What’s that old man doing in the park reading a book near my children?

This was a question raised by a concerned mom on a social media platform. To put it further into context, the woman who posted her concerns said: “Lone gentleman in the playground reading a book on a bench. Feel awful to think negatively but a bit odd don’t you think?”

It made me stop and think twice and I was of course intrigued to scroll down and read through the over 74 responses (and counting) made to the question posed about two hours before I wrote this up on my blog.

I’m glad to report that most of the people responding leapt to the man’s defense saying that they assume he’s just innocently sitting in the park reading a good book. Some suggested he was waiting for someone. Some asked if the poster was sure he wasn’t, in fact, looking after some children that were playing further away.

Many were saddened by the fact that this man was being judged on social media for doing something that really wasn’t out of the ordinary and perfectly legal.

One person pointed out that he may be a grandfather missing his grandkids living on another continent and that’s why he chose that particular seat near the playground as opposed to one further away within the park.

Others reasoned that perhaps other park benches were full and that’s why he was sitting there.

Another relayed a sadder experience where she and a male (I think it was a friend) went and watched their kids in a park and how the male friend said he was relieved she was there for fear of being thought of as being a ‘perv’ for sitting on a park bench where children played nearby.

I gave my own view to the post, adding: ‘Poor man probably just enjoying a good book. Possibly even enjoying kids around him. Since having my own kids I’ve bizarrely (or not) started to enjoy having them around, watching their antics and cuteness as they play.’

And yes, I even enjoy watching kids that are not my own play. And why not? Why should that me be deemed as sinister or suspicious?

To be fair, it’s not only kids that I enjoy watching. I’m sure you may be familiar with the term ‘people watching’. This is something I also enjoy doing particularly when I’m in a café trying to pass the time, drinking coffee. I may be working or I may be waiting for someone that I’m meeting.

But either way I like to glance up an see what’s going on around me. From the waitress pottering around with cutlery, to the couple staring lovingly into each other’s eyes or the businessman tapping away on his Mac. People can be interesting, whatever the situation.

I thought perhaps there may be some grounds for the woman’s weariness. One person did highlight that there was a recent post of a woman trying to take a three-year-old from a playground.

I tried to do a quick Google on the subject and searched on Facebook, but couldn’t find anything related to that in my immediate area.

But if you cast the search wider to incorporate the UK, there are certainly plenty of horror stories about children being kidnapped. In June this year, for example, The Mirror reported that a man was charged with kidnapping an eight-year-old boy from a London park.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare and these sorts of stories make headlines in the UK for weeks, whereas sadly in South Africa, where I was born, these stories make page three or four as they’re so common and there are other more serious crimes reported on the front pages, which is a post for another day.

I’d like to think that the man sitting in the park was just enjoying a summer’s day. He was happy with his novel and listening to the squeals of delight of kids enjoying the outdoors in the sunshine. Perhaps he was fondly thinking of the days when he was a parent or thinking of his own grandchildren which he was missing or would see later that day.

Innocent or suspicious? A man sits on a park bench reading…

That’s what I’d like to think.

Another mother posted: “What would he be thinking if he knew what we were saying on social media?”

I’d like to think he’d be appalled at such a suggestion. The sad thing is that if he knew, and was completely innocent, he may in the future think twice about sitting near children in the park for fear of generating such suspicion and a social media storm. In my view, he shouldn’t be made to feel like that if he was there innocently.

It’s sad that we live in a world where we’re suspicious first and relay them on social media later.

Would it not have been better to approach the man with a casual ‘hello’ and strike up a conversation than post suspicions up on social media? I’d say there’s more of a chance of that man being lonely than a ‘perv’.

Besides, what world are we living in if people have to think twice about where they sit in a public space to enjoy a summer read? Dads, uncles, brothers, grandfathers, teenagers – please sit and enjoy wherever you like.

Image by José Manuel de Laá from Pixabay



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