The day began like any other. My alarm went off at 4.30am. I snoozed until 5am. I ate breakfast until 5.30am, at which point my son, Felix, woke naturally like clockwork. I fed him mashed bananas, cashew butter and chia seeds. I woke my dad up with a cup of tea and handed the baton over for him to look after Felix as I left for work on my bike at 6.30am. I worked through the day as normal. Then, at 6.49pm I received a call from the police.
They had my dad and Felix. The policeman asked me to confirm security details before they could tell me what was happening. It was terrifying. I told them everything they needed to know and begged them to tell me Felix was okay. They explained the situation.
My dad had been walking down the street near where we live. He noticed he was being followed by a woman. He went into Argos to buy something. The woman approached him in there.
"Can I look after your baby?" she said.
"No, thank you" my dad said, uneasily. She told my dad that she was good with children and asked again. Uncomfortable, my dad left Argos.
My dad noticed the woman was following him and staring intently, now on her phone. He went into the nearby Post Office and asked for the number of the local police station. They didn't know. He called 999.
The police entered a few minutes later and the woman followed them. They asked who had called them, to which the woman said it was her. My dad said it was him, but the police said they had no record of his call. Apparently the woman had been on the phone to police when she was following my dad. She had told them that there was a strange man with a boy and that the man was touching the boy's penis. Needless to say my dad was horrified. The police questioned him so sternly that he thought they were going to take Felix. He gave them my number and urged them to call me.
I was, of course, devastated to hear the details of this and knew that my dad would be very upset. They said that I was welcome to call him, which I did. He told me he was shaking. He said that by now it had become clear to him and the police that the woman was unhinged. She'd told the police that she'd lived with my dad for ten years, despite my dad never having met her and her not knowing his name. The police told my dad that there was nothing they could do with her as she hadn't technically committed a crime. When they'd finished they told my dad that they'd shield her from view so that my dad and Felix could leave without her seeing which way they went.
I was meant to stay late in the office that night but I couldn't concentrate. I left work and cycled home. On my way I got thinking about all of this. It affected me on many levels. I felt that she'd somehow tainted the beautiful thing we have as a family by introducing her evil ideas. How dare she bring that poison to my home? How dare she make me use the words "inappropriate" and "penis" in the same sentence as "son"? How dare she be near my son with her foul energy and breathe his air?
I was worried about her being local. Would we need to watch our backs every time we left the house? Will she follow us home and find out where we live? Who is she? Is she a crazy lady or just a sane but meddling woman? Is she desperate to be a mother, desperate enough to kidnap? Did she lose a baby once? Has she been hurt? So many questions but no answers, until, perhaps, she approaches us again.
What affected me most, though, was this idea that she somehow felt empowered to do what she did. She felt comfortable, as a woman, to accuse a man of this filth and be confident of getting away with it. Can you imagine if I approached a woman and her baby in Argos and asked if I could look after her baby and told her I was good with children? That situation would be shut down in its tracks, not only by the mother, but by the police and every bystander who'd seen us. I would be an instant threat, and so I should be
Imagine another scenario – I'm on the tube and a woman is with her child, let's say a 3 year old boy. Both go to get off the tube but are separated and the boy is stuck on the tube as the door closes. The mother bangs on the door in terror as the train starts to move. I take hold of the boy and signal to the mother to stay where she is, and that I will bring her son straight back to her. Then, a woman in the carriage comes to me and says "I'll take him, it's OK". In this situation I would feel obligated to hand the child over to this other woman, even though I would want to ask who she was and tell her that I have it under control. The reason for this is that she would be seen, and is seen by society, as the natural carer. If the situation were different and that woman had taken hold of the child and told the mother to stay put, I could never legitimately approach her and tell her that I'd take the child instead. I'd be looked on with suspicion because I, as a man, conversely to the above, am seen as an unnatural carer.
I don't want this to turn into a gender politics blog. However, having now entered the realm of parenting, I can safely tell you from experience that it is a place in which men are not safe. I'll deal with it, but I'll just have to go through life looking over my shoulder from now on, and I don't mean only for that woman.