I was driving around town with my father-in-law when we passed a popular breakfast joint. Waiting on the sidewalk outside was a group of four beautiful young women.
By their tight black workout pants and hair in long pony tails, I surmised they had maybe went on a run together or met up for yoga before breakfast. Just as we drove by, one of them stretched her hands way over her head and then bent forward to grab her toes. I almost crashed into a street car.
But my father-in-law? Nothing. No reaction. It was like driving around with a eunuch. Or a monk. I didn't expect him to actually SAY anything — having a conversation with your father-in-law about ogling women seems like a creepy scene out of some Daniel Woodrell novel — but I least expected to catch him swiveling his head to look. Sure, he had just had glaucoma surgery and quite possibly didn't even SEE the women, but I doubted it. I've noticed over the years that he never ogles women, while I can't seem to help it. And lately it's been making me feel guilty. And well, dirty.
You see, I'm a stay-at-home dad and do most of my driving around with my 4-year-old daughter in the backseat.
And I wonder what she's going to think in a few years if she notices me noticing others. Wait, wait, let me back up. It's not like I'm honking my horn or rolling down my window to whistle catcalls every time I drive by a beautiful woman. But I will turn my head and, sometimes, stare. Some people are just insanely beautiful and it's difficult not to notice, and for what it's worth, I will occasionally also gape at bare-chested male joggers and think, "I want those abs." I'd like to think it's such a small gesture that no one would notice, but then I think of driving around with my father-in-law. I noticed how he never seems to crane his neck to catch a glimpse of a beautiful woman. Won't my daughter see that I do it all the time? What do — or did — you think — of your dad gaping at passing women? Did he? Did you notice? Did you think it was creepy? Did you not care?
After the birth of my daughter, my eyes suddenly opened and I could see she'd soon be immersed in a media culture where the field isn't quite level for girls. Books like The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Girls' Book Of Glamour drive me absolutely batty, to use one example of a society that still insists boys should play hard while girls should sit on the sidelines and look pretty. Do girls not enjoy danger, publishing industry? Or should they just spend their free time getting manicures?
As I think more about gender roles and equality (thanks to sites such as this and writers like Sarah Haskins), I'm beginning to wonder whether my own behavior is just as big of a problem as society's. My father-in-law helped raise one of the strongest, most confident women I've ever known, and I'd like nothing better than to do the same. And I wonder if this is one area that needs some serious help. Or is this not the big deal I'm making it out to be? I'd love a women's perspective on a dad's behavior.
Mike Adamick is a writer and stay-at-home dad whose work appears on NPR, the San Francisco Chronicle and his own blog, Cry It Out! .
Want to see your work here? Email us!