Many of you know that I’m a professional Santa Claus. For those of you who didn’t, now you do. This post represents my personal views. It does not speak on behalf of any organization or association of Santas. I stand alone on this and welcome others to join me in this set of principles.
I belong to, have belonged to, and will belong to professional organizations dedicated to ethical and safe behavior as Santa. I carry insurance and submit to a background check annually to make sure that when I’m asked for the proof of my sterling character I can provide it on a moment’s notice. 99% of my fellow Santas are incredible people with spotless reputations and nothing but the best of intentions.
Recently this man,
Matthew Feeney, was accused of molesting children in Minnesota and Massachusetts. Matthew was a casting director, prop master, actor, semi-professional Santa Claus, and a computer geek. It turns out that Matthew had a conviction for this sort of thing back in 1993.
Why does this matter? Because I know Matthew. I have been in a short film with him, I have auditioned for him, I have offered him work as a Santa and he offered me jobs when one or the other couldn’t fulfill a request. Fortunately, neither one of us ever accepted the jobs that were offered.
I never suspected him of this predatory behavior. Mug shots always make you look creepy. They aren’t taken at the best of times and you’re a bit preoccupied with what’s happening. I knew Matthew on the good days. I thought he must be a great Santa. He was charming, funny, versatile, and a great guy. On the surface. Below the surface he was one of the most despised things in my world: a child molester. And that’s why I am writing this post this morning.
Matthew is in jail the last I heard. Waiting for what comes. I am free. And I plan to stay that way. One of our local Santa organizations sent out a message yesterday cautioning us to really get to know someone before we bring them into the group. Well, that didn’t work with Matthew. He didn’t join our group, but I wouldn’t have objected if he had tried (prior to his arrest and the revelation of his criminal history, that is.)
So, for the record, I will never offer work to any Santa who does not provide me with a background check and a copy of his liability insurance from this day forward. I will not recommend anyone for membership, ask them to consider being Santa based on my personal knowledge of them, nor invite them to even sit down to dinner with other Santas unless they willingly join a national organization that requires a background check. Once I have that in hand I will consider it as a possibility. Until they go that extra mile, they are suspect.
Parents, ask your Santa for a copy of that background check and insurance. Protect your children. If the daycare you go to wants a Santa to come in for pictures or a party, get the skinny (pun intended) on the man before you let him in the door. If he won’t submit the paperwork, don’t hire him.
I’m writing this at the risk of really making many of my friends very angry. I have no doubt that I will be shunned by many who wear the red suit for putting this on the internet. Almost all of them are fine gentlemen who would never hurt a child. But I can no longer be sure of this without a criminal background check. That won’t weed out the ones who haven’t been caught yet, but at our age (as a group) it’s more than likely that some form of deviant behavior will have surfaced by now.
To my friends: you have sworn an oath in many cases to protect children, just like Nicholas of Myra. I know the membership dues and background checks will be expensive. The insurance even more so for those of you who have retired and are on a fixed income. But that $250 a year that it will cost may save a child from being a broken shell. I cannot chance that terrible damage because I cut a corner and put a job out there that a molester picked up.
Please don’t get me wrong. I want to reiterate what I said at the very beginning of this piece: 99% of the men who portray Saint Nicholas are incredible gentlemen, of good character, spotless records, wonderful with children, and to be held in great esteem. But I have proven in my own life that I cannot spot a child molester by looking at them. Can you? Don’t take the risk. Because sometimes Santa is not a nice man.