Saturday, April 30, 2011

Helicopter Dad

Whenever I hear about "helicopter parenting" in the States, I usually think of mothers. There are magazine articles, blogs, TV programs, and even books about helicopter moms. My impression of fathers is that they're the ones who give the kids a little more free rein than mothers do. But earlier today I saw a helicopter dad.

Before getting into what I saw this afternoon, let me explain how the base where I work is set up. There are actually two sides that are separated by a busy street and a bridge. The side where I work on Saturdays has the gym, chapel, offices, classrooms, one student dormitory building, and the Armed Forces hotel. Most soldiers and US civilians who visit Garmisch stay at that hotel. The other side has the PX, Commissary, gas station, bank, and all of the other standard base facilities. On Saturdays during my lunch hour I walk over to the the other side to get a little bit of fresh air and exercise and also to stretch my legs. I often see families who are staying at the American hotel walking between the two sides of the base.

As I was walking toward the traffic light where I cross the street to get to the other part of the base, I saw an American man with a military haircut with two girls. The girls, who were his daughters, looked to be about 7 and 9 years old. We got to the traffic light, which was red, at about the same time. The father told the daughters that everyone must hold  hands when crossing the street. The light for us turned green and we all started across the street. As we were crossing, a car pulled up to the intersection and stopped at the light. The father told the girls to watch out for the speedy driver (who had stopped by that time). When we all got across the street, it was time to cross the bridge. On both sides of the bridge there is a railing with bars that's a little over a meter high. The bars are so close together that an anorexic toddler would have a hard time fitting between them. But as we all got to the bridge, the father told the daughters to stay away from the railing because it was dangerous and they could fall into the river. When we reached the base gate, we went through the pedestrian entrance, which is roped off from the vehicle entrance and cars can't get into it. That didn't matter to this dad. He told the girls to walk as far over to the side as possible so that they wouldn't get hit by a car.

To give this father a break, he may have just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. If so, he probably saw plenty of things that would make him feel that the world is a dangerous place, especially for young girls. This father obviously loves his daughters very much and wants to protect them. But Garmish-Partenkirchen is a far cry from downtown Baghdad or Kabul. I can understand that man wanting his daughters close by, especially if they are tourists and aren't familiar with the city. When I'm in an unfamiliar city with my son, I like him close by, or I at least want to see where he is. But the father I saw today made it seem that everything in the short walk (about 100 meters) from the traffic light to the base entrance gate was scary. I felt a little sad for those girls. They will grow up believing it's normal to view the world as a place full of dangers.

If anyone was wondering, I didn't say anything to the father. I wouldn't want someone coming up to me and telling me that my parenting style was "wrong". Even though I disagreed with how that man was telling his daughters about everything being dangerous, he deserved the same courtesy.


  1. It's "Tuppence" from FRK. I wrote you a long comment, but it got lost when I went to another page, and then came back here again. That stinks!

    Long story short: I know a helicopter dad, here in Germany. And he's . . . British! With an American wife.

    I think the "dangerous" country that father was in before visiting Germany was the United States! The peoples of the English-speaking world have become paralyzed with fear of bodily injury.

  2. I wonder if the problem isn't so much where he was away at, but just that he's been away often and/or long. The break(s) from active parenting have left him behind and he hasn't adjusted his methods. My kids say their dad was ridiculous for weeks after returning from a tour. Alternating between banging them and expecting too much.