Last night my wife and I both settled down in front of separate screens to watch separate shows (we’re a passionate couple). She wanted to watch ‘One Born Every Minute’, and I was going online to watch ‘Africa’ on the BBC and have David Attenborough pour his honeyed lotion voice into my earholes. (Both shows, incidentally, contained copious amounts of roaring, biting and scratching, but that’s a different story.)
There was a time when I’d watch wildlife shows and relish in the fight between a big cat and a bounding gazelle. You’d see the lioness stalking through the brush, creeping up on her prey, who would probably be just standing and munching some grass. And then there’d be the chase scene: the muscle of the lioness, the leaping gazelle, and David Attenborough once again licking my eardrums with a tongue made out of velvet. (I’ll stop now.)
Anyway, all through the scene, including the gory kill, my face would look like this:
But ever since I’ve become a parent I’ve gone a bit soft. Or softer, I should say – I’ve never been particularly macho, although I did once lift a considerable weight at the gym, but that was a genuine mistake. (If you’re listening, fellow gym buddies, thank you for lifting the barbell off my chest.)
Allow me to explain. During last night’s episode of ‘Africa’ there were two scenes which got to me, whereas once – during my childless phase of life – I would have remained largely unmoved. The first involved shoebills: flipping ugly big birds who, it transpires, are just as mean as they look.
There was this mother bird, who had two chicks. One of the chicks was growing well, and the other - we’ll call him Runt – was struggling. Whilst Momma Bird went to fetch some water, the older chick started beating up little Runty, for no other reason than he could. It was at this point I think I may have screamed “GET OFF HIM, YOU PILLOCK BIRD!” - in my mind, at least.
Momma Bird returns, beak full of water, and Runt – minus a few clumps of feathers – goes to his mum for help and protection. She stands and glares at her eldest son. (I mean, the default shoebill expression is ‘glare’, but there was real anger in her eyes.) At this point, I was all leaning back in my chair, like ‘you gonna get it now, fool’, as the eldest chick looked a bit guilty with a downy string of feathers and skin wafting from the point of his beak.
But what did she do? SHE STEPPED OVER THE RUNT AND GAVE THE NAUGHTY ONE A DRINK. What a cow. If I’d been there I swear I would have waded through the swamp and given Momma Bird a piece of my mind. I’m very British, you see. But whereas once I would have been nonplussed, my expression was something like this:
The second scene was very sad indeed, and those who watched it will know exactly the scene I mean. (That rhymed.) I’ll cut a long story short: essentially, a little baby elephant died of exhaustion and starvation whilst its mum stood by her side, helpless. I think every parent would have had their heart strings pulled at this point: the emotions parents experience are not just limited to humans, after all. The image of the baby elephant trying to stand up but failing, despite gentle nudges from its mother, was both a pathetic sight and a heart-rending image.
‘WHY ARE THE CAMERAMEN JUST STANDING THERE?!’ came the desperate plea from Twitter and Facebook. For my part, I held back. What do you want the cameramen to do, exactly? Sprint across the savannah with a defibrillator and shock the baby elephant to life whilst being pounded on the back by its mother’s trunk? Pull open the baby elephant’s slobbery mouth and give it the breath of life? Jump up and down on the elephant’s chest in some kind of up-scaled CPR? Perhaps they could walk alongside the elephant as it trekked slowly for hundreds of miles, ladling SMA or Aptamil into its mouth every few paces.
These are the two emotions which battled within me as I watched the programme, much like the two bull elephants battled for dominance over the females (that’s right, I pay attention even when David’s not narrating). On the one hand, it’s disturbing to see such raw nature, but on the other that’s exactly what it is: nature. Animals are born, animals die, and time moves on.
And that’s the tale of how parenthood has made me soft. I wasn’t really bothered when the bats were eaten by the eagles. Never really liked bats anyway. But the eagle chick chomping on bloodied bat flesh and then going to sleep? So cute.