It was the little tinkle heard around the world last week, when a UK dad took his daughter, aged four, to the “ladies’’ room. The man’s wife told him off, said he did the wrong thing, and then took the matter to that most sober forum of moral adjudication – a mummy’s blog called Mumsnet.
The prevailing view was that a man should never enter the female bathroom. This sparked a prickly debate on British TV – which was then picked up by news outlets and other social media sites around the globe.
By the time Karl Stefanovic and two female panellists thrashed it out on the Today show, it occurred to me that any minute now some bloke and his little kid will be snapped in the “wrong’’ toilet by a smartphone and posted online to further the frenzy.
Then I sighed with relief. I was the single dad of a toddler from 1992, five years before the first social media site. We frequented so many ladies’ toilets, my daughter and I, it’s amazing our pictures weren’t put at the post office.
Except I don’t remember anyone making a fuss per se. An occasional frosty glance and harrumph, but that was just the fright factor.
A public men’s toilet is no place for men of any sensitivity, let alone a little girl.
First of all, a public men’s toilet is no place for men of any sensitivity, let alone a little girl. There’s the dead-rat factor for a start. There’s all manner of littering that cannot be further detailed. Not to mention so much indiscriminate shaking “hands’’ going on you’d think every second soul at the urinal was running for parliament.
Or as my daughter, Milo, aged three, put it to me when confronted with all of the above one day: “Oh no.”
We had two strategies, both of which were stressful. I’d send her in to the ladies’ on a reconnaissance mission, with the door cracked open so I’d know there wasn’t a pervert lurking inside. If the coast was clear I’d come in and give her a hand. If it wasn’t, she’d say to someone in there: “I’m busting.’’ And maybe, hopefully, they’d help out.
The other strategy was to wait at the door, but not too close, for a woman to arrive, somewhat preoccupied with her own needs. It was almost a Jedi thing to discern if the woman was busting herself, or contained enough to be approached and asked to help.
We never got a knock-back. My biggest worry during these episodes was the state of my daughter’s underwear – especially when I was sometimes asked about her mother. Some women intuitively knew she wasn’t around and had all sorts of questions.
The only uncomfortable moments were when we had the ladies’ to ourselves and someone arrived for business. I’d try and cover up the awkwardness by saying, “sorry, sorry, sorry…’’ and pointing at the kid who would helpfully show off her dimples and say those magic words:
“I really had to go.”