Hands Off The Merchandise: A Cautionary Tale

In times of false bravado, we’ve all had moments where we imagine a situation of injustice and the way that we would like to react.  Someone cuts you off on the freeway.  You witness someone being chauvinistic to a waitress.  You see a bandit steal an old lady’s purse in broad daylight.  We’ve all had those times of “I wish a mother $&#^@ would” come up only to crumble to social norms once the scenario actually plays out.

This is not one of those moments.

This is a story of a father.  This is the story of a father who was pushed to the brink.  This is the story of a father who decided that enough was enough.  This is the story of a father who decided to strike back.

Ok, I’m being dramatic.

This is actually a story of a father who just HATES it when strangers reach in to the stroller that transports his kids and feels the right to touch their faces without permission or warning.  Most importantly, this is the story of that father’s immediate retaliation.

Before I continue, I want to be very clear with anyone who may not think that this is that big of a deal.

It is.

Babies are not dogs.  You don’t get to put your hands on them without asking just because you’re around and you feel like it.  Hell, you shouldn’t do that with dogs if you don’t know them.  If you don’t believe me, I have a few friends with SUPER FRIENDLY dogs that I’d like to introduce you to (Hi, Ray!).

We upgraded their whip with Do Not Touch signs.
The point is that it’s not weird to have a problem with it; it’s weird to think it’s OK.  And it has become very apparent that a lot of people do.

When the kids were very young and
fresh out of the NICU, it was completely a health thing for us.  I was still in fragile Dad mode and I thought that non-sanitized hands would lead to Mega Polio or something.  I’ve since relaxed – learning that Mega Polio isn’t a thing helped – but I have not backed off my dislike for overly-friendly strangers.  If anything, I have developed a loathing for it based on respect and privacy.

If I don’t know you, here is a small list of things that I don’t want you to do:

  • Kiss my wife
  • Take something that I’m drinking out of my hands and drink it
  • Use my toothbrush
  • Sleep in my bed
  • Eat off my plate
  • Touch my kid’s face

Five of the things on that list are non-negotiables for pretty much everyone.  My goal is to make sure that #6 gets that same treatment from now on.

On to the story.

With JheriAnne in serious need of some alone study time as she prepares to dominate her board exam, I decided to take the boys with me to run some errands and to do some laps around some local stores (Target, mall, bookstore, etc) to get them out of the house on a nice day.

As I was perusing the ironic t-shirt section at Target for the 4,382nd time (they really need some new options), I caught the glance of a gentleman in his fifties who was shopping for belts.  I caught him doing a double-take before eventually craning his neck around a rack of jeans to catch a glimpse once he noticed the double stroller.  This reaction is quite common once people notice two babies instead of one.  It’s like they noticed a famous person.  Or someone with two heads.  It’s really probably somewhere in between.

As he made his way over to my section, he gave me the universal smile and head nod that one father will give another with his kids in public.  The definition of each smile and head nod can vary, but each roughly translates to this:  “Hey.  I see you, big fella.  Doing the Dad thing.  Been there.  Good on you.”  I truly appreciate these small encounters.  It’s always good to get a reminder – even if it’s in the form of a simple gesture – that other people are going through or have gone through this process themselves.  I very well could be reading too much into it, but I gladly make it a point to give my acknowledgement every time I walk past a Dad on the business end of a stroller.

Over the last 11 months, I’ve noticed a subtle, but very real sense of comradery when it comes to running into another Dad in public.  It’s often unspoken, but it’s there.  When two guys pushing strollers pass each other in an aisle, it’s the suburban equivalent of hardened motorcycle riders passing each other on the highway with low left-hand.  We’ve seen some things, man.  And some stuff.

In this instance, the appreciative feelings soon dissipated when the man committed his cardinal sin by not only reaching in to touch one of my kids, but he was sneaky about it!

After the initial smile-nod, Handsy McGhee made as if he was going to walk behind me and the stroller to make his way out of the men’s section.  As I looked at shirts with my damn hand on the stroller, he stopped near Isaac, who was positioned higher than his brother, and reached his hand in to run a finger down his cheek.  Without ever saying a word to me.

Like this, but with the back of my hand and no forearm tattoo.
The moment of truth came instantly when I – without ever saying a word to him – reached up the second he completed his unwanted motion and ran the back of my hand slowly down the side of his face.

I don’t know who was more surprised:  him by having his face touched or me by the fact that he DIDN’T RECOIL!  He just sat there and took it.  If this were football and we were debating whether this was a catch, you could say that I completed the process.

The ensuing conversation went as follows:

Touchy McFeelerton – “Whoa!  What are you doing???”

Me – “What are YOU doing?  Why would you think that’s OK?  We’re just randomly touching faces?  How do you like it?”

Touchy McFeelerton – “Hmph…” ::shakes head and walks off::

I raised my voice a little with each question that I asked in retort – which Isaac found hilarious – but the look on his face showed me that my point was hitting home.  He went from being bewildered and a little angry to embarrassed almost immediately which led to a quick exit with no further discussion.

When this sort of thing has happened in the past, JheriAnne and I have been less forceful with our responses.  We’ve done the passive aggressive response.  We’ve politely asked them not to.  We’ve gone the health route.  I have always wanted to go eye-for-an-eye just to see what would come of it.

I don’t doubt for a second that the intentions of Creepy Jones’ were innocent enough.  He saw a cute baby.  Then he noticed there were two and he got excited and wanted to say hello.  On its own, that’s not an issue.  No one who does this has a mean-spirited motive.  Motive, however, is irrelevant.  It’s really as simple as keeping your hands to yourself if I don’t know you.  It’s like the third thing you learn in kindergarten.

Today was good for me because being able to voice a bit of the absurdity out loud to the offender after embarrassing him a bit reminded me of why it is correct to have an issue with it as a parent.

So regardless of the reason why you have an issue with it – whether it’s germs, respect, privacy or you’re still just not completely sure on the Mega Polio thing – don’t ever feel bad about getting your point across strongly.  The behavior won’t change until they know it’s a problem.

And Mr. Jones now knows that it’s a problem.

4 thoughts on “Hands Off The Merchandise: A Cautionary Tale

  1. Mc Jonesiola got away cheap with all fingers still attached for what I’m sure will be more then likely another creepy encounter along hIs line. He should be thankful he caught you on a good day! Awesome column Shaner!!!


  2. Also absurd: available at Target, clothing for children with invitations on the front like “Free Kisses” and “Free Hugs.” The problem here is that if you are known enough by a child to deserve their hugs and kisses, you need not ask. The touching of children is not up for grabs- for a variety of reasons (health, sleep issues, parent preferences, the modeling of positive and confident boundary setting, etc.). When did it become okay? Well done, sir. Perhaps with your educating of strangers in Chicago and ours in California, we will start a revolution that works toward the middle. 👏👏👏


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