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The ‘sad indictment on our society’ facing many men right now

Dr Holden is honest here. He says he then thought, “Am I sure I want a male looking after my young child? And then I thought I’m just doing exactly the same as everybody else!”

The male au pair was employed and became a valuable addition to his family. “But I had to overcome my own prejudice.”

It’s not his only example. A second example involved finding a toddler one afternoon, on the beach.

He asked her where her parents were. “Then this woman flew out of left field and came at me screaming and shouting,” he says.

Dr Holden says he was annoyed and hurt by the incident. As a father, he understood how quickly children can escape from their parents. “But I do think it’s wrong thinking I’m the enemy.”

He told me his story during research for my book Fathers and Daughters, and it came back to me this week, after I’d addressed a crowd of Cairns parents on the role of a father in a girl’s life.

“I’ve got a question for you,” one father asked. His 15-year-old had taken him out for dinner for his birthday, to a swish restaurant. It should have been a perfect celebration. “But I just felt creepy. Everyone stared at me. I had to make a big public deal of the fact that she was my daughter!”

That is so wrong. So too is the fact that fathers feel less welcome on school grounds, and having their daughter’s teenage friends over for sleepovers. And yes, even mentoring a women at work.
Just because it is absurd and witless and ignorant doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It is. Ask a man you respect, and there’s a real chance you’ll find another example.

Queensland Detective Inspector Jon Rouse.

Queensland Detective Inspector Jon Rouse.Credit:Queensland Police Service

Queenslander of the Year and Australian of the Year finalist Inspector Jon Rouse, from Taskforce Argos, labels it all a “sad indictment on our society”.

This is a man who spends his waking life investigating men and women who prey on children, and my conversation with him was soon after a public debate about whether it was appropriate for a father to bathe with their baby daughter.

“A knee-jerk reaction,” he told me during my research.

Remember, this is the man charged with heading Australia’s effort to capture online predators; an experienced detective who sees the bad in people, too often.

“I remember having showers with my little girl. For God’s sake, that doesn’t make me a child sex offender!”

“If I’m walking around a pool and taking pictures of lots of kids, that’s really suspicious and inappropriate,” he says. “But if my little girl is jumping into the pool and I take a picture, I’ve got a right to do that.”

Inspector Rouse told me fathers need to ignore the supposition of others, in the same way we still take holidays or visit the city centre, despite the few isolated terror attacks.

A huge irony hangs over the role of men, particularly fathers, in our society now. We want them to step up and be a bigger part of their children’s lives, and every expert says their children want and need that too.

But too many of them – in their own words – face suspicion when they do; watching their daughter’s swimming carnival, or taking photos at an athletics meet, or even buying their toddler’s underwear.

The phenomenon has been partly responsible for the decline in male teachers; the risk of a wrong accusation could upend their lives. Too many have told me that it’s just not worth it.

This is understandable risk avoidance which can easily also be a cover for ducking responsibility.

Men and women need to be allies against bad behaviour and this needs to start from a young age.

Teenage boys need this message just as much as teenage girls. They are not the enemy. People who behave badly are the enemy and the antidote is to behave well.

Madonna King is a leading journalist and commentator who writes for the Brisbane Times. She was an award-winning mornings presenter on 612 ABC Brisbane and is a five-times author.

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