Dad Accused of Inappropriate Behavior With His Son Raises Serious Questions

A 52-year-old gay man and father was accused of inappropriately touching his son on a flight, but now he's asking: Would this have happened if he were a woman?

Henry Amador-Batten was traveling home to North Carolina with his young son Benjamin when the pair tried to catch some shut-eye on their United Airlines flight on May 20.

The 5-year-old slept against his dad's shoulder and wrapped his arm around Amador-Batten's. He had his blue blanket draped across him and his dad's hand was placed naturally over the blanket.

During the flight, Amador-Batten recalled seeing a male flight attendant walk by and give a confused gaze at the pair. He returned about 15 minutes later and asked the father if he and Ben were traveling with the people in the row just ahead of them, to which Amador-Batten replied, "It's just us."

"I think he was trying to create a normalized picture," Amador-Batten told Elle of the incident. "If I'd been traveling with the people ahead of me: it would have been two women, two men and two children." This group would've created two 'traditional' families.

During the plane's descent, the pilot delivered the typical announcements over the loudspeaker, but also said there was a "situation at the gate" which would delay deplaning passengers.

"When we got to the exit of the plane, "I noticed in the corner of my eye that one of the flight attendants put her hand out behind Ben and I so that no other passengers could follow us out," Amador-Batten remembers. Eventually, he realized that he was the 'situation' the pilot mentioned.

As would any 5-year-old child, "Ben started getting nervous. He said, 'Daddy, what is going on?' I said, 'I don't know baby.' Then the officer walking with us said, 'Sorry that we have to do this, but there was an allegation made on the flight that you were seen' — and he said all of this in front of my son — 'with your hands too close to that child's genitals.'"

Amador-Batten was then asked to prove that Ben was his son, to which he handed over his adoption decree, Ben's birth certificate and his and husband Joel's marriage license. (He said he always carries these documents as he is aware of his vulnerability to discrimination as a gay man and adopted father.) The father and son were released about one hour later.

Now, Amador-Batten cites gender discrimination over homophobia as the stunning cause of this incident. "There's no doubt at all in my mind that if I had been a female, this never would have happened. Never," he suggests.

When you think about it, he probably isn't wrong. We've been conditioned to believe that because women birth children, their bodies and minds are more equipped to handle the responsibility of child-rearing. With this line of thinking, men take a back seat in actively parenting their offspring.

And since society (and history) has labeled women as more suitable caretakers, it can be alarming when a woman isn't present in a parent/child situation. Combine this with the prevalence of pedophilia in the media—which occurs more often with men than women—and it's understandable why the male flight attendant could have assumed the child was in a potentially harmful situation.

But the attendant's caution could gravely affect Amador-Batten's future, even though he was cleared of any suspicion. "Accusations about child abuse or molestation don't go away," says Amador-Batten, who was in the process of adopting a second son from foster care when these allegations were made. "The adoption went through, but we're still struggling with the aftermath. Ben is still not right. He has nightmares and he doesn't want to fly anymore, and he loved flying."

With scary stories of child abuse hitting our news feeds regularly, this is a difficult situation to navigate. "A certain amount of caution is certainly in order, as we know that men are more likely to abuse children than women," says family historian and author Stephanie Coontz to Elle, but she worries that caution may spin into a mistrust of men in general.

"Men face a real uphill battle in terms of what we expect of them," Coontz says. "We want them to be gentle and loving and warm, but as soon as they exhibit what we consider to be traditionally female ways of relating there's also this element of suspicion."

She also says women are playing a strong role in keeping fathers in a limited role as parents, whether they realize it or not. "Women only want men to help on their terms. They still want to be specialists in the family, even if it involves self-sacrifice."

This 'gatekeeping' practice may lead women to hoard that nurturing role as the 'main' parent, even if that means carrying too much of the family load. Not only does this hold women back from exploring other facets of life, but it limits the capabilities of men as a vital role of the family unit outside of providing financial support.

Men are equally as capable and equipped to love and teach our children, so why aren't we letting them?

This taught line of thinking not only affects the idea of proper parental roles, it can skew children's perceptions of what is appropriate behavior for their own fathers, but only when it's learned from other adults. Amador-Batten recalls this exchange with his son during the hour they were being questioned by police:

"Ben asked, 'Am I in trouble because of this?' And I said, 'Why would you be in trouble, baby?' And he said, 'Because I was holding you and sitting too close to you, daddy.' 'No, that's not the problem,'" Amador-Batten said. "'You can sit as close to me as you want to for as long as you want to.'"

Ben had never wondered or worried about the limits of his relationship with his father until individuals in authoritative positions questioned their innocent actions. If he was sitting next to a female parent in exactly the same position, they would've exited the plane as normal and gone on about their days without worry.

It isn't wrong to be cautiously aware of your surroundings and draw attention to suspicion. If we don't, our non-actions as a bystander could allow something terrible to continue for a vulnerable, defenseless child.

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But we must also remember that a mother/father family unit isn't the only acceptable structure, and that there's nothing suspicious about simply seeing a father parent or love his child.

Just as you remain alert of a child's signals for help, stay equally aware of your own (even subconscious) discrimination in order to see situations as they truly are.

Photo credit: Facebook / Henry Amador-Batten