A dad on kid duty the park is not the anomaly it once was, but we’re still outnumbered. You think we don’t see you checking us out, but we do. You clock us top to bottom. You note our gear, our diaper bag situation. You verify our skills and time the speed at which we respond to a sand-toy skirmish. The observation of parental techniques is common enough between any two people engaged in the art, but when you watch a park dad, there’s genuine curiosity that I cop to as well. Watching a dad work the park is kind of like watching a rerun of the original American Gladiators program: It looks a little weird, but no one’s getting hurt, and fun when they really get into it.
At least, that’s what I think, and I that’s what I think you’re thinking.
You must see us checking you at as well, and I wonder what you think we’re thinking. A park’s a funny scene. Its social contracts run deep. I’ve been a park regular, I’ve been a park outsider. I think when it gets the most interesting is when you’re at your regular park but you don’t really know anyone there. So you’re comfortable, you see people that are kind of familiar, but you’re alone with the kids.
Did you just feel the impulse to check your phone? See if someone emailed you? Post the super-cute photos you took? Yeah, there’s too much of that. I have succumbed to this reflex too many times and have trained myself off it. So now there I am, alone with the kids and a bunch of women. I’m not proud of it, but if you’re watching you might catch me mid park leer.
Being mustached, I’m sure this is regarded with immediate suspicion. No one trusts a mustache, and that’s probably the right call. I’d like to assure you that while my park leer contains nothing overtly untoward, I must confess to intimate thoughts. But not, like, sexually intimate. Try to understand. I’m on interrupted sleep, trying not to check my phone for phantom updates and alone with my kids and a bunch of women.
So I see you Mom-ing it up over there, and then I look to see if I can see what you were like before you had kids. I look at you and imagine you in courtship with whoever it was that knocked you up, picture you in love’s full flush. I see you getting dolled up for dates, looking too good for his old 4 Runner. I fancy you traveling, on long road trips with a warm Snapple and a mix CD you made in college, alert in foreign airports. I put you before marriage, living with girlfriends in a not-great three bedroom apartment, reading the paper and eating cereal. I imagine your work life before your work life was putting on stretch pants and hustling kids into diapers. I imagine you succeeding, getting a detail just right, I wonder if you were the type that couldn’t quite manage to hide her pride in these moments. I guess at your college life, wonder what kind of institution you found yourself in, wonder about sororities. I look at you and try to find everything that you were before you were a mom.
This being a true and honest confession, I have no gauge on how creepy this is. All I know is that in those moments, it’s better than looking at my phone and that I hope you never see me doing it.