Current affairs

On Gorillas…And Other Stuff

When I first started blogging, I wrote a story that I called “Daddy Dating” which was supposed to be a funny look into what it’s like to be a stay-at-home dad meeting other dads at the park.  It was picked up by the Huffington Post, and to this day, it’s my most popular piece.  When I saw it on the Huff Post website, I was beyond excited.   Until I read the comments to the article, that is.

Some people posted that it was obvious the other guy was having an affair with my wife (where did they get that from?) and that I was homophobic (wait…a man can’t write a story about meeting another man?).  Others came to my defense saying it was funny how I captured what it’s like to meet other stay-at-home parents.

I was pretty devastated by the comments — mostly because they were just so untrue.  I know I shouldn’t have been because they were from complete strangers, but I was upset.  These people didn’t know me, how could they take such huge leaps?  And worse, they didn’t even understand the story.  In that moment I decided that I really didn’t have any interest in subjecting myself to that type of public comment about my life.  I’ll get back to this later.

A few days ago, a 3-year old boy climbed into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. To save the boy from an endangered 400+ pound gorilla (Harambe), who appeared at times to be dragging the child around its habitat, zoo personnel shot and killed the animal.  It’s beyond tragic that Harambe lost his life when he did nothing wrong except be a gorilla. Both the incident and the subsequent national outcry have been a major news story.  So much has already been written…and for some reason I can’t stop thinking about it.


I’ve seen some absolutely vile things written about the mother and boy.  “She should be sterilized.”  “She should lose her kid.”  “They should have put her in the exhibit with the gorillas.” “They should have shot the boy instead of the gorilla.”  Who says that kind of stuff without knowing any details (or even if the details are known)?

“How could she lose track of her son at the zoo, especially when he told her he wanted to go into the gorilla exhibit?”  Did I mention he was 3? I don’t know how many kids the woman had with her that day, but it appears that she was tending to another child while the boy slipped into the gorilla habitat.  Here’s one thing I can tell you that I’m absolutely sure of — if  you’re the parent of more than one young kid (or even one), like I am, it’s an absolute certainty that you have lost track of one of your children for a few seconds.  And that is all it takes. If you say you haven’t, you are either lying or the luckiest person in the world. (Hint: you’re probably lying)

Even if by some chance you haven’t lost track of one of your children, you definitely were far enough away from them at some point for a bad thing to happen.  How do I know this?  Because I see it ALL THE TIME.  At the swimming pool, on the beach, at the park, at school even. It happens so often I can’t even keep track.

Of course, the majority of the time it doesn’t end in tragedy, but it sometimes does.  I lost Alex once at a street fair — he wanted me to chase him because he thought it was funny; I wasn’t ready and was doing something with my hands like pouring water into his sippy cup and before I knew it – even with me yelling at him to stop — he was gone.  I lost years off my life in those 30 seconds.  I thought he was running back to the ride we were just on and headed in that direction but he went a different way. What if he had fallen and hit his head? What if he ran in front of a ride and was hit by it? I lost control of that outcome the minute he ran from me. I got lucky. If something happened, would it have been my fault? Of course it would. Am I a bad parent because of it? Nope.

Maybe the boy’s mom is a bad parent, and she sure has to shoulder her share of responsibility for the gorilla’s terrible death…but maybe she’s just a parent like the rest of us doing her best to make it through the day with everyone in one piece.

And here is the part of the story that truly fascinates and depresses me (beyond the death of Harambe), the dad was at the zoo too! Holy crap. Did you know that? How could you, it’s only been reported in a few outlets at most and the mom is getting all the vitriol for not watching her child. Perhaps he was on the other side of the zoo with a different kid but maybe he was standing right next to her watching the game on his phone. But wow, the fact that it hasn’t been reported on and that social media’s rush to judgment has focused exclusively on the mom is a way more important reflection of where we really are as a society.

I read yesterday morning about a petition started on calling for the “parents to be held accountable for the lack of supervision and negligence that caused Harambe to lose his life” that has gathered more than 300,000 supporters.

So, here’s the thing…did they also start a petition to hold parents accountable for the 16-year old girl who drove drunk and killed a family of four who were just as innocent as Harambe? Did they sign a petition to hold the parents responsible for the boys that bullied a girl online until she committed suicide?  She was innocent too.  Are they all vegetarians?  No, seriously, I’m genuinely curious as to where’s the line that these folks have drawn.

My wish is that everyone could see it the way my wife sees it: “It’s horrible that the gorilla had to die.  But my main opinion is that it’s more horrible how quickly everyone rushes to judgment to blame someone – the mom or the zoo.  I wish we could all just say we feel sorry for the gorilla that had to die, sorry for the zoo people that had to shoot it, sorry for the mom who probably blames herself and sorry for her 10 minutes of absolute terror.  It’s awful for everyone.  Terrible accidents happen and it doesn’t automatically mean someone has to be at fault and vilified.”

For what it’s worth, if any group is at fault, it’s actually the zoo.  Not for killing the gorilla — I think they made a torturous decision in a split second and chose the boy over the gorilla. Think of it this way, they killed a friend they had known for years instead of a boy they never met.  I can’t imagine the trauma the people who made the decision are going through. They don’t deserve that.

But I blame the zoo for having an enclosure that wasn’t safe.  And I know that they met all the appropriate guidelines and they’ve said that no one has gotten into the enclosure for 38 years (I bet many have tried), and it’s inspected regularly.  But I’m sorry, if a 3-year old got through whatever barrier they had, by definition it wasn’t safe.  He didn’t jump into the flamingo area. The boy isn’t a Navy Seal, he didn’t have tools, and he isn’t Jack Bauer or The Rock.

And it wasn’t like he spent 30 minutes figuring out how to get in.  While everyone wants to throw blame around, the only real thing that needs to happen is the exhibit, and others like it, need better barriers.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the zoo was negligent and I sure hope the mom doesn’t see this tragedy as a pay day (shame on her if she does), but by definition of a young child getting through, it means it wasn’t safe.  When a plane crashes due to mechanical failure, no matter how many miles it has flown, no matter how many inspections have been done, by definition, when it crashes, it wasn’t safe.

So back to the beginning of my story.  The internet, specifically social media. I don’t think there’s a single thing I can say about the rush to judgment that hasn’t already been said.  I’ve never commented on a news story and I can’t see a scenario where I ever will.  What do people get from it?

I’m not talking about having a mostly thoughtful discourse with your friends/acquaintances on Facebook. I’m talking about the thousands of comments that will appear on a news story about a boy and a gorilla.  People spending hours out of their day arguing with strangers about an event that has already happened, can’t be changed, and in which so few facts are known. I understand if people take the time to appropriately lobby for better treatment of zoo animals. I can absolutely get behind that.   But posting comments on Facebook isn’t action — doing something tangible is action.

A long time ago at some exceedingly excruciating work offsite where we were learning how to be leaders — I can’t remember the details specifically — but I must have been going on about my specific point of view on something and the person leading the session looked at me and said “Neil…do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?”  Total asshole that I was (am?), I sarcastically answered that I actually wanted to be right.

I guess I’m not the only one.


Photo courtesy of

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