Skip to main content

When to turn on the dad-rage?

We're new to this school thing. So sometimes it's hard to know what to make a big deal out of and what to let slide in Buddha-like compassion for others. My general rule when it comes to my kids is that anything that doesn't bother them requires an extra level of scrutiny before it rises to "problem" territory for me. Something of a developmental equivalent to "no harm, no foul." It may bother me but if it's something over their little heads then chances are it's a problem only grown-ups have.

Which is exactly what happened yesterday at pickup from school. The fact that it was at school thus put it in the realm of quasi-child-related issues. But--this is big--it happened while my child wasn't present. It didn't directly involve a teacher of his. It involved school staff. Which, by my usual definition, put it firmly into the realm of "non-problem." Let it go.

Essentially, it was school policy related to pick up procedure. Despite being on-time, the group of parents going to the classroom had already been let into the building. Making me de facto late so that I simply walked in after holding the door for another parent exiting with their children. No biggie in the real world. But in the bubble of school, it got the office secretary chasing after me down the hall and yelling a grumpy "sir" with an impolite lecture about signing in when preschool staff isn't at the door. The encounter ended when the teacher holding the door came back to continue her duty and informed the secretary that there was another 5 minutes or so before I was, in fact, late. I left them to chat and picked up my son.

Usually, a workout takes care of any of my mental stress from the day. They've done studies showing it improves "executive function" and decision-making. So, by the time I got home from running, I realized that this wasn't something I could blow off when I'd already told The Mama about what happened, ran for an hour, and still was finding myself pulled back to it. It was still bothering me. Why?

The training session definitely helped me was the intersection of multiple issues into one. It was the tone I'd been addressed in, for one. If someone from a store or restaurant in "real life" had used that voice or been so blunt about me doing typical, normal behavior for a customer I would have complained to management. You can't treat guests that way.

But rudeness aside, I also realized I'd experienced a common issue for dads because I didn't have my daughter with me. I was a dude walking into a school alone without oversight or supervision. Other fathers with multiple kids know exactly what I mean...the difference between not having a kid or one kid present and having two (or more) elevates or downgrades your social status, level of suspicion, how people behave around you.

Packed into all this is our current cultural panic over school safety, too. It's hard to not view adults walking into a school through the lens of gun violence and an "overly cautious about visitors to the building" society. My right to walk into my child's school, go to his classroom, and take him home--as his father--had somehow gotten all wrapped up in 21st century stereotypes about crime, gender, safety, a broken educational system, public school problems, etc..

In short, I'd been confronted angrily at a school for some of the same reasons we were getting searched before entering the subway post-9/11. Or why we had to take off our shoes for the TSA. We're willing to give up some convenience and manners and all sorts of simple basics about living in civilization to the goal of protecting ourselves from some vague threat. Or we cater our policies to perceptions.

I made the decision while running last night that I may not be able to fix a misguided school policy (at least not on my own), but I can certainly demand more respect should it happen again. (Frankly, if the school is going to be that militant about parents entering the building then they need to do like our school last year and just bring the kids outside to us.) The least that parents should expect is courtesy from school staff. In fact, the more I thought about a whole variety of situations in the school setting, the more I realized that parents are often treated like children ourselves with a set of rules almost as extreme as some of the ones our kids are exposed to.

I don't want to be "that guy" who starts demanding that others "call me sir/doctor/mister, please." It sounds so old-fashioned and I'm a modern, first-name kind of dad. But maybe some old-fashioned demands for manners and answers...not the other way around where parents are asked to answer for ourselves as if we're the ones who need to the way to go in the public school setting. I mostly find educational professionals to be polite, caring, hardworking. So this is less about individuals and more about the way we need to treat families better.

I joked yesterday immediately after the incident that it sure made homeschooling seem appealing though. I'm a product of public schools. I got a great education and believe strongly in the public school system. But even this fan has doubts.