Whatever his animal conservation and awareness accomplishments, Steve Irwin's clownlike persona and the unfathomably unpredictable circumstances of his death make him a poor posterboy for discussing the issue of whether to continue extreme behavior after you have a kid.
[And no matter how experienced he was or how many precautions he took, there is no way anyone can convince me that it was anything but exploitative and irresponsible to put on a show about feeding a crocodile while dangling his kid alongside the chicken.] But none of that lessens the tragedy of a family--with two small children--losing their father so early in their lives.
For me, croc feeding joined skydiving and most of jaywalking, even, on my personal list of Things I Could Conceivably Rationalize Before The Kid, But That I Now Feel Too Burdened With Responsibility To Stay Alive To Take Up. That list is going to be different for everyone, and none is or should be the Dad In The Plastic Bubble, but I really wonder where and how you negotiate the line between yourself and your family.
People have taken me to task for the tone of my Irwin post, fine. But Andy's one-line link to the news had a tagline that's haunted me all day: "died doing what he loved." It's a statement, rationale, explanation that's meant, I guess, to help make sense of an otherwise senseless, random event.
I wanted to type 'accident,' but the whole point is that it's not referring to some banal everyday activity like crossing the street or a sudden illness like stage 2 pancreatic cancer, or even something stupidly avoidable like standing under a tree in a lightning storm. Beyond the basics, though, we regularly put ourselves at varying degrees of risk doing "what we love" whether that's our jobs, our hobbies, our compulsions, or our passions. And when that risk-reward calculation goes south, it's not just we who pay the price, it's our families.
Reading Irwin's story, I immediately flashed back to May 18 a Thursday night, when I got ambushed in my car by an NPR commentator's tribute to extreme skiing pioneer Doug Coombs. Coombs and one of his brightest protege's were killed in April while skiing a series of 50-degree couloirs in the most dangerous part of the extreme skiing mecca of La Grave, in the French Alps.
The commentator, Alex Markels, like many, many people who knew or skied with Coombs, was in awe of him and had near-endless stories of formative experiences to tell. [This Coombs tribute from the Denver Post is similar, only longer.]
It was a heartfelt tribute to a sorely missed friend who clearly touched many lives and "died doing what he loved," but right at the end, Markels mentioned that now someone else will have to teach Coombs' 2-year-old son how to ski, because his dad can't.
Well, I promptly lost it and had to pull over. I'm a lameass skier and getting worse with every winter I miss, but teaching my kid to ski is on the shortshortlist of things I've always envisioned when I became a dad. As I sat there, though, I felt ambushed: was it obvious only to me that no amount of praise from friends or customers was going to offset the absence of his father in that kid's life?
But what can you do? Coombs' entire life, it seemed, was death-defying skiing. His wife is an extreme skier, too. He runs extreme skiing tours and makes extreme skiing documentaries. Can anyone really expect him to stop being who he is just because a kid comes along? No one can answer that for anyone but himself, and that's my whole dilemma.
I'm lucky, I guess, because the things I love don't cause me to face death or injury too often. Or at all. But even so, I feel there is so much more at stake now, including the well-being of someone who cannot possibly understand, much less accede to, the concept of risk, that there are now whole worlds of things I just won't do because of what some outcome may do to my kid's life. Most of the time, I'm totally cool with that; hell, most of the time, I don't even notice. But then something like this happens to remind me what sacrifices I face, and--and well, it's like wrestling a big ol' croc. I reckon. And I guess it makes me ramble.