What the Lion Taught Me

A few weeks back the kids and I went to the San Antonio Zoo, a beautiful spot in the city’s Brackenridge Park, adjacent to the San Antonio River and close to downtown. I distributed the tickets to the children so that they could enjoy the sense of responsibility as they “paid” their own ways into the zoo, and we began the trek around the zoo grounds, visiting the jaguars, flamingos, lions, javelinas, and other ferocious beasts.

As we peered earnestly at a giant, ill-tempered grizzly bear, I casually remarked to Liam that he should hang on to his ticket stub, because the animals are allowed to eat anybody that sneaks into the zoo and doesn’t have a ticket stub. He gave me the purse-mouthed roll of the eyes that so concisely communicates the fact that he knows Dad is talking nonsense, and is therefore giving his words all the attention they deserve.

We moved on from the grizzly to the spectacled bear, the lemurs and llamas, the giraffe and the elephants. As the afternoon wore on, I continued my little joke: reminding Liam to hang on to his ticket, and occasionally pulling mine out of my pocket to show to a listless and disinterested rhinoceros. He continued to skip merrily along, agape at the variety of fauna laid out before him, apparently oblivious to my silliness.

A few minutes later, I caught up with Liam after he had run on ahead, only to find him standing next to Kathy, sobbing as if his small heart had been broken. He had been fine moments before, so I assumed he had tripped and hurt himself or suffered some other accidental injury. “What’s wrong, Sport? Are you OK?”

Liam was crying too hard to speak, but Kathy filled me in, eyes shooting fire: “He lost his ticket, and says you told him the animals would eat him.”

Oh. Crap.

Getting down on my knees, and feeling like the worst father in Texas, if not in fact the history of civilization, I folded Liam in my arms and babbled “I’m so sorry, buddy. I was only joking. I didn’t think you were even listening to me. The animals won’t eat you; they can’t even get out of their cages. Do you want my ticket?” He shook his head no, but his sobbing eventually subsided as he realized that the only mauling he would suffer at the zoo was the emotional one I’d already inadvertently inflicted on him.

Of course, being a five-year-old, Liam had forgotten the incident within minutes. I, however, have been left with a lasting reminder of what an awesome, terrible responsibility it is to be a father, while at the same time being a big, clumsy, sinful human. How can God possibly entrust such an important, difficult job to us? Tread carefully, dear parents — it’s a wonderful and perilous road we walk.