h2>Dating : Have you hugged a giraffe today?
The 2,000-pound animal thrust his head between my daughters’ little bodies. My eight-year-old fed him more grass. My six-year-old kissed him on the cheek.
“Is that safe?” Allie asked.
“Sure…” I took a few more pictures. “If he were dangerous, the girls would be dead by now.”
My wife rolled her eyes and began to say something uncomplimentary.
“I meant to say,” I interjected, “if giraffes were dangerous, they would have made the fence a lot higher.”
We stood on the porch of our cabin at Safari West, a 400 acre wildlife preserve in northern California that includes free-roaming rhinos, zebra, cheetahs, cape buffalo, thousands of colorful noisy birds, and a dozen species of quadrupeds with comically shaped horns. And of course giraffes, one of which extended its six foot neck over the fence to receive some food and affection from my daughters.
“I don’t think the girls are supposed to feed the animals,” Allie said.
“If that were the case, this park wouldn’t allow kids,” I replied. “Kids always feed animals. That’s a law of child physics, right up there with diapers always get crapped in and children always interrupt their parents to prevent siblings from being conceived.”
“If that last law were true,” Allie smirked, “we’d only have one daughter.”
“You’re lucky I can focus under adverse circumstances.”
Allie muttered something that indicated she was no longer listening.
“Hey girls!” a ranger said in her happiest upset voice. “You can’t feed the giraffe!”
My eight-year-old looked puzzled. Ricki ripped up some long grass just beyond the giraffe’s reach, then held it out for the giraffe to chomp down.
“Yes I can,” Ricki explained slowly, as if she were talking to a toddler. “It’s easy. Just hand him some grass and he’ll eat it on his own. See?”
My six-year-old Josie hugged the animal’s massive head as he chewed.
“Oh no no no!” the ranger exclaimed. “Dear, you can’t hug a giraffe!”
“It’s not that hard.”
“No… uh, I know… little girl,” the ranger stammered. “You shouldn’t hug a giraffe.”
“Have you ever hugged a giraffe?” Josie asked.
“Maybe you should.”
Josie smiled, still hugging the animal. Ricki fed the giraffe again. She also offered the ranger a handful of grass.
“Do you want to try feeding him?” Ricki asked. “I’ll show you how.”
The ranger pulled the girls away from the fence and looked around. I knew what was coming next. So did my wife; she disappeared.
“Where are your parents?” the ranger asked.
Both girls pointed at me. Allie laughed and watched from inside the cabin.
“Are you supervising your daughters?” the ranger asked.
Josie giggled at the suggestion.
“Yes,” I lied.
“You’re doing a poor job of it.”
“Well…” I shrugged. “Some things take practice. And just like basketball or competitive eating, I may never reach the major leagues no matter how hard I try. This could be the pinnacle of my parenting ability, and my free range children may be doomed to a life of gleeful irresponsibility.”
The ranger paused for a moment, unsure if I was mocking her or seeking therapy. Josie giggled again, confirming that mocking was most likely.
“Did you see what your daughters were doing?” the ranger asked angrily.
“Teaching you to feed a giraffe?”
“This is serious,” the ranger snapped. “Your daughters could have gotten hurt!”
“By a passive herbivore?”
“Passive means he’s friendly,” Ricki explained to the ranger. “And herbivore means he doesn’t eat children.”
“I know what that means.”
“Then why are you so upset?” Ricki asked.
The ranger gritted her teeth and mulled over her options. She glared at me. I looked back into her eyes and tried not to laugh. It was like a Mexican standoff, without guns or Mexicans or tense music.
“Can we go feed the giraffe while you two work this out?” Ricki asked.
“If I find any of you feeding or touching the animals again,” the ranger said directly to me, “then all of you will be escorted out of the park immediately.”
“That means we’ll get kicked out right away,” Ricki translated.
I nodded and thanked the ranger for her concern and constructive feedback on my parenting style. We didn’t feed or touch the animals again… until our last day, after we’d packed the car and were ready to go.