When I was a kid, I had a tradition with my dad. On Sunday nights, we always watched "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" together. I was mesmerized as Marlin Perkins brought the wilds of Africa into our living room. Inevitably, at some point in the show, Marlin would be tracking a pride of lions and suddenly, an unsuspecting zebra, wildebeest or warthog would flash to the screen. The music would quicken. The camera would go back to the lions, which were now crouched, ready to pounce. That's when my dad would turn to me and say, "It's time." And then I would cover my eyes and say a little prayer for the animal about to become a meal.
My dad learned the hard way to warn me. The first time I ever watched a lion take down zebra on this show I sobbed hysterically. I was young. I loved animals and hated blood. My dad would try to explain to me it was nature's way, but I didn't understand why some animals had to kill others. (Never mind that we ate beef five nights a week, I was six and just assumed hamburgers grew in a hamburger patch.) So to avoid further traumatizing, my dad always warned me to cover my eyes when an animal was about to meet its maker during the show.
Despite having my eyes covered for half of it, "Wild Kingdom" triggered what can only be considered my lifelong obsession with all things Africa. As a kid, I would beg my dad to take me to the zoo, where I only wanted to see the animals that were on the show. In high school, I named one of our cats "Mandela" after writing a book report on Nelson Mandela. In college, I enrolled in classes with obscure names like "Humanitarian Lessons from Rwanda's Genocide" and "Myths and Rituals of Western Africa." Upon graduating, I spent four weeks in Tanzania and Kenya. It was my first real trip abroad and it did nothing to satisfy my fascination, it only fueled it. I returned home committed to a variety of causes, from eradicating malaria to poaching.
In my late 20s, I returned and spent six months volunteering in Uganda at an AIDS orphanage. A few years after that, I convinced my dad, who I largely credit for spawning my interest in the continent, to go on safari with me in South Africa's Kruger National Park.
Neither of us will ever forget the memories we made on that trip. We still laugh about the animated father and son Brazilians who were part of our group, who we affectionately called "Luigi and Luigi." Their real names were Luis (Sr. and Jr.), but my dad, who cannot even understand people with an East Coast accent, never could get their names right. For some reason he thought they were Italian and started calling them "the Luigis."
They stayed in the room next to us and I don't think they ever slept. We'd hear them yapping all night. They constantly forgot to shut the door to their room and would scream with a mixture of panic and delight when monkeys invaded and snatched food. Though they spoke far better English than we did Portuguese, we were constantly amused at the expense of their translations. They would desperately try to convince everyone there were polar bears in the National Park. One night after dinner, everyone in the camp heard them yell as they walked back to their room. "There's a leopard in the tree!" they shrieked. It turned out to be the lodge owner's cat.
Of course, the memories made on that trip go far beyond the two amusing Luigis we encountered. It was a vacation that changed our relationship. Roles were reversed. My dad had to rely on me to get by because I understood the culture and the language. And for the first time, he saw me as a capable, worldly adult.
I was able to see my dad in a different way too. I've always known him as a classic tough guy. But he became emotional when we toured the prison where Nelson Mandela had been held. When we spent a day volunteering in an orphanage, he was rattled to the point of tears. And the compassion he showed for the wounded animals being rehabilitated as part of the country's anti-poaching education campaign was genuine.
Though I have always been close to my dad, that vacation changed our relationship forever. Those few weeks in Africa, the dynamic went from father/daughter status, to friends.
Months of saving and planning went into that trip, and a lifetime of memories came out of it. I cannot imagine how devastating it would have been to get to the gates of Kruger National Park and have been told we could not enter due to a government shutdown.
Thankfully, South Africa's legislatures are more thoughtful than ours. As we all know, Utah's national parks were closed for 10 days, thanks in large part to our four representatives: Bishop, Stewart, Chaffetz and Matheson, who all voted to delay Obamacare, knowing it would almost certainly mean a government shutdown. How anyone who represents this state could vote in a way that would result in the shutdown of the federal government, and by extension our national parks, is reprehensible.
Thousands came from all over the world with money to spend in and around Utah's national parks, and were turned away.
Thankfully, Governor Hebert got the parks open. He chose Utah's residents, economy and reputation over any dislike he might have for the president. And in putting Utah before politics, he didn't just open the park gates. He also allowed fathers and daughters the opportunity to make their own lifelong memories in Utah's national parks.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.