Papa Sez by Todd Hunter-Gilbert Issue #5
Papa Sez
by Todd Hunter-Gilbert

Don't Just Stand There - January 2003

Past Issues

As I write this, somewhat ahead of Shake's publication date, summer is nearing its close. It has been a season replete with child abductions and abuse, and we wait to see if the occurrences will subside with the mercury.

At the moments when the news was not breaking, airwaves filled with cultural analyses and, most usefully, advise to protect yourself and your family. I recall one piece of advice in particular which struck me as both wonderfully true and monstrously sad. The subject was what to tell your kids to do should they ever get lost from their parents. The advice was simple, always a commodity when instructing children. It was, "Find a mom."

The theory is inarguable. A woman with a child in tow will presumably have the capacity to meet any emergency needs your child has. She'll also, almost assuredly, recognize the terror the lost parents will be feeling and be willing to help. And, finally, the abductors of children are disproportionately male.

So, as a means of dealing with the status quo, it's great. But, about that status quo....

It would be nice (an exercise in understatement) if the image of the entire male gender could be redeemed on this issue. But short of a complete cessation of the crimes, that isn't going to happen. Perhaps a subset of the gender--like the honored subset of the female gender. Perhaps, "fathers".

But how?

Several months ago I came across an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was the story of a woman, a single mother apparently as the article never mentioned a father, who died in her home and was not discovered for five to ten days. The woman had a toddler age child who was in the house with her.

Now, there's only two ways this story can go from there and the story went the better of the two. The story went on to describe the condition of the child, how it had found food, and so on.

All of which is fairly unremarkable and I wouldn't be mentioning the story at all but for the second to last paragraph. At that point, a neighbor of the unfortunate woman added his commentary. He said that a couple of days before the grisly discovery he had passed their door and seen the child staring out a front window--looking forlorn, in need of...something.

He did nothing, of course. And I'm not going to tell you I'd expect him to have done otherwise. Neither will I tell you that I would have done differently.

We have, after all, become a nation of recluses--as likely to invite ourselves into the affairs of others as we are to rip curtains from our windows, laying ourselves bare to anyone curious enough to look. What was once thought of as looking out for each other is now called "keeping tabs" and has a far more sinister conotation. The last time such behavior was routinely welcomed, a guy nammed Ozzie had his own television show.

And though Osbourne will never be Nelson, perhaps there are bits of that vanished culture we can reclaim.

For what are the likely consequences had that neighbor knocked on that door and the mother, rather than lying on the floor at room temperature, been able to answer the knock? Most likely some mix of embarrassment and amusement. Perhaps a flash of anger or a twinge of fear. And maybe, some time later, a sense of relief in knowing that somebody might notice if something should go drastically wrong.

So I bring you a call to action. And though I was thinking specifically of fathers when I began, it is equally valid for anyone, male or female, parental or not. The next time you see a child and your internal radar starts telling you something is wrong, please consider getting involved enough to make sure that child is safe.

The society you save could be your own.

Be well.

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