When I came home this afternoon and asked Cady Gray about her day, she told me that she made a new friend at Burger King. "But his dad was very mean," she concluded sadly.
Later Noel told me the whole story, and I have to say, "very mean" is a mild description.
The child in question was a boy younger than Cady Gray, probably about three years old. At Burger King there is a large maze structure that kids can climb up and slide down. The boy's older brother was negotiating it well, but the three-year-old was too scared and too little to hoist himself through the holes and up the stacked platforms to reach the top. The father commenced a series of shocking attempts to shame him into a better effort.
"Come on! Iron Man would be able to do it," he encouraged the boy. "Can I wear my Iron Man costume when I get home?" his son asked. "I don't know, because right now you're acting like a little wimp," the father replied.
Cady Gray, being her usual friendly self, decided to help him. But the father wanted the boy to do it himself. "Look, a girl is doing better than you," he told him. "She's gonna kick your butt at school someday."
And the crowning touch: After the boy failed to follow his brother into the play structure, Dad called out, "I didn't know you were retarded."
Our own parenting style is probably more sweetness-and-light and far less negative reinforcement than the happy medium most people would consider reasonable. Still, it's not just the contrast between what we would tell Archer or Cady Gray at that age (and I was just as afraid of them getting too far beyond their comfort zone in those mazes as that they wouldn't go at all) that makes the father's methods disturbing. Perhaps I'm sheltered, but I'm surprised and distressed that the code of manliness is still so unquestioned in some quarters that a father would think such "encouragement" was appropriate right out in public.