‘He swept up my child, shaking her up and down. ‘LET GO!’ When it comes to my daughter, I have no tolerance.’: Dad stresses consent after strange encounter, ‘Women and kids are not all access’

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“I have something to say.

As a dad, life is already quite different for me than it is for my wife. When she goes out in public (it doesn’t matter where) and our daughter starts fussing or crying, she gets death glares, eye rolls, and the occasional snarky side comment. When I go anywhere by myself and have to console my wailing offspring, people are a lot more sympathetic. They think, ‘Aw, he’s trying so hard,’ or, ‘Good for him, he’s being a great dad!’ Seriously. I’ve had people come up to me with sympathetic, helping hands many times. But for my wife? Nothing. People simply judge her from afar and expect her to do better than a crying baby in a grocery story (as if that’s not as much a part of parenting life than breathing).

But beyond that, I find it interesting how moms and dads are expected to take on specific roles. My wife, the sassy, stern, strong woman I love to death, is supposed to be the ‘sweet’ parent because she’s a woman. You know, the nurturing one who accepts apologies and grants forgiveness when the poop hits the walls. I see it all the time, even from family and friends. They are always taken aback when she has to shout or punish our daughter (again, as if that’s not as much a part of parenting life than breathing). They tell her to ‘calm down’ or ‘relax.’ She’s ‘being too harsh.’ I, on the other hand, am supposed to be the alpha, stern, aggressive protector of my daughter. I’m not supposed to take ifs, ands, or buts. I lay down the law, and that’s that. At gatherings and family parties, I’m scoffed and laughed at when I don’t teach my daughter ‘a lesson,’ which in turn means berating her with my manliness and dad authority. I’m soft, I’m sweet, and anyone who knows me should know that by now, and they do. Just somehow not when it comes to parenting.

Now, something happened to me recently where I had to lay down my protector ‘male energy.’ The one time I felt it came naturally and was entirely warranted, I was judged for doing what I felt was best for my daughter. So, let’s set the scene.

Here I am, turning the corner with my shopping cart in Publix (a supermarket chain down here in Florida, if you don’t know). My wife wanted to bake something that weekend, so I stopped in the baking supplies aisle. My daughter is sitting in the front of the shopping cart, minding her own business, when a man (a total stranger, might I add) comes soaring in out of who knows where. I didn’t know it at the time. I wasn’t looking and had walked some feet away to squint at 2 dozen brands of flour to find the gluten-whatever-the-heck almond flour my wife asked me for. Suddenly, a man appears in my peripheral and sweeps up my child. He starts shaking her up and down.

I ask him what he’s doing and he says, ‘Oh, just holding her. Relax.’ He can tell from my face that I’m not okay with neither the abruptness with which he snatched her up or the slight aggression in his movements. My daughter immediately starts crying and is pushing his chest away from her with her little hands. I lean in to grab her back and he takes a giant step back. ‘She’s so cute, isn’t she?’ At this point, my daughter is bloody murder screaming. ‘Don’t touch my daughter. Hand her back to me right now.’ Now I’m the one giving death glares. At this point, I’m getting angry. I’m a nice guy, and I must say it’s pretty hard to get me mad. But when it comes to my daughter, I have no tolerance.

Suddenly, this man, this STRANGER starts walking down the aisle with my baby towards another woman. I immediately go after him and start to grab my daughter from his grasp, but he’s latching on. ‘Let go of her!’ he shouts, about MY OWN CHILD. He gestures to the woman. ‘This is the kind I’d like to adopt,’ he says to her. She just stares, slightly concerned and taken aback. By this point, I was terrified this stranger was one of those child abductors you hear about on the news. When he didn’t let go of my daughter, I kicked him in the shin and then punched him in the face. It all happened in what felts like a fraction of a second. He releases my daughter from his hold. Within seconds he reached in and grabbed a can from his cart and threw it at my back. ‘I was just showing my wife how pretty she was, a**hole.’ People start crowding around the scene. I go back and I punch him again. People lunge at me to pull me back. We are held until security comes. My daughter is back in the front of the shopping cart, crying. Other ladies are trying to soothe her.

Eventually, we were both kicked out of the store. A group of women gave me disapproving looks, one of them saying, ‘Do better for your daughter. Are you KIDDING? A fight, REALLY?’ before walking off. I was livid. I was doing what I did to PROTECT her from some scumbag stranger who literally snatched her away and wouldn’t let go of her.

As you can imagine, it was quite the tale to tell family and friends. While most were accepting of my decision, many enthusiastically saying ‘I would’ve punched him right in his face, too!’ others thought it was too ‘aggressive.’ I was told violence is never the answer and that it wasn’t appropriate to resort to violence in front of my daughter especially.

Let me be loud and clear:

Under no circumstance is it okay to GRAB another person’s child without consent, much less refuse to let go and walk away (or with any woman, too). My wife is an incredibly strong assault survivor and I know secondhand the devastating effects of this toxic society where we have conditioned men to think it’s acceptable to feel entitled to women’s bodies.

Women and children are not all access. If you would like to hold someone’s baby, just ask. If you would like to touch another person’s baby, just ask. And when that baby is old enough, please ask the child themselves for consent. They are the controllers of their body, NO ONE else. And if you decide to break that rule, well, you might be met with a punch in the face, whether it’s deemed ‘too aggressive’ or not. Please have some respect.

And while we’re at it, can we stop with the gendered parenting expectations? My wife is a badass warrior woman, and I’m a ball of mush. No amount of eye rolls, snarky side comments, or societal pressure will change that.”

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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alex Burkhart. Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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