment, with just a hint of disgust. He reached for his cell phone like he was about to call 911 while his hateful stare pierced through me. He was making direct eye contact like he knew what I had just done. Everything was dirty. There was a seriously foul smell in the air, and flies that were boldly landing directly on my skin, and that of the innocent little 6-year-old girl in pigtails I took to this disgusting place.
I had to get out of there before anybody else could see me with her. So I grabbed that cute little blonde who was still wearing only her bathing suit and made my escape, narrowly avoiding a situation that was sure to escalate. I didn’t want any trouble, I did what I had come to do.
This feeling of shame is one I’ve felt more than once.
This particular time, I was on a daddy-daughter vacation with my kiddo in San Diego, when all of the sudden I *really* had to use the restroom. It was just me and her, and a filthy public bathroom by the beach.
Being a dad didn’t come with a handbook, and neither do daughters. Every time we were out in public and there was no family restroom, I was faced with the question, men’s bathroom or women’s? Either I take her into a women’s restroom and look like a pervert, or take her into the men’s... and look like a pervert.
I’m sure my own shiftiness and level of discomfort projected a different image. Here I am, trying to be the best dad in the world. I’m trying to show her every major kid experience she can dream of: DisneyLand, SeaWorld, camping, fishing, ocean kayaking, Ice Capades... freaking Taylor Swift concert. I’m doing all kinds of things I would never imagine myself doing, and often doing them wrong. This list also includes occasionally invading the women’s restroom, or taking my own daughter into a men’s bathroom stall while I did my business (mind you, I taught her to face the other way — I’m classy like that).
Am I sure if that’s the correct way to do things? Absolutely not. I will be honest, I have no idea. I watch moms effortlessly shuffle their little boys into the women’s restroom as they get "oohs" and "ahhs" and kids get handed lollipops for being such grown-ups, while my daughter is faced with the equivalent of an occasionally smelly timeout and a bunch of angry men hating on her dad. Even women give me “the look.” They stare in disbelief that I am allowed to be escorting a minor (without an adult companion or chaperone with less testosterone) or even running a background check first to make sure I was clean.
But I muscled through these experiences for the sake of my daughter. I made countless mistakes, always with the best intentions. I’m not a criminal; I’m just a single dad struggling to figure out the best way to do things, same as all you moms.
So what’s the point of this incredibly long prelude? Is it just to make the point that gender inequality which cuts both ways needs to stop? Is a cry against our male-dominant society? Or simply an attempt to have more family bathrooms installed on beaches?
Queue Chuck Testa: “Nope.”
The point is that we all make mistakes and are judged by other’s perceptions of us. But as long as you’re trying your best and always have positive intent, and LOVE is your driving force, these situations pale in comparison to the positive experiences that come from your actions. As a single dad, you can’t let your own fear of how people will judge you stop you from being a badass dad.
My daughter doesn’t even recall these horrific memories, which I’ve been scarred by. Those times when I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but I made judgment calls based on what I thought was best at the time. She remembers getting splashed by Shamu while wearing light up earrings with her dad. She remembers burying her dad in the sand up to his head. She remembers how beautifully terrifying the ocean can be when you’re in a 2-person canoe.
Women have dealt with gender inequality since the Paleo diet was mistakenly invented. As a man, and as a father, showing my daugher how to handle this obstacle with dignity and strength is just as important as showing her the world and just enjoying being with her.
So I fought against my own social anxiety and through that hate being projected at me, looked that man in the eye and said “It’s Friday, and it’s a beautiful day for a daddy daughter vacation. ‘Don’t nobody go in the bathroom for about thry-fi, fowty-fi minutes. Somebody open a winda.”
The guy’s demeanor quickly changed. He chuckled, my daughter and I ran back to our sand castle, and I avoided getting arrested.
But seriously, they really should have more family bathrooms in public places.
[jbox title="About The Author" border="5" radius="15"] Chris Hooley is an master of the interwebs, a good friend, a hilarious writer, and most importantly, an amazing single dad to his fantastic daughter. You can follow him on the Twitters here. If you enjoyed this post, I'd love it if you'd subscribe to the blog or the free podcast, and share it with your friends using the icons below. Thanks again for dropping by, I love you![/jbox]