Sex, Computers, & Auxiliary Mothers

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In a conversation about Jared Fogle, Sheila Tone, my erstwhile coblogger at Hit Coffee, said something to the effect that maybe[1] only perverts take a personal interest in children that are not theirs. The rules would presumably be different for professionals and non-nuclear family members (special uncles, aunts, etc). It got me thinking because to me there is nothing odd or unusual about adults taking an interest in kids. Even a personal one. It’s not for certain where an interest becomes an inordinate interests, though obviously there is such a line.

I had three people I would call “auxiliary mothers.” One, my adopted brother’s mother, could be included in family perhaps. The other two fell into a category that may be atypical or might be my own manifestations of something that is typical. Both involve the BBS.

In one case, it was a mother who held an overnight party of BBSers where she mostly stayed out of the way noticed that I was upset and asked me about it. We became close after that in a completely non-creepy way. I would almost chalk it up to “I was involved with her daughter” but that didn’t really happen until later. But I regularly made trips out to her house just to spend time and hang out and I’d even spend the night there as it was way on the other side of town. She was somebody on the outside that I could talk to things that I couldn’t talk about my parents to. Clancy has an uncle (technically a cousin-once-removed, but an honorary uncle) with whom that is the case, though I suspect she was not as open with the uncle, but the dynamics were there. Anyway, this woman would later meet my wife and attend my wedding even though we had drifted apart by then. I still think of her very fondly, though I haven’t talked to her in some time.

One that I think of less fondly, Cyclone, did have aspects that might be considered inappropriate. Once again, it was someone who had kids my age though I was not very close to either of them. Her primary insertion into my life was that she was heavily involved in the BBS. In retrospect, her involvement was kind of weird. Specifically, there were a lot of things going on that would put most adults and most parents on-edge. Perhaps it was less surprising because she was surrounded by young people all day in her job as a science teacher.

Be that as it may, the BBS environment included a lot of things that were scandalous in some ways that shouldn’t have been but in other ways were rather illegal. Specifically, statutory rape laws were publicly and brazenly disregarded. Not Romeo & Juliet Law Exempt stuff, either. If you ever want to know why my freak-out reflex on large age differences tends to be relatively dormant, that’s why. Young adults had sex with high schoolers and no attempts were made to hide it. It was considered as close to normal as any of us could be. Which wasn’t very, because we were mostly freaks and outcasts. But while state law said that sex was wrong if one of the participants was under 17 and there was a larger than three year age difference, our norms were that age difference alone didn’t raise any alarm bells until we were talking about an age difference of at least seven years, someone under the age of 14, or someone over the age of 25. There were relationships of large age differences that were considered inappropriate, but they dealt in part with the particulars of the situation. One of the cosysops (assistant system operators) was nineteen and his girlfriend was fourteen and there was nothing considered to be untoward about it. The guy who ran it, Excalibur, was 24 and his girlfriend was 17 and they’re now married with 3 kids.

And it’s a bit interesting to look back and notice the schoolteacher who was aware of all of this, and objected to only those outside the bounds listed above. She was very hawkish about the 30 year old dude who was obviously sniffing around. She was worried about a sixteen year old who seemed to be trying to groom 12 and 13 year olds. But those were things that were pretty transparently wrong, and her role – to the extent she had one – was to make sure that something was done about it. Would I behave differently if I ran across an online community of youngsters? Well, given the environment in which I came of age and my thoughts on it*, probably not. But I am about the same age now and she was then, and you couldn’t pay me enough to spend that much of my free time socializing with kids. Which perhaps helps make Sheila’s point. Of all the weird things, that she was there at all – as much as or more than her kids – is perhaps the strangest thing of all. And yeah, if I found out someone in my community was there, I would probably look askance.

But Cyclone never had sex with kids. Never tried, as far as I know. And I’d be surprised if she did. I say that I remember her less fondly, and that’s only tangentially related. It turned out that much of the time, she was sexually involved with Excalibur, who was fourteen years her younger. More to the point, though, Excalibur was like a brother to me. And when an auxiliary mother is sleeping with your auxiliary brother, the dynamic is lost. But there was no question of consent. No question that he was an autonomous individual who chose that relationship (indeed, his previous girlfriend had also been in his thirties and had a child in her teens). There is the matter of her infidelity, but for all I know that is an accepted thing in their house. So I find myself not exactly thinking less of her, and if she friended me on Facebook I would probably friend her back (her daughter did, and I did, though I was never as close to the daughter), even if things around me were not exactly as I perceived them to be at the time.

Which leaves me in the position of thinking that she was mostly just unusual. She was married to a guy who was good and decent and did not at all make her happy. The BBS was as much an escape for her as it was for us. Her continued presence was probably related to her ongoing whatever it was with Excal more than anything. Her relationship with me (where, once again I would go and visit her and hang out though I never slept over because it was a much shorter drive) was of the adult-child variety.

So… did any of y’all have auxiliary mothers? Do you think such relationships are creepy even without the specificities of Cyclone? And for those of you who are parents, what sort or nature of attention would it take before you started getting nervous?

[1] I had completely missed the word “maybe” in her comment, which is an important distinction. This post was not meant to be about whether she was right or wrong, but that (I thought) she expressed a sentiment that does seem to be held by at least some.

{Feature Image adapted from 2007 image by IlliniGradResearch}

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41 thoughts on “Sex, Computers, & Auxiliary Mothers

  1. What about coaches, mentors, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, teachers, and so on? The idea that the only adults who take interest in kids who are not their own are perverts is ignorant and absurd, and quite frankly, dangerous.

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    • Chris: The idea that the only adults who take interest in kids who are not their own are perverts is

      …at least to some extent a modern America thing. I question to what extent it would be considered weird in places with a less virulent media.

      And it wasn’t even weird in America in the 60s. I think Will put this in one of the Linky Fridays:

      And what’s that little girl doing with that man?

      “In the very first episode, Gordon takes a little girl’s hand who he’s just met on the street, befriends her and takes her into his home to give her ice cream,” Rollins Westin said. “That’s something we wouldn’t do on the show today.”

      At some point, that kind of thing was considered so benign as to be in a children’s show. Now such a scene seems like a setup for a Law and Order SVU episode.

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      • I think it is probably more American. Maybe European. My girlfriend is from Singapore and she said any older adult (besides older siblings and your parents and grandparents) is always aunty or uncle.

        An Indian friend of mine once wrote a line on facebook about how she found it hard not to call her older Indian colleagues, “aunty” and “uncle.”

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      • Vikram Bath: The idea that the only adults who take interest in kids who are not their own are perverts is

        …at least to some extent a modern America thing.

        And even then, it’s not — or at least it’s not to the degree it’s portrayed, or perhaps just in a different fashion.

        I know a lot of people — mostly men — who have said over the years, “If a kid on the playground falls and is hurt, you have to let it cry because if you try to help the other parents will treat you like a pedophile.” I mean, I have heard this a lot.

        But playgrounds are playgrounds and kids are kids and so this situation happens all the time, and other parents (men included) are always lending a hand, and in all my years I have not seen anyone treated with anything but gratitude (from the kid’s parent) or solidarity (from the other parents at the scene). Likewise, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t have given the stink eye to some dad just sitting there pretending a kid who was hurt right in front of him pretended the kid wasn’t there.

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        • In fact, in my less charitable moments I have wondered if a lot of the “but I can’t help a kid because: pedophile” is just a rationalization stemming from men fearing an un-masculine stigma being attached to them if they contribute to child rearing.

          “I know you’e been watching the kids all week and would like a break, and God know I would love to take them to the park so you could have a day off, but…

          Anyway, I’ll be at the golf course if you need me.”

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          • If it’s your own kid, you’re being a dickface if you use that as a reason.

            I’ve never worried about it with Juju, but I’ve heard enough stories to believe people might bother you if you and the kid are of different ethnicity.

            Be that as it may, if we adopt a #2 and #3, I will live with that.

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        • Tod,

          I don’t hang around playgrounds and I do try to avoid kids in general, but sometimes I do do a certain thought experiment where if I saw, say, a child that’s obviously lost. Perhaps in a store, or worse, on the street. And I wonder how I could both help that child and yet not come across as a weirdo should the parent find the child before I can make it obvious I’m trying to help.

          That may seem like a weird thing to think about in my idle moments. But I really don’t see it as a way to protect my masculinity. It’s at least a sincere concern–maybe not legitimate, but sincere–on my part. Of course, I should add I’ve never really been in such a situation, so I don’t know what I would or wouldn’t do or how that would seem to others.

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          • Gabriel Conroy: I don’t hang around playgrounds

            It’s off topic, but I’m reminded of this from the Ferguson report.

            In the summer of 2012, a 32-year-old African-American man sat in his car cooling off after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park. An officer pulled up behind the man’s car, blocking him in, and demanded the man’s social security number and identification.

            Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile, referring to the presence of children in the park, and ordered the man out of his car for a pat-down, although the officer had no reason to believe the man was armed. The officer also searched the man’s car. The man objected, citing his constitutional rights.

            In response, the officer arrested the man, reportedly at gunpoint, charging him with eight violations of Ferguson’s municipal code. One charge, Making a False Declaration, was for intitially providing the short form of his first name (e.g. “Mike” instead of “Michael”). and an address which, although legitimate, was different from the one on his driver’s license. Another charge was for not wearing a seat belt, even though he was seated in a parked car. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator’s license, and with having no operator’s license in his possession.

            And then he lost his federal contracting job because of the arrests.

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  2. I am with Chris. I disagree with your co-blogger.

    That being said, this is an area where society seems to give women a lot more leeway than men Society, rightly or wrongly, perceives women as being more trustworthy and less pervy than men who hangout and mentor much younger people. Gawker does like to publish stories about female teachers who get arrested for inappropriate sexual conduct with a minor but this gets treated differently for a bunch of reasons:

    1. There seem to be a lot of idiot guys out there who will talk about how a middle or high-school guy having sex with his teacher is totally every guy’s fantasy and every guy who disagrees is a Wimpy Mcwimperson. They seem absolutely sincere in their belief that with an older woman and younger guy, it is always “Hot for Teacher” to these guys. Mad Men portrayed it differently and so did a cheesy 80’s movie interestingly called “One of the Guys.” One of the Guys features a teenage woman who goes undercover as a guy at a different high school to gain respect. She befriends the outsider misfit. She tries to do the guy thing about asking how her friend lost his virginity. The outsider misfit said that when his dad died, one of his mom’s friends did it to “comfort him”. The movie’s view (via undercover female) was “this is totally not awesome.”

    2. Older women who have sex with underage people tend to get more favorable psychological readings and it is attributed to their being abused. IIRC abuse tends to beget abuse and it is a horrible cycle. A friend of mine is working on a PhD in psychology. Part of her training was working with sex offenders. Surprise surprise, a lot of them were horribly abused as children as well. Hearsay but she told me that one of her patients said something like “Sex is how he was shown love as a kid” or something like that. From what I read in news articles, women caught tend to get more of a listen when it comes to stuff like this.

    I remember in college that there was an thing about cons and needing to tell guys in their 30s and 40s not to hit or perve around the teenage girls. A frequent refrain was “15 will get you 20.” Then again, there were also stories about cons that needed to remind attendees to bathe daily. But I also had a female friend who said she liked being Big Sister and I remember thinking that she had a lot more leeway to being a Big Sister. If I (or any other guy) said something about liking to be a Big Brother to people younger than myself, people would think it is creepy.

    Basically a woman in her 20s befriending teenagers and mentoring them is not seen as creepy or needing to raise alarms.

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  3. I saw it pointed out, elsewhere on the internet, that “only perverts take a personal interest in children that are not theirs” can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if it is, when children whose relationship with their parents is poor go looking for other adults for guidance/affirmation/etc (auxiliary mothers, as Will describes them), the only people willing to take a personal interest will be perverts looking to take advantage.

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  4. You want a community with a lot of support structures? You need a lot of volunteer support workers.

    If you’re okay with just a few, you can probably get by with hiring some.

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  5. Even men who work with young children professionally draw extra scrutiny and suspicion. Many men point to this as a reason for leaving or avoiding the field. The ranks remain sparse and those who are present remain anomalies and therefore suspicious. Sigh.

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  6. “In a conversation about Jared Fogle, Sheila Tone, my erstwhile coblogger at Hit Coffee said something to the effect that only perverts take a personal interest in children that are not theirs.”

    Allow me to file this with “all gay people are really pedophiles,” “men who can cook are closeted homosexuals,” and “the only reason a woman ever goes to college is to find a husband.”

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  7. As someone who doesn’t particularly like being around children, I have a hard time understanding why someone does. It is just not in my wheelhouse to get involved in things like this. As an adult, I have found that in reality, I am the odd man out and that many people both enjoy it and feel it is important. While I love my son, enjoying spending time with him only increased as I got older. My wife likes to comment that before we were married (we married when he was 10) that I had no idea what to do with him, mostly because what you do with little children (play and such) doesn’t interest me, outside getting to read to them.

    I do think that as our society has become less community focus and more individual focused (see Bowling Alone) the idea of someone wanting to be community/child focused seems stranger to us, as it is no longer what we expect from people. And just a thought, maybe as we as a community have moved away from children only activities and adults only activities to always having our children with us has further cemented this.

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  8. I never had a paternal or sibling like relationship in my life with someone who wasn’t directly related to me, but I’ve always had trouble forming healthy relationships. I probably have a touch of an attachment disorder with my commitment issues.

    My son has a close relationship with my one of my male friends who I spend a ton of time with. He buys my son shoes, we all have sleepovers and movie nights together and he finds fun things for us to do all together (hiking, pumpkin patch, the zoo, etc.). He doesn’t have any children, and he and I dated for three months when we originally met. By the time I introduced him to my son, we were done dating and decided to be friends. That being said, it does freak him out to be alone with my son. He thinks people will think it’s inappropriate, but after a year and a half, he is doing much better. He even babysits for me.

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  9. So on one hand, men are bad b/c they don’t do more child care but on the other hand they are perverts if they take an interest in kids. What can men do?

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    • People complain because men don’t take on more child care responsiblities for their *own* children. The entire point of this article is the concern people have when men show interest in children *not* their own (check the wording in the OP). Which I also find very sad and disturbing, but it’s got nothing to do with men shirking their responsiblities for their own offspring. Totally different and unrelated issues.

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  10. I am forever grateful that the teachers at my sons preschool, and the other parents, don’t look at me askance because I play with their kids when I visit Bug during the day.

    I don’t “pursue” or “groom” the kids, I’m just an adult willing to get down to their level to play with Bug, so they are happy to join in.

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  11. Kiddo recently said, in I forget the exact conversational context, “I have a dad and a stepdad.” (me and Mr. T respectively)

    That made me really happy. I don’t think we’d ever gone into how to define our family relationship with her, but she’s figuring it out on her own in a really sound way.

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  12. So… did any of y’all have auxiliary mothers? Do you think such relationships are creepy even without the specificities of Cyclone? And for those of you who are parents, what sort or nature of attention would it take before you started getting nervous?

    I’m not a parent so I can’t really answer that last part, but for the other two.

    First–as I said at Hitcoffee–I didn’t have an auxiliary parent, but I did have an auxiliary family that I hung out with a lot. I didn’t completely leave my family–and my family wasn’t bad–but I sometimes felt more comfortable around them than my own (sometimes it helps while growing up just to have a world outside one’s family). Still, it wasn’t a creepy thing at all.

    Second, I suppose my default is to think such relationships are….not creepy, but suspect. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do.

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