This week this blog is a COVID-free zone. For some, that’s not working. For others, that’s absolutely working. If you’re in the latter group, read on, MacDuff.

I have always felt a special affinity for animals, especially mammals. I knew well before I got my first tattoo that it would have to be of a mammal, preferably one that nobody else had a tattoo of. (It’s a walrus.) I wanted my first kid’s name to refer to that guy who got in trouble for comparing humans to apes.

I truly think my weird affection for our furry friends has helped me be the parent you say that I am with Dar. (To clarify, I mean those of you who say I’m great, heh.) I’m alluding to Dar not making it easy to love him. I’m referring to him having never called me or his mother “daddy” or “mommy” or anything else. I’m invoking mornings with Dar that begin by my warmly saying “hi!” to him while he acts like I’m not there. Oh, you have a teenager like that? Well, in that case you get it. In that case I’d say loving animals has trained us not to expect mutual affection but to keep on loving anyway.

When Dar sometimes behaves animalistically, I have reminded myself that I’d still love him if he were, say, a dog. I’m talking about an hour of loud annoying vocalizations. I’m talking about eating random things and leaving messes all over the house. I’m talking about things I’m not gonna mention here. And if you’ve been reading this blog, you know this is something I’ve been thinking and talking about for a while.

But then…I saw something this week that made my blood freeze and my mind change a bit.

We have been watching “Disneynature” videos. (OMG: just discovered that Microsoft Word does NOT give a red underline to “Disneynature.” How long before Amazon trademarks the Amazon rainforest?) There’s one episode called Monkey Kingdom about macaques, a type of monkey I saw up close two years ago in Kuala Lumpur, grabbing food out of startled tourists’ hands.

The movie’s first half takes place in remote Sri Lanka. About 30 minutes in, Tina Fey, the narrator, says “Like any mother, Maya probably wants to freeze her child in time. This, right now, this is the perfect age.” I always find these kinds of statements mildly triggering. I always think: you THINK you want a little toddler for life. If you got what you wanted, you wouldn’t want it. Take it from someone who knows.

But then, heh, the movie twists that around. Maya’s kid gets into all kinds of random mischief. Tina Fey goes on: “Infants get a pass to be annoying in their early weeks. Older monkeys just have to look the other way…But not everyone plays by the rules.” And we see an adult monkey slap the crap out of Maya’s kid.

You know how in Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler realizes “three fundamental truths at the exact same time?” Yes, you do.

Number One: I have behaved like Maya’s kid. I have rarely been slapped for it (though that has happened), but I have been ostracized. It’s all fine to be the loud rebel until you find you need to make your way in school and work. I believe squandered potential has a lot to do with not getting along with the right people at the right time. (Which is weird in my case, because I truly love and listen to my elders and betters and mentors, but….) Maybe I wasn’t quite Maya’s kid, but that kind of cantankerous behavior is related to the problem. And…Dar exhibits some of that behavior. He IS my son, he IS like me in ways that I don’t like.

Number Two: Dar is not an animal because he would not survive amongst animals. Every group of animals on Disney videos fights in packs. The weak get killed or abandoned. If Dar was in a pack, it would leave him. They would let him die, and then forget about him. I never really thought about this before. I think the “this is the perfect age” stuff set me up for an epiphany.

Number Three: Dar’s continued existence is a rare privilege of a lot of unusual American 21st century circumstances. That’s not a realization. The realization: if Dar is not an animal, he must be a human. And if he could only survive as a human, there must be something about his circumstances that proves his humanity and ours. Put another way, we create and define non-animalistic humanity when we care for people like Dar.