>> Saturday, June 17, 2006
Headed out to Pratt's Falls with a friend today to do a little hiking. I was happy that most of the walk was through the woods...and shaded. I don't think I had been there since I was in my late teens. There was only a few people out there, so it was quite peaceful. While walking, we ended up catching up with an older man and with him a very young little girl. I was bothered by this chance meeting of these two and subsequent thought process. I may need to preface this with a little background info. My friend used to work with me at a different agency in Madison County. She also is an MSW, though had left that position a few years ago to become a Probation Officer in Onondaga County. So, with the exception of N. now being a P.O., we share similar education, training, and work experience.
Anyway, here we are, doing a little hiking, and we come across this man and very young little girl. She couldn't have been more than 5-6 years old. We both did a quick greeting and then N. and I passed them. As we continued to walk, I had taken notice that N. and I were both lost in thought for a couple minutes, as each of us walked in silence. After a few minutes, N. broke the silence with one single statement:
"I hope that guy was not a pedophile."
We each had been quietly determining that likelihood, independent of the other. When N. had given voice to that concern, I had stopped dead in my tracks and just stared at her, with this "I can't believe you were wondering the same thing" kind of look. This had become the crux of our conversation for a good deal of the walk ahead. I was bothered by this on a couple different levels. N. and I mulled over all the little things that apparently sparked our radar: walking in the woods of a park that didn't have many people there. The little girl was dressed in her finest...very frilly dress, with flowers and bows, lace around her ankle socks with black-patent mary janes, and a bow in her hair... she looked like the poster child of Sugar & Spice and Everything Nice. She was dressed more like a confection of sweet fluff, and was suited more for a fine wedding than a hike in the woods. (Think Jon Benet Ramzey sans the makeup)
As femininely and delicately dressed as She was, the man she was with was just as slovenly attired. The only thing missing was the 'wife-beater'....and GOD....I HATE that description for that style of undershirt! Ugh!
Another thing that had sparked my radar besides the fact that he had a tight hold on to her hand the entire time, was that she was of Asian Descent, he was definitely Caucasian, it didn't appear that he was her biological father.
Anyway, as N. and I approached the two, our immediate silence was the only clue that betrayed us as we each, unbeknownst to the other, did a quick assessment of this:
~He did not appear frightened, worried, or otherwise anxious as two women walked past and gave a quick greeting.
~Though he had a tight grip of her hand, he did not tighten it more or slightly pull back which could be a non-verbal warning to the little girl to keep quiet. There didn't appear to be any other non-verbal cues to be used as a warning to not talk.
~The little girl did not appear frightened, nervous, or otherwise uncomfortable, and was not trying to strain away from the man who held her hand. She had a smile on her face and was commenting about the caterpillar she saw on the ground.
This had taken each of us about 3-4 seconds to determine....in that very brief time period of passing them on the path. Had there been any doubts at that time, I know I would have opened up more than just a quick nod and hello as I passed them. I would have probably commented on her pretty dress and what a nice day for a walk, stalling for time to better determine if there's possible cause for police involvement.
O.k., fast forward to the mutual silence between N. and I and her statement of "I hope that guy was not a pedophile."
The other reason why this had bothered me was the sheer fact that suspicion had been cast....so quickly, and based upon a man taking a walk with a young child!! There can be sooo many other possibilities to that same scenario....she could be his adopted daughter, foster child or grandchild, or just babysitting her for the day! She could very well have come from a wedding, and didn't have a change of clothes more appropriate for a walk in the woods. She could be impulsive and likes to wander off a lot, meaning the adults may have to constantly hold her hand to keep herself safe.
Perceptions. I think perceptions play such a large part in anything we experience in life.
While I'm glad that I'm observant enough to my surroundings and through my training, education and professional experiences, am sensitive to the more subtler nuances of a child in danger, I also don't want to casually cast suspicion and doubt upon what was probably a very nice experience for that little girl and 'guardian'. I don't want to pathologize these experiences, just because there are a some pretty sick individuals out there who would groom and prey on these children. I have always had a soft spot for men who are incredibly gentle and exceedingly active and present in their children's lives. So, while I will continue to be mindful of those men who may do harm to the truly innocent ones, I hope to keep a balanced view of the beauty and tenderness of the Father/Child relationship and how rewarding it is for each.
I initially hesitated writing about this experience due to tomorrow being Father's Day and not wanting to mar this day with talks of possible male sexual predators.
But then I realized, the contrast between those male pedophiles and some of the incredible fathers out there, is enough.
What will I be doing??? My own father had passed away when I was teen. I miss him. I think I've been blessed tho, in many ways. I still have the wonderful memories of him, and I also have something that none of my other six brothers and sisters have of his.
I have his green eyes.
Happy Father's Day Dad
And Happy Father's Day to everyone else! :)