Our company is built on the idea that good dads make a difference in the world, just by leading their day-to-day lives. That one of the most fundamental things a dad—and other male role models—can do is to show up for those small moments. That, in doing so, whether he feels like it or not, he’s making a profound change in the lives of his kids and the people around them.
We get it. It could feel like a bit of a stretch, the idea that cooking dinner or putting on a band-aid or fixing hair might be changing the world.
So first, a story.
In the 1980s in Kruger National Park in South Africa, the elephant population was out of control. To thin it out, officials killed many of the full-grown elephants, leaving behind a group of young, immature elephants who were easier to transport. They were moved to zoos around the world or parks in South Africa, including Pilanesberg National Park. At the same time, a large group of black and white rhinos were also accepted by the Pilanesberg Park officials.
For a time, these transplanted animals lived in peace. And then, in 1993, officials discovered that young male elephants were violently killing the rhinos. This isn’t typical elephant behavior—male elephants will fight one another during mating season, but not attack and harm other species for no reason. Elephants aren’t predators. This was a frightening and disturbing phenomenon.
As researchers began working with park officials, they learned a few things that gave them clues to what was happening. Many of the young male elephants had PTSD, caused perhaps by the trauma of having members of their family killed off and being moved. They were also entering a period called ‘musth’ around 13 or 18, which was way too fast; normally that hits for elephants around 28 years old. Musth is like elephant puberty—it’s a testosterone-fueled time marked by aggression and erratic behavior. Researchers posited that if they were to introduce larger male elephants, the younger ones would learn socially acceptable behavior and they wouldn’t kill any more rhinos.
They brought back in older elephants. As the KOTA Foundation for Elephants tells the story, one of the large bulls they incorporated was called ‘Amarula.’ These young bulls went up to challenge Amarula immediately. They’d been calling the shots and were pretty confident they could take this old dude. One of those musth-fueled guys came at Amarula who, according to the KOTA Foundation, “wasted no time and hit the younger elephant so hard in the stomach that he flew several feet up into the air.”
That was it. Under Amarula and the other older elephants, the young guys learned. There were no more killings. The introduction of these older male elephants took care of the problem; they younger males adored them and looked up to them and balance was restored in the social circles that are so important to elephant society.
The same thing happened in 2001 in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park in South Africa. It wasn’t an anomaly. The younger male elephants really needed the example set by the older ones.
We’re not the first people to write about the importance of older elephants as a metaphor for the role that good men play in the lives of young people. This metaphor has been used for year, but it seems particularly compelling in the moment in which we are living.
And it really matters to us that we make it clear that, while our company is focused dads, we know that good godfathers, uncles, friends, mentors, grandfathers, teachers and other people do this hard work too. It’s incredibly important that we acknowledge and support the villages surrounding kids. And honoring and supporting all families is core to our company values.
What we are saying is that, those small moments every day that might not seem like much are really important over time.
The society that elephants built up was wrecked by population control and the resulting chaos led to unforeseen changes that were awful to the whole park. Those older elephants—just by being there, by modeling good behavior, by checking in on the younger ones—made a huge difference.
We live in a time full of stories of the damage a handful of men have done to our society. If there’s any metaphor we can draw from the elephants of Pilanesberg Park, it’s that a strong society is like a well-balanced park ecosystem—when everyone is there, working together and keeping each other in check, then the whole system thrives.
We honestly believe that good dads who show up—pack lunches, change diapers, plan birthday parties, take kids to appointments, listen to school drama, say the hard things, partner with their co-parents and the community around their kids—are critically important. That they are changing the world around them. That there’s hope in each quiet moment when they show their kids they truly care.
And that there’s never been a time when that mattered more than right now.
Photo Source: David Olsen, bull elephant in Kruger Park