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July 31, 2016

Just another reminder that every parent makes sacrifices, whether your child is a human or a regular, hungry bear.

Maybe you’ve seen me on the local news, or in YouTube clips of that news story, or BuzzFeed articles made up of video stills from those YouTube clips, but my name is Tom Wunk, or as I’m better known, “The Bear Man.” I got that name when I found an abandoned bear cub in my back yard, nursed it back to health, named him “Roscoe,” and then raised him like a child.

It might sound like a beautiful story of man and beast living in harmony, but I’m really no different than any other parent who has had their heart broken by the thing that they love most in the world. Now that Roscoe is a full grown bear, I can barely recognize the little cub that I tried to raise as my human child. All I see is a big, mean, nasty bear.

I know what you’re thinking. I hear it all the time. “Maybe he’s just being a bear.” But when you decide to raise a wild animal because your wife has left recently left you and you’re in desperate need of something, anything, to occupy you mentally and emotionally, it’s hard to look at that bear as “just a bear.”

The three years before Roscoe reached full maturity were wonderful. We’d spend our days wrestling in the backyard and he’d use his powerful jaw and paws to playfully try and wrench the flesh from my bones. Or we’d walk through the woods, looking for honeycomb. Neither of us knew where in the hell to find it, so I’d usually just let him bite into two-liters of Coke when we got home. We were in heaven.

I even taught him sign language, just like Koko, the famous talking gorilla! It worked like this: I’d smack a couple pieces of wood together to get Roscoe’s attention. If Roscoe swiped at me, that meant he was hungry, so I’d set out a Gatorade cooler filled with 40 lbs pounds of raw hamburger meat and let him go to town. If he kept trying to claw my face and throat, that meant he was horny and wanted me to bring out his “hump sack” that I “McGyver-ed” for him out of an old bean bag chair and a couple beach towels. Sure our system wasn’t as “sophisticated” as Koko’s, but it worked for us.

They say that hindsight is 20/20, but looking back I should have known that the increasing frequency with which Roscoe was signing for his “hump sack” meant that he was growing up. He was changing and our relationship would be “changing” too.

Roscoe started to spend more time alone. He was gone so often, it felt like he didn’t even think of our house as a home anymore, just a place where he could reliably find large buckets of hamburger meat. Sometimes, I’d follow him deep into the woods and catch him sticking pinecones and moss up his butt or gorging on the innards of various wildlife. After all that I had given him, was this really what my bear was doing with his life?

I tried to be an understanding parent. Heck, I was no angel when I was growing up. I can’t count the number of times I snuck out of the house to smoke dope with my friends. Is that really all different than Roscoe charging out of the woods one afternoon trying to eat the face off of my neighbor’s infant daughter?

Even though I swore I’d never be “the heavy” like my old man was, I decided I’d never forgive myself if something happened to Roscoe. I tried to talk to him, but I couldn’t seem to get through. I banged my “talky sticks” and screamed as hard as I could. He barely even looked at me. Roscoe just sat there, licking his penis and butt hole.

I thought maybe we just needed time to cool off, but the next morning I came downstairs and found Roscoe’s hump sack torn to shreds. He was clearly upset. Or very, very horny. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. And I’m no scientist. I’m just a guy that tried to make a bear my son.

Either way, I knew Roscoe wanted independence. Watching your baby leave the nest is the hardest thing any parent ever has to do. Thankfully, Roscoe made it a little easier one me by breaking through my kitchen window one night and never coming back. Some people say he left like that because he’s a bear and he didn’t like living in a house, but I like to think that he just didn’t want either one of us to have to say goodbye.

A few months later, I went for a walk in the woods to try and clear my mind. The manager of my local REI had just informed me that the female employees had requested that I not be allowed back in the store, so you can imagine my relief when I stumbled across a familiar face: it was Roscoe!

But there was something strange about him. I felt like he was pretending not to recognize me. He had this weird look in his eyes, like he wasn’t seeing his father, but was trying to determine if I was a threat or a possible food source.

The whole encounter was chilling, but I imagine that “letting go” is just another sacrifice every parent has to make at some point, whether your child is a human or a very hungry bear.