So last weekend, I took my daughter Casey to The Bronx Zoo.
That, in itself, is not a remarkable statement, since parents in the New York Metro area have been taking their children to The Bronx Zoo for well over a century.
But the thing is, my daughter turns 30 tomorrow.
My family always loved going to the zoo. When Casey was a kid, we lived in Westchester, just a short ride away. We’d buy annual passes and go often to visit what Casey called “the ammals.” She’d talk to them in their own languages. (“Roar!”) She’d ride the camel or the elephant (whichever one was working that day.) We saw giraffes mating once and had to explain to her why one of the giraffes had five legs.
There’s a Children Zoo, and we’d go in there, and Casey would pop her head into the prairie dog exhibit, and slide into one of the turtle shells, and feed the farm animals. We never kept track of Casey’s growth by drawing a ruler on the kitchen wall, but we have this series of official Children’s Zoo photos of Casey with various animals sitting in her lap and her head getting closer to the Children’s Zoo logo on the wall behind her.
When she got older we stopped going as much, but we made a sort of tradition of visiting the gorillas on Father’s Day. I’d like to think that wasn’t meant as any sort of commentary about me; we just enjoyed watching the gorillas.
Our trip to the zoo last weekend reminded me of days Casey and I spent together when she was a pre-teen. My wife Barbara is a real estate agent and was often working on weekends, so Casey and I spent a lot of time together. I still remember two days in particular. On one day, we went to the old World’s Fair grounds in Queens. There was a cool art exhibit there, and some memorabilia from the fair, and the Unisphere, and of course that weird building where the climactic scene in Men in Black took place. I tried to describe what it was like going to the fair when I was more or less her age; it was difficult to bring it to life while looking at the long-abandoned remnants. Then we went to the Museum of the Moving Image (also in Queens) which fascinated her. I don’t know if that day had anything to do with her going to art school and becoming a film teacher (probably inheriting her mother’s artistic genes had something to do with it), but I recall it as being one of the first times I spent a day hanging out with her where I felt as much a friend as a parent.
I will also never forget the Saturday when we drove all the way to Coney Island on a whim and rode the Wonder Wheel. We were disappointed that the Side Show was closed; I had promised her we could see some freaks. But I told her about all the time I had spent at Coney Island with my grandfather, who she had met only once when he was a very old man and she was an infant.
Both of those days happened almost 20 years ago. I don’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday, but I remember those days.
As an adult, Casey has been closer to my wife Barbara, I guess because they can talk about woman stuff and perhaps complain to each other about their husbands. But Barb wasn’t feeling well last weekend, so a planned family trip to the zoo ended up being just Casey and me. For the first time in a long time, I got to share an afternoon with Casey and watch gorillas and just talk.
We talked about babies and her plans for having some, and where she and her husband Alex might move when she did. We talked about some film projects she and her students were beginning. We talked about money and other grown-up stuff.
There were lots of baby gorillas, and they were riding on their mothers’ backs just as Casey used to ride on mine.
On the way out, we stopped at the Children’s Zoo so Casey could have her picture taken. I felt the need to explain to the person in the booth why this young woman was having her picture taken with a chicken in her lap. We were disappointed that they had removed the Children’s Zoo logo from the wall. I believe Casey’s head would have finally reached it.
We had lunch on Arthur Avenue and I dropped her off at her apartment, which is virtually across the street from the zoo.
And then I went home, thinking, as I often do, about what a wonderful, successful, loving and somewhat nutty human being she had become.
Happy birthday, sweetie. No father loves his daughter more.