Parenting Police and the Gorilla in the Room

English: Western Lowland Gorilla Gorilla goril...
English: Western Lowland Gorilla Gorilla at Cincinnati Zoo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only bad parents lose track of their kids. Only the negligent, the unqualified, the  suspect arrive at the emergency room — or funeral home — with toddlers in tow. When something inexplicable and terrible happens to a child, it must be Mom and Dad’s fault. That would never happen to OUR kids because WE impart discipline and maintain vigilance, right?

Enter Harambe, the 400-pound gorilla killed by Cincinnati Zoo staff after a toddler escaped adult supervision, vaulted a railing and fell 15 feet into the great ape’s enclosure.

The ire of animal lovers focused on the killing is not unreasonable. Harambe clearly acted in a protective, rather than hostile, way toward the child. Zoo personnel over-reacted … but understandably so.  With a kid’s life seemingly at stake, the possibility of happy endings disappeared the instant the kid took his tumble.

Harambe is dead. The Cincinnati Zoo will survive a bad public relations week with its legal posterior probably fairly well covered. The kid is okay, treated and released. Nobody left to deal with but the parents.

As a father of three (25, 17 and 15) who have never fallen into a gorilla enclosure at the zoo, or for that matter broken so much as a finger, I guess I could play the parental moral superiority card here. But that would be wrong. There but for the grace of God go we all.

Per a Facebook witness account: “the mother was calling for her son. Actually, just prior to him going over, but she couldn’t see him crawling through the bushes! She said ‘He was right here! I took a pic and his hand was in my back pocket and then gone!'”

I’ve played the “put your hand in my pocket so we don’t lose each other” trick myself. What we have here is not negligence or poor parenting, but rather the terrifying “stuff happens” situations every mother and father sweats through night terrors over until the kids reach, oh, 40 years old or so.

As “free range parenting” writer Lenore Skenazy points out at Reason magazine, “smug and angry [are] a heady combination” for those of us who dodge the bullets of weird child injury.

Heady, but unjustified. Stuff DOES happen. We can’t bubble wrap our kids and store them in the closet for their first 18 years, and even if we could it would be a bad idea.

Mourn Harambe, but lay off the toddler’s parents.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.