Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Who Eats Who?
We went to Red Lobster last Friday for dinner. In the waiting area, there were many children gathered around the lobster tank, my two sons among them. These were some of the liveliest lobsters I have ever seen. They were scurrying around the tank and over each other energetically; Two of them were engaged in a kind of boxing match with fat rubber bands standing in for boxing gloves. The kids were watching these two with the most interest, wagering on who would win. My oldest son provided sound effects as the two creatures tumbled around the tank, backing each other up into corners and making sudden jabs with their impotent claws.
"Someone told me they scream when you put them in the water." My vegetarian wife said.
"Really?" I said. "That's terrible. I hadn't heard that. I hope that's not true."
She shrugged in a self congratulatory way. 'Think about that while you're prying boiled lobster-flesh out of it's shell.', she seemed to say.
I returned my attention to the lobster tank, aware that she had only somewhat foiled my intention. Until I knew her little story was true, I would be able to rationalize ordering a big lobster tail.
Suddenly, a waitress came from out of nowhere, picked up a long stick with several dulled prongs on the end, and pulled one of the battling lobsters from the tank.
"I guess the other one wins." Said a man holding a stack of coats. A few people laughed, myself included, but I noticed my oldest son looked distressed: Up until this moment he knew where his meat came from, but until then he had never given a name to an animal from which it was taken. He sniffled, and I tapped him on the shoulder. "You want to go outside and talk?" I asked. He said he did.
Outside in the parking lot, I hugged him, and asked him what he was thinking about. "I don't want to eat meat anymore." He said. "I don't think it's right for us to kill animals. I'm going to stop that from happening."
I was proud of my son for his compassion and thoughtfulness. I certainly wasn't so compassionate when I was his age. "That's fine if you don't want to eat meat anymore, but I want you to understand that some animals are designed to eat meat. We're animals too, and we are able to eat meat."
"But it's not right." he said.
"Well, that's debatable." I said. "It's certainly fine not to eat meat, but it's not wrong to eat meat either, so long as we treat the animals well. There are some animals that only eat meat. There are some animals that only eat plants. Those lobsters in there, they eat meat too. They eat worms, crabs, and small fish. It's part of life."
I then proceeded to launch into a mixture of Mufasa's Circle of Life philosophy from The Lion King, and Roger Scruton's A Carnivore's Credo. My son wasn't having any of it, and I wasn't having any lobster for dinner that night.
I love my boys. Both of them have excellent, inquisitive minds, and big hearts. I look forward to seeing what kind of men they grow into. If my son decides to stay a vegetarian, more power to him. I will support my boys in their choice of lifestyle, provided it's not a destructive one. Even then I will always have their backs, and will always be there for them when they need me.
It's funny, the things you find yourself articulating when you're a father. You find out more about yourself too, as you find yourself saying what you really believe, and what values are really important to you. I emphasize the word really, because as a good father, you don't want to lie to your children, and you want to protect them from your prejudices and shortcomings. You don't want their development to be hindered by the bad ideas or biases that hindered your own development. You also want to share your mistakes with them so they don't make the same ones.
Parenthood is an important and edifying job: This becomes clearer to me as the requirements of my job deepen. I've only been a parent for seven years now, and the role has already changed me significantly. I can only begin to imagine what the future holds for my little unit, but I'm honored to be able to partake in these instrumental moments in my children's lives. I just hope I don't screw them up too much as I fumble around for the right answers to the questions they ask.
We can't all be Cliff Huxtable, but we can certainly try.
PS: Lobster's don't have vocal chords, so they can't scream when they're put in boiling water . That being said, I would imagine being boiled alive still sucks.