you can go home again

Dear Uma: It sounds as though the grandson may be actually of more interest than the spring crop of foals.

Dear Uma:

It sounds as though the grandson may be actually of more interest than the spring crop of foals. This is a state of affairs I can scarcely credit after years of seeing you pull battered photos of the horses from your wallet for friends and new acquaintances to admire, leaving the pristine and solitary picture of your son to languish unregarded.

I did look carefully at the photos of Ry and I am sorry; all I can see yet is an anonymous, swaddled and sleeping infant. The family resemblance you rhapsodized about is in no way evident to my eyes no matter how earnestly I wish to recognize it. The baby is perfectly nice, to be sure, and it is even nicer to know his arrival was so joyously welcomed.

Jason as a daddy is something I can scarcely imagine yet; I’ll have to wait to see him in action, though the photos are a most excellent introduction to the young man as a father. To hear he attended the birth of his son in their home was amazing considering his level of squeamishness about such events was on a par with my own. I have a distinct memory of the time he fainted watching a cat have kittens.

In Africa I remember being struck by the involvement of men with their children; I was unprepared to hear and see the distance in our culture of fathers from their children.

Jason is not atypical; I understand there is more involvement these days of men with their offspring, though still along way to go if the popular media is any indication.

When and why did the separation begin, I wonder? Or was it always thus with our species; the man off hunting for weeks at a time while the women stayed in the cave with the kids.

Along with the aloofness came male violence against children, though this too is not exclusive to humans. Bears, lions, and most notably the Hanuman Langurs (Indian temple monkeys) are known to be sometimes infanticidal.

Elephant fathers are not violent to their offspring; they are simply not around and this is fine with the females. Once a female is pregnant, she does not need a mate for either protection or for getting food. He becomes utterly superflous and outright unwelcome to the mothers, grandmothers, kids and juveniles who make up the elephant family, a grouping known to be peaceful, loving, and nurturing. This arrangement is found in many species where the female is capable, with other females, of feeding and defending herself and her children.

The differences in parenting styles in the animal world is nothing short of mind-blowing. Wolves, with whom we share 75 per cent of our genetic material, are wonderful fathers, but dogs (who are in essence wolves) are lousy dads. Perhaps the dogs’ long association with our species is responsible for their decline in parenting skills.

A wolf father grooms, guards, feeds and teaches his offspring, sharing the joys and jobs of parenthood with his mate.

Ostrich fathers, too, take on full responsibility for having offspring. They look after the eggs while mom goes to the watering hole with the girls and when the chicks are hatched he will risk his life defending them from predators.

Then there is the daddy sun grebe in Guatemala; he is not only a remarkably caring father but also takes his kids out on the water and up in the air. Pouches like small saddlebags on either side of his body, under his wings, are where his blind and helpless chicks go as soon as they are hatched. He is the only bird that takes his offspring on flights.

Interestingly, there is a great deal of new evidence to suggest than homosexual couples in the animal kingdom are not all that rare and enjoy a high rate of success in rearing young. They will mate once in order to get a kid, but will raise the child with a same sex partner. Often, they adopt. Nowhere is there found any discrimination on the part of the rest of the herd or flock to this arrangement. Some gay couples never raise offspring, simply living together and perhaps enjoying the role of favourite uncle; all the pleasures of offspring with none of the nuisance.

When it comes to the nuisance of the young, the prairie dog pups take the cake. They are the most indulged kids of all species and like all spoiled brats everywhere their demands sometimes become too much for the beleagured adults. When this sad situation occurs in prairie dog town, the grown ups will often simply immigrate to another town, too exhausted by the kids to be able to maintain the prairie dog mantra of the kids must never be denied.

Fish, too, number among their species many who are beyond-the-call-of-duty fathers. A breed of carp in Japan is one of several male fish who are ‘mouth brooders,’ a term that is not hard to figure out.

There is a type of frog that mouth broods as well; the eggs are deposited into his vocal sac by his no-good shiftless wife who then swims off never to be seen again. He not only must hatch the little tadpoles, he must then raise them, suffering all the frets and concerns of any attentive parent – all by himself. Other than the homosexual couples, males who raise their young do not seem to have figured out the incredible advantage of getting together with other guys in the same predicament and helping one another.

The seahorse takes male involvement to the extreme, having become the only male animal who actually gets pregnant. He gains the weight and sacrifices his looks, though I suppose there is still guys’ night out to look forward to, where the males gather to exchange stories of past and future deliveries and stretch marks.

Not only does the male seahorse do the pregnancy and the birthing, he then raises the foals on his own.

I found when attempting to discuss this remarkable behaviour with men I know they became acutely uncomfortable and quickly changed the subject or left my vicinity. Also, none of them had heard of this characteristic of the sea horse and were united in their desire to have me keep silent about it.

The beaver, my favourite northern creature, has got it down when it comes to happy families. They live in close quarters; they work together; they share the burden of child rearing and the joys. They are good to their kids and good to one another. Their communities are peaceful and productive. Although they have formidable teeth, they never use them in anger, not against other animals and not against one another.

The father, finding clumsy work on the dam done by his enthusiastic but unskilled young, will simply quietly move the sticks into a proper alignment.

Most tellingly, the beaver families are the only species other than our own who recognize and welcome home adult offspring who have been gone for years.

It sounds just a little like you and Andrew, welcoming Jason home, though come to think of it, no where could I find anything that said the prodigal child came home with a mate. Maybe in beaver society only bachelor children could come home.

Whatever, it is sweet, and now every time I come across reference to a beaver I will think of you all beside your pond.

Love,

Heather

Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.

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