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Tue, July 23

Graham: Sometimes memories are best part of relationship

Doug Graham, The Daily Courier, Copy Editor

Doug Graham, The Daily Courier, Copy Editor

“Dad’s condition has really gotten worse really quick.”

That message from my brother last week caught me by surprise. Because he and my father live in Washington state, I am not always up to date on what Dad’s health situation is.

Unfortunately, beyond surprise, my main feeling was one of indifference.

You see, my dad and I are not close. He moved to Washington with my brother a few years ago, and I have not seen him since then. And we don’t really talk anymore; in fact, I don’t think I have heard his voice in more than two years. The last phone call from him included some rant about Tom Brady (don’t ask).

I don’t want to go into the reasons behind this estrangement; there is blame on both sides. It was not a sudden break, more of a slippery slope. Now, it has reached a point where I guess neither of us is willing to take the steps needed to reconnect.

But when I think about him, and I do on occasion, I try to dwell on the good times, and especially one instance when he truly showed his mettle.

As I have said before, we were regular visitors to the zoo when I was growing up in San Diego. The animals made every trip memorable — especially the bear who liked to wave at the tour buses that stopped outside his enclosure, with a treat as a reward, of course.

But one visit in 1971 stands out for other reasons.

That day, we were going up a raised walkway when we noticed a commotion up ahead as people gathered to look at something. Before we knew what was going on, my dad raced up the walkway.

I couldn’t really see what was happening because of the crowd. Then some people moved and things became clearer: I saw a group of wolves in an enclosure below the walkway, and it looked like they had something cornered.

What had happened: A 15-year-old boy had decided to save time by cutting across what he thought was an open space under the walkway. However, the zoo had recently moved a group of animals into the exhibit, and the teen soon found himself being pursued by several wolves. They set upon him, grabbing him by a leg and trying to drag him off.

Then I noticed a group of men in the enclosure. Some were waving what turned out to be branches at the wolves trying to get them to back away; one man had something light-blue in his hands and was whipping it at the animals. I couldn’t see him clearly, but I recognized what he was using a whip: it was my father’s sweater.

The men were able to maneuver the boy so other people could get him out of the enclosure, and then they made their escape.

I don’t recall a lot the aftermath – I was only 7 years old. I do remember them taking us to an office and waiting while my dad talked to zoo officials.

The teen was taken to the hospital where he received dozens of stitches as a result of the mauling. I remember seeing a picture of him after surgery; he looked like something from a horror movie, but he was alive. For years afterward, his parents sent my dad a Christmas card, giving an update on their son’s life and thanking him for the heroics that had helped extend that life.

My dad and the other men became mini-celebrities for a brief period. A TV station interviewed my dad outside our house, and The National Enquirer even wrote a story about the rescue effort.

We, of course, kept going to the zoo. The wolves were removed after the attack, and the enclosure remained empty for a long time. But every time we used the walkway, I would look down and remember the day my dad helped hold off real live wolves with nothing but a cardigan sweater.

Families are a strange thing. These are the people who have known you longer than anyone else in your life, but sometimes those relationships are the hardest to manage. The old saying rings true: Familiarity breeds contempt.

But no matter where my relationship with Dad goes from here, I will always have the memory of the day fate asked him to put himself at risk for the good of another, and he passed with flying colors.

Doug Graham is a copy editor for The Daily Courier.

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