How to be a Hero?

School has finished, and the career change that was a part of my New Year’s resolutions is underway. I begin a brand new position this week, and, in the transition time between being a full-time student and re-joining the world of the 9-5, I was enjoying a long weekend.

Monday evening, some errands drew me to a local shopping mall. I’m no fan of malls, mind you, but certain things (such as needing to pick up something from the Apple Store) are enough to motivate me to go there. I had our daughter with me, but Karen was otherwise engaged, so I was trying to do what any reasonable parent would do when going solo with their child to the mall: get in, get what you need, and get out.

Let me set the scene a bit by saying that the early part of this week held an event that I was convinced I would never see in New England: warmth. That is, my definition of warmth, not the definition of those who break out summer clothes at 60 degrees here. I was finally able to comfortably wear shorts and a t-shirt for a couple of days (it went away by Tuesday, just for the record). While I was walking into the mall, I noticed a girl walking through the parking lot toward the same entrance. I say that I noticed her because she was attractive, and was dressed according to the weather. I noticed her in the way that any warm-blooded guy would notice an attractive girl, and I went on with life.

I suppose it was coincidence that resulted in her walking back out to her vehicle at the same time that I was making my escape from the mall. She was on the other side of the lane of traffic, but I noticed her again, mostly out of recognition that I had seen her previously this time. That’s when it happened.

I was going through the process of getting my daughter out of her stroller and into the car seat, which also involves moving the backpack-diaper-bag into the car, moving the stroller to the back of the car, collapsing said stroller (I use a big stroller, complete with coffee-cup-holders…no little equipment for me), loading it into the back of the car, closing everything up and then getting in myself. Yes, it’s a long process. There was a car that spotted me going through this process and, recognizing that I was about to leave, turned on its signal to claim my parking spot, valuable real estate in a packed lot. I didn’t realize until the attractive girl walked by this car on the opposite side that there were three guys in the car. They noticed the girl, as well, except they decided to let her…and the world…know about, in the form of “cat calls,” whistles, and comments that I couldn’t completely understand but that I’m sure were suggestive and demeaning. The girl kept her head up, ignored the jerks in the car, and kept walking to her own car. The look on her face, though, grabbed my attention. She was steady, but humiliated, and wanted to vanish right there. She made it to her car, and got in.

I wanted… I so wanted…to get involved in this. I wanted to tell the three of those men to quit embarrassing our gender and respect a lady. I wanted to ask them if that approach had ever seriously worked for them, and when they planned to finish elementary school. I wanted to stand up for that girl who was humiliated and hurt, because she needed someone in her corner. And, honestly, with three of them in the car and one of me, it likely wouldn’t have gone well, but she needed it and I felt that it was what a real man…as opposed to the three boys in the car…should have done. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating that anyone should have escalated this to violence, but someone needed to tell them to grow up.

But, I had a 19-month-old child with me. That sort of rules out anything that could turn even remotely confrontational on someone else’s behalf.

What did I do? I used a passive-aggressive approach, slowly and methodically stretching out the process of returning my daughter and her gear to the car into a nearly five-minute-long process, until the    car with the immature trio moved on in frustration. The girl squealed her tires on her way out of the lot in her one sign of defiance to her insulters.

I wish that I could have done more. These are the moments in which every one of us have a chance to be a hero to someone around us, and I couldn’t find a way to act on it. What’s more, I want my daughter to see me stand up to this sort of thing, because she needs to know that a real man would never treat her that way, and that an honorable man stands against those sorts of actions. I just have no idea how to do that with her tiny little life in my care.

So, I want to hear from you. How should I have handled this situation? What could I have done differently that would have been the right thing for everyone involved? I want to hear your thoughts, because this is the stuff of a real world in need of heroes.

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