Help! A Man Keeps Giving Presents to My 5-Year-Old Daughter.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 7 2012 7:19 AM

Too Much Kindness

A man keeps giving small presents to my 5-year-old daughter, and it's freaking me out.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I have wonderful parents who often watch my 5-year-old and 2-year-old daughters. My parents live at the beach and have taken the kids for overnights, and even for a week. They have become close friends with a nearby couple their age, who also have grown children and a grandson. The problem is that my husband and I are totally creeped out by the man. My oldest daughter has come home from trips to my parents’ house with a "present" from this man: a seashell, a feather, a rock. Once when I was dropping my girls off, I stayed awhile and “Fred” and “Wilma” stopped by and brought a present. It was a sand dollar in a box elaborately decorated with fancy ribbon. I had a pit in my stomach the whole way home and I realized what bothered me about Fred’s gestures. They seem innocuous but are too adult in their presentation; he only brings gifts when my husband and I aren't scheduled to be there; and he singles out my older daughter and doesn’t bring presents for my younger one. It feels like he is grooming her to trust him, and my mommy-warning sirens are screaming. I have no proof or even a suspicion of impropriety on this man's part, but the girls are set to stay with my parents for a long weekend and we want to be certain that my folks won't be socializing with Fred and Wilma. We don’t want to insult their friendship, but how do we explain that their friends are creepy and we don't want them near our kids?

—At a Loss for Words

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Dear At a Loss,
I would never say any parent should ignore a gut feeling about her child’s safety. But from your description of this situation, my gut feeling is that you have overactive mommy bowels. If you see every friendly man as a potential predator, you’re going to convey unnecessary fear and anxiety to your children. Let’s parse your indictment—which you acknowledge lacks a scintilla of evidence of wrongdoing. On its face, there’s nothing creepy about a retired couple who perhaps don’t get to see as much of their grandchild as they’d like taking a shine to a grandchild of friends. Perhaps you don’t run into Fred and Wilma when you’re visiting because they know you’re coming and don’t want to horn in on your time with your parents. Maybe Fred comes up with token gifts for your 5-year-old because she’s so delighted by them, and she’s verbally responsive in a way a 2-year-old can’t be. I’m guessing that the menacing wrapping of the sand dollar (cue the soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann) was actually done by Wilma. Not because she’s craftily in league with her molester husband, but because she’s a grandmother who enjoys crafts and happy looks on children’s faces.

Fred reminds me of my own grandfather, who loved small children. Nothing made him happier than to have one of his many grandchildren sleep over, and I have wonderful memories of him roughhousing with me when I was little. Once, on a break from college, I was visiting my grandparents’ apartment and there was a knock at the door. The sheepish woman from across the hall said she didn’t want to intrude, but her daughter, about 4 years old, insisted on seeing if her favorite neighbor was home. She ran to my grandfather, jumped into his arms, and he swung her around the way he had once swung me. I’m aware of this description of my grandfather taking on a sinister air in light of your letter—and I was one of the children he adored and who adored him! If your internal organs will be in a twist unless you say something to your parents, then you have to speak. Banning Fred and Wilma from your children’s presence could potentially ruin your parents’ friendship, and I don’t think you’ve made a case it’s necessary. But go ahead and tell your parents that you know you sound paranoid, but Fred’s interest in your child makes you uneasy. Insist that your parents agree your children will never be alone with anyone else or out of their sight.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: 5-Year-Old Hitting the Bottle?

Dear Prudence,
I'm in my mid-20s and my best friend from high school is running for political office for the first time. We’ve lived in different cities since high school, so I don’t see him often, but I was the best man at his wedding and I love him as a friend. The problem is he asked me for money for his campaign, and I disagree with his politics. He's smart and well-educated, but he’s a relatively extreme Republican and some of his stances make me sick. If I did donate I suppose I could match his with one to a left-wing candidate in a close race in a different district. What should I do?

—Undecided Citizen

Dear Undecided,
It’s one thing to be asked to donate to a friend’s cause that’s not at the top of your list—he raises money for historic preservation and you’re interested in population control. It’s another to be solicited to support an ideology you feel is noxious. I do wish more people could look across the political aisle and say, as you do of your friend, that while you profoundly disagree with his conclusions, you think he’s arrived at them honorably. Still, that doesn’t mean you should cut a check to someone who would try to implement policies you hate. I think you should write to your friend and say you will always wish him happiness and success. Then say, in case he didn’t know, you need to reveal a secret: You’re a Democrat, a really liberal one. Explain you hope he understands that while you’re personally proud of him, you two need to keep politics out of your friendship. But if he wins, you will raise a glass to a great guy’s victory.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I’ve discovered a fraud in my company, and I don't know what to do. I work at a great, small company and the owners are wonderful bosses. The main division, where I primarily work, is profitable and well run. But another division—where I have some duties—is in trouble, which everyone knows about except the owners. This division is run by a middle manager, “Scott,” whose skills and expertise are lacking. A recent hire by Scott, a guy named “Thom,” is threatening to bring the situation to a head and I am not sure whether I should alert the owners. Suspicions among the staff were aroused when Thom, who was billed as an expert in our field, appeared to know little about our industry. He also started insisting his name was "Tom," not "Thom," though his email and other documents use "Thom." I like research and have access to multiple databases, and I quickly discovered Thom’s credentials are fraudulent, and he’s lied about pretty much everything since being hired. My company does not like complainers and the owners value a culture of kindness. Suspicion would not go over well. But Thom threatens a large part of our business, and Scott is so opaque he appears to be hiding a lot of things. Should I wait for this to play itself out, or should I speak up? I fear being branded as a non-team-player and I need this job for the long term.

—Armchair Detective

Dear Detective,
I hate to break it to you, but if a major division of your company is overseen by a sketchy guy who hires an obvious imposter, and your bosses have no idea, then your company is not that well run. If you would be branded disloyal for bringing to the owners’ attention the fact that a fraud artist is threatening their livelihoods, then you might not have a job in the long term because this business may not be destined to last. Go to your bosses with what you’ve discovered. Explain your concerns were provoked when Scott made a high-level hire of someone who appears to lack familiarity with your industry. Say database research is one of your skills and you discovered information about Thom that shows some serious inconsistencies. Avoid making direct accusations about Scott and Thom—you’re simply drawing attention to the record. (If the thought of doing this makes you too fearful, you can write the trusty anonymous letter and enclose your documentation.) If Thom isn’t quickly gone and if Scott’s division doesn’t have a shake-up, then reread The Firm—and dust off your résumé.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a 30-year-old Middle Eastern journalist who has had a girlfriend for several years. Both of us are virgins. Because of the government and our families we can't have intimate sexual relations, but we will marry next year. I love my girlfriend but the problem is I daydream a lot about sex. Half of the sexy daydreams are about my girlfriend and half of them about other women friends, workmates, actresses, and porn stars. I do not dream about being emotionally close to them, only about sex. Is this a betrayal? Could this end my marriage? How can I stop?

—Daydream Problem

Dear Daydream,
So you want to stop your sexual daydreams—I’ve heard death is a very effective cure. Until then, despite what you may have been told about your sexual fantasies, they are perfectly normal. From your brief description, yours are pretty much standard issue. Your thoughts are not a betrayal and they shouldn’t interfere with your marriage. You and your wife may even want to share some of your fantasies as you get to know each other better in bed. (Leave out the ones about how hot your co-worker Scheherazade is.) I don’t know how accessible sexual reading material is in your country, but as you approach the happy day, you might want to do some boning up on what’s coming. Sex Made Easy, by Debbie Herbenick, is one place to start.

—Prudie

More Dear Prudence Columns
"A View to a Thrill: Neighbor boys peep at my scantily clad daughters. Should I have them cover up?” Posted June 30, 2011.
Loving Thy Neighbor: I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?” Posted June 23, 2011.
Fatherly Advice: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose wife fears he'll abandon the family in favor of his long-lost daughter—and other Father's Day advice seekers.” Posted June 16, 2011.
Businessman on the Road to Ruin: My wife doesn't know I visit strip bars and porn theaters while away on business. But that's not cheating, right?” Posted June 9, 2011.

More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts

All Dogs Go to Heaven: Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 27, 2011.
Sloppy Stay-at-Home Mom: Prudie advises a man whose wife is great at everything except keeping the house neat—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 13, 2011.
The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl: Prudie advises a former bully whose kids are being mistreated by her victim's children—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 6, 2011.
The Accused: A young neighbor's unfounded claims put my family in danger. Should we allow the girl back into our lives?” Posted June 2, 2011.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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