A comment piece published in Romanian on contributors.ro
As a father of a three year old son living in Bucharest, I am often asked: is this city a safe place to bring up children?
Of course I answer: Yes.
It is full of lovely old women who will kiss and pick up my child, without even being invited.
It seems all women over 60 years of age believe that the children in the city belong to them.
Bucharest has beautiful parks – only a few of which have large pieces of sharp metal sticking out of their lawn.
Many of the street drunks and sniffers of paint thinner are friendly – and often want to engage my child in conversation.
They are so friendly, that one of my son’s first words was “homeless”.
“Look,” he says when he sees a man sleeping on a bench or slouching inside a shop doorway. “There’s a homeless.”
He is so enraptured by the city’s vagrants that he now believes every person with a beard is homeless. I tell him no – not all men with beards are homeless. Some are hipsters. Others are priests.
But this has not stopped him. He walks up to hipsters and to priests, points at them and says: “Look, Daddy, a homeless!”
No dogs have bitten him. Other children play with him without stealing his toys. Passengers offer him a seat on public transport. Doctors and nurses have kept him alive. There are schools.
Bucharest is safe. Its citizens have a good soul – but there are dangers. Parents must be wary of ALL of the following:
When my son was two years old, I was rolling him in a stroller passed the Ministry of Tourism towards the park.
Out of the sky shot a burning cinder which fell ten centimetres from my son’s head. I glanced down.
A cigarette end was lit on the pavement. I looked up at the building and shouted “Who’s throwing cigarettes down here?”
Above, I heard the slamming of a window. Then silence.
I want to inform the Ministry of Tourism that this is not the best advertisement from Romania to its foreign visitors: Come explore our beautiful and dramatic Carpathian garden – where we flick cigarettes at your two year old kid.
I was with my son running along the cobbled and busy street outside the 18th Century Stavropoleos Church in Bucharest’s ‘buzzing’ historic centre.
As children do, he fell over and hit his face on the pavement. He cried and I held him in my arms to calm him.
In front of us appeared a nun.
How comforting, I thought, that a sister of mercy had left her enclave to check on the welfare of one of God’s children.
So I was surprised when she said: “Can you please keep your child quiet because we are trying to conduct a service.”
Anger swelled inside as I prepared to point out her hypocrisy given her faith is built on the saintliness of motherhood.
But before I could say anything, she scuttled back to her sanctuary.
Is this what religion means in Romania today?
A nun telling an injured three year old boy to shut up because he is interrupting her singing?
Anyone driving a car
I was crossing the road with my son on the city’s illustrious central boulevard Calea Victoriei. We were ambling along as the lights turned to flashing green. As we were about to reach the other side, a car in front of us started hooting. The driver kept his finger pressed on the horn.
My son was startled. The man inside was shouting and waving his arms, encouraging us to speed up.
I thought – How can this man go home to his wife that evening with a clear conscience?
‘What did you do today dear?’
‘At a traffic light I honked a three-year old child, forcing him to cross the road faster, even though it was a red light.
‘After this, I pushed a paraplegic in a wheelchair into a river, before walking into a hospital and setting fire to a cancer ward.’
On many occasions drivers have almost murdered my son by cutting through red lights at speed and then swerving when they saw a parent and child.
If they did not swerve, they hoped we would jump out of the way.
It seems killing children is more important than being two minutes late for a business appointment.
Two fat and balding fathers in leather jackets were chatting in a playground in a central park in Bucharest. One was pushing the pram of a newborn, the other smoking a cigarette while his two-year-old boy bounced on a plastic horse.
“Have you done it yet?” asked the second man.
“It was fine!” said the first. “We were worried, but we pulled back the skin and there was a bit of blood, he cried a lot, but now his penis is fine.”
What was this? New fathers chatting about the genital mutilation of their children?
And me, with a baby son freshly delivered in a hospital in Bucharest, do I have something to fear?
After researching and speaking to experts, I realised this was a practice sanctioned by almost the entire medical establishment.
It is acceptable in Romania that parents of a new boy must press their fingers either side of his penis and drag the skin down over its head. If they cannot do this, they ask a doctor to make a small slit in the side of the penis to ensure retraction is possible.
I thought – how can this piece of medieval torture persist into modern life?
But it turns out this is common in the USA.
Campaigners for Intact America, an anti-retraction pressure group believe 100,000 American boys may be injured each year through “Premature Forcible Foreskin Retraction”.
While doctors in the US and Romania argue that pulling back is needed for hygiene, campaigners say this can expose the penis to infection, scarring or adult sexual problems.
It’s a dilemma. But know your choices, parents.
Take control of your son’s penis!