True confession: I like little girls.
Actually, I love little girls. (Little boys, too, just not quite as much.) I love their smiles, their giggles, their chubby cheeks and dimpled little hands. I like to talk to them. I like to smile and wave at them. I like to pick them up and bounce them on my knee, if the parents allow and if they'll come to me. Most of the time, they will.
OK, so before you call the cops, you might want to ask yourself if I'm actually a pervert or just a guy whose little girl grew up too fast, a hardcore dad who misses his toddlers daily, a grandpa in training if not yet in actuality. Anyone who knows me knows the answer to that question.
The problem is, it's getting harder to tell.
And that, for me, is one of the great and lasting tragedies of the Jerry Sandusky outrage. When I heard the former Penn State coach say, in an interview, that he "loves young people," it made me feel like I needed to take a shower (alone, mind you, and not in the Penn State locker room).
What does this national scandal, replete with horrific details, mean for all of us normal guys who really do love kids in a completely non-disgusting way?
It probably means that, for the foreseeable future at least, we're going to have to love them from a distance. I don't think I'm a creepy old dude, but I can totally understand if some 20-something mother thinks I am -- or simply that I might be. Because that's the very issue the Sandusky situation raises: how can you tell the creepy old dudes from the merely old dudes?
Although certainly highlighted by recent events, this is hardly a new dilemma. My boys -- remember, I told you I like boys, too -- stopped playing Little League baseball five or six years ago, as they moved on to other interests, such as girls, basketball, and girls.
But that doesn't mean that I stopped enjoying Little League baseball. I still love to watch kids play, and I'd love to be coaching still. I just can't. At my age, if I hung around the ballpark without a child or grandchild playing, I'd probably be met in the parking lot one day by five or six strapping young fathers wielding baseball bats and issuing dire warnings.
Nor can I blame them. A few years ago, I might have been one of the guys holding a bat. Now I'm just an old guy who likes children, and in a post-Sandusky world, that makes me highly suspect.
So here's the best I can offer: I might not be able to restrain myself from smiling at your toddler, but otherwise I'll keep my distance. In return, please keep your fingers off of 911 and your bats in the trunk.
Rob Jenkins is a local free-lance writer and college professor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.