Polar Bears Eat Their Young

by Krys Malcolm Belc

When my toddler sons discover through a nature documentary that
male polar bears sometimes eat cubs, they quickly invent a new game.
They’re cubs and I’m The Male. When they say it, they sound like television
gumshoes trying on nicknames for the new serial murderer in
town. This one, when hungry enough, hunts skinny little children.

Male polar bears weigh about a thousand pounds; females are half
their size. My children are fascinated by the differences between
males and females of all species. After all, their mother is five inches
taller than I am; has twice the wingspan; cuts an imposing figure.

Samson latches on to the game the most. He’s three, and obsessed
with thrills: covering his head with a cloth square and spinning;
standing on my kitchen table on his tiptoes; rolling down a hill with
his eyes closed. He taps me when I’m frying grilled cheese at the
stove, and later when I’m shimmying my enormously fat, youngest
son out of a pair of tight pants, a diaper pin hanging from the corner
of my mouth.

I’ll be the cub, he’ll say, And you be The Male.

And then he runs.

For months after I decided to go for it and tell them I was a dad, not a
mom, they refused to try on male pronouns. Then one day, I became
Daddy everything. Daddy Lion. Daddy Wolf. Thick, mysterious, imposing
beasts. They still call me Krys—they always have—but now
when lost, they’ll say, I’m looking for Krys. He’s my Dad.

The documentary they watched didn’t show any male polar bears eat-
ing their young. But the mention of it, and a camera pan to a dreadful,
thousand-pound monster stalking a mother and cub, was enough to
hook them. It’s not a regular thing, the cannibalism. This isn’t what
they want. Polar bears love seals: the thick white fat, luscious mouthfuls
of blubber. The earth is heating up. The ice is melting. Seals don’t
stick around for that melting; they can swim away, swim north where
there is, somehow, still some ice left on this earth. And so the bears
get hungry.

A female bear would rather starve, will teach her cubs to fill their
bellies with seaweed, to steal birds’ eggs for food. She would never
attack one of them. But I attack my sons, chomping down playfully
on their legs, pulling up their shirts and licking their flat white stomachs
playfully, roaring.

When I’m alone one night after bathing my boys, putting them in little
matching pajamas, kissing them goodnight, I find a video online
of a male polar bear doing the unthinkable horror I’ve been acting
out for weeks, a thing that, a year ago, I never would have had to do.
The bear runs right past the mother, snatches the baby in his jaws,
drags it into shallow water. Rips, tears, eats. When it’s over, I watch
again.