An Open Letter to the Dad Who Tried to Steal My Toddler’s Truck at the Park

Dear Dad Who Tried to Steal My Toddler’s Toy at the Park,

I swore I would never do this. I would never write an open letter. Open letters are so corny! The format is absurd. You will never read this; it’s just an awkward framing device for a usually indignant personal essay. I always swore I would never write an open letter, but then you tried to steal my toddler’s toy at the park, and it’s one of the most absurd things I’ve ever seen a human being do. I’m not going to yell. I’m not going to shout. I’m not going to start a fist-fight with you. But I am going to tell absolutely everybody. So if by some chance you do stumble across this letter, please sit back and stew in the knowledge that I am telling everybody I can about this absurd episode of entitled parenting:

Recently I moved back to the U.S. from Germany. When I came back, I spent some time in Chicago at my parents’ house. Their house–the place I grew up–is very nicely situated for raising small children. It’s walking distance to a huge, free zoo, multiple farmers’ markets, and a completely fabulous little playground that is always full of small children.

My 2-year-old went to that park to play every day, often multiple times. It was great. As is normal, she was accompanied by a giant bag of toys. When she wasn’t playing with one of her toys, I had absolutely no problem with other kids playing with them. (General etiquette seemed to hold that kids could play with other toys as long as the owners weren’t using them, and then the toy would be handed back as soon as the owner came to ask for it or when the owner was collecting their toys to leave the park.)

One day my mother took my 2-year-old to that park, and while the toddler was playing on the slide, a 3- or 4-year-old boy came and picked up one of her toy trucks to play with. So far, everything seemed fine.

Then my daughter decided she wanted her truck back, so she toddled over to get it. The boy would not give it back, which is normal for a small child, but his father made no effort to make him do so, which is not at all normal behavior for an adult parent. Most parents would tell their kid to hand the truck back to its owner and to say thank you for being allowed to play with it. This father made no such move, so my mother decided to tell my daughter that she had to share and that she could have the truck back later.

“We’ll just get it back before you go home,” my mother said to the little boy. I think my mother already thought there was something weird about the fact that the little boy’s father hadn’t told him to give back the truck, so she kind of smiled and laughed and addressed the dad directly, saying, “We’ll just get the truck back before you leave.”

My toddler ran off to play with some swings and my mom went to supervise, but my mom kept watching the little boy and the dad, because I think she was already like, “That dude is definitely going to try to steal the truck.”

And he did! About half an hour later, the father put his son in a stroller and started rolling out of the park. My mother moved to put herself near the park gate so the father would have to pass her on the way out and couldn’t pretend he didn’t see her. But he did try to pretend he didn’t see her! And the little boy was still hanging onto the truck the whole time.

So my mother–attempting to supervise a 2-year-old on the slide while also chasing down the truck-thief–waved and caught his eye, and he kind of nodded back as he rolled out. But still he said nothing, so my mom ran up and said, “Does he still have her truck?”

And the father looks down at his son and kind of does one of those wincing shrugs and says, “Yeah.” But makes absolutely no move to give the truck back.

“Um, well, but I need the truck back if you’re leaving,” says my mother, aghast at this whole interaction.

And the father looks down at the truck again, gives another wince and shrug, and says: “I don’t want to take it away from him. He’ll throw a fit.”

“Well …” said my mother, in a way that was meant to convey “tough shit” without actually saying those words.

“Ugh, fine,” the grown man whined. “I’ll try to distract him, then you grab it away from him.”

This grown-ass man is in charge of the future adult personhood of this little boy, and he can’t even be arsed to teach his son not to steal toys at the playground! Hell, he can’t even be arsed to take the toy away himself, he told my mother to snatch the truck from the hands of his son instead of taking it away himself.

My mother did get the truck back, and the father left the park in an indignant huff, as though my mother were the person being an out-of-line jerk. But seriously, that grown man tried to steal a truck from a 2-year-old girl rather than teach his kid not to take toys that don’t belong to him. I ache for the future.

And as a matter of geographical clarification: If you recall the story about the people in the Gold Coast of Chicago throwing an absolute shitfit and acting like giant toddlers because a gelato stand opened in their neighborhood and they wanted a different kind of gelato stand, this is the same neighborhood. That gelato stand is right around the corner from this park. That’s a lovely neighborhood, and it’s where I grew up. But we have our share of stuck-up, spoiled asshats. And if that father isn’t one of the entitled gelato-protesters, I’ll be shocked forever.

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