An Afternoon at the Zoo

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Wife and daughter at the entrance to the Santa Barbara Zoo

Today I did something I haven’t done in some 25 years: I went to the zoo.
I went with wife Maria and daughter Julia to the Santa Barbara Zoo, to be exact. And I had a great time, much to my surprise.
Young adults – those in their twenties and early thirties – don’t have much occasion to go the zoo, and so it was with me. I search back through the mists of time and seem to remember my last such visit was to the San Diego Zoo in the early 1980s. I was 13 at the time and haven’t been back since. I had absolutely no desire to go to the zoo while in college or building a career. I wanted to travel or meet girls. I wanted to read this or that famous book, or make my personal webpage. I had “adult” concerns and interests. I had a career and responsibilities. The zoo, on the other hand, is for kids who are impressed by what they have never seen before: a hairy tarantula spider, a quick-footed lemur, a majestic bald eagle.
Predictably, the zoo was stuffed full of shorts-wearing 7-year olds enthusiastically pointing and gawking at animals to their parents who hovered near. I saw kids encounter swimming penguins, full-maned African lions, poisonous frogs, hyperactive chimpanzees, long-toothed crocodiles, and tall, skinny giraffes. It brought back memories of my own childhood in zoos where you gape at the animal and then read the accompanying placard that tells you where that animal lives, what he eats, and how he lives. “Oh brave new world that has such [things] in it!” The zoo is equal parts educational and entertaining — the awe and wonder that a child feels at staring a poisonous cobra in the eye from across the glass partition, or in looking at a mountain lion in a cage and envisioning yourself confronting it in the wild. For a spell, I was that kid thinking those thoughts today.
But like most of the other adults I encountered at the Santa Barbara Zoo, I was there because of my child. Truth be told, none of these the animals impressed Julia today, as she is only four months old. Julia was pretty much along for the ride. I was there for Julia and Maria, and for the unhurried summer afternoon our family could enjoy while at the zoo. That is reason enough.
When we were dating Maria and I once visited Disneyland on an all-day date. But after two or three hours in the park, we both admitted we were ready to leave. Disneyland just did have much to offer us as adults. That is normal. But I cannot wait for the day when Julia is old enough to appreciate and enjoy her first trip to Disneyland – at that age when a child quakes in front of the gate to enter the “magical kingdom.” Similarly, I will look forward to the San Diego Zoo. I will look forward to seeing Julia dance ballet in the “Nutcracker Suite.” I will look forward to seeing those events through her eyes.
How nice it is – even relatively late in life – to be paterfamilias. I never daydreamed about family life or fatherhood, or expected it to be so rich. As it was so unsought, so it is the more special. For a man who lives much in his head, it is good food for the heart.

Daughter Julia unimpressed with the penguins.