Is This How Black People Feel?
What do you do when you’re the only one of your kind in a crowd, minding your own business, doing the same thing everyone else in the crowd is doing, and you’re singled out by a suspicious person for interrogation? In my case, this morning, I was the only dad at gymnastics among perhaps two dozen mothers and grandmothers, and it was a grandmother who went out of her way to make me feel uncomfortable for existing. I’m not surprised that it was a grandmother because, frankly, mothers these days know better. Nevertheless, this grandmother interrogated me about my need to be watching children doing gymnastics like every other person at the time was doing. She wasn’t subtle about it either.
I have been taking my youngest son to gymnastics at the North Boulder Recreation Center every Tuesday morning for the past 2 years. Today was no different. It is the third week of a new session so there are new faces in the crowd (including the grandma in question). To my knowledge today was the first day that this grandma had been at gymnastics; she hadn’t seen me before (not that I hadn’t been there for the past two years like clockwork or anything). I delivered my boy to his class and went topside to watch from the bleachers. There were no available seats in the bleachers so I stood at the window. I was wearing a fedora (like I always do in the winter), slacks and a collared button up shirt. I didn’t look weird and I wasn’t unshaven. I was there for maybe 10 minutes before this grandma lady approached me from her place in the bleachers to ask where my child was in the class.
The first words she spoke to me: “Excuse me – Do you have a child in this class?” I looked this lady in the face, and her expression (pursed lips) and eyes told me to distrust her; she didn’t ask in that pitched tone that tells you someone is making small talk. She asked in that way you would ask a kid what he’s doing when you catch him with his hand is in the cookie jar. She also went out of her way to approach me. Thus I was defensive. Appropriately I replied, “You’ll have to keep wondering,” and I remained standing there. Other mothers heard the question and were looking nervously at me as if silently slapping their foreheads at the inquisition. They knew who I was and I think they were embarrassed for me, like watching an episode of the office; it’s funny but it’s so so uncomfortable. I expected one of them to interject on my behalf. But they didn’t. The grandma didn’t like my snarky reply so she decided the next best thing was to just make me uncomfortable which, I’m sorry to say, worked. “If you don’t have a child in the class…” Before she finished, I moved down the hall to another window; she watched me, then she followed me. I moved back to my original spot; she followed me again. After 10 minutes I just gave up and stood in one spot and pretended to ignore her as she hovered next to me.
The end of class came, and Alan came up to me and we left. I did not acknowledge the woman, but I wonder if she’ll apologize to me the next time she sees me. Maybe she’ll convince herself that her behavior can be passed off as innocent or that she was just asking a simple friendly question and I was the aggressor. People can convince themselves of a lot when they are faced with humility. I sometimes get mothers at the park who assume I need every piece of advice from them even though I’ve been at home with my kids for 7 years and they’re with infants and toddlers. But, as blatantly sexist as that is, it’s not half as bad as how this grandma lady treated me. I’ve never been made to feel like this before for being a stay at home dad. I’m not normally so defensive, but this lady had some serious issues with me which caused me to become prickly. What about you? Have you ever been treated like a criminal for doing nothing more than existing?