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Are Male Cats Good Kitty Daddies?

08/22/2014 03:01 pm ET | Updated Oct 14, 2014

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If it wasn't for personal experience I would have said the answer is no, but I once became friends with a wild male cat who showed me otherwise.

I was living on Maui in a tiny ohana when my neighbor moved away and left a young, very pregnant tabby behind. We took pity on her and fed her and a couple weeks later she gave birth to six tiny, wet-black kittens on the carpet behind our couch.

While she was in process, a large black tom pushed open our screen door and came into the living room. He was a feral cat from the cane fields, wary of humans, and yet when my husband went to shoo him outside, he stood his ground. I had been raised to believe that male cats ate babies. My panic and an old broom got him back out and we locked the screen door. For the rest of the evening he stood on his hind feet, one paw resting on the screen and watched.

He was still on the porch the next day and the day after that. I put out some kibble - which he didn't eat. He stayed on the porch all week. After that first night he would run off if we approached him, but he'd come right back. He also spent a lot of time calling to them - short calls that sounded like "ark" or "airr."

By the end of the second week the kittens were opening their eyes. I still didn't trust him, but it seemed strange that he would spend so much time waiting to eat these six little guys when there were perfectly good mice and centipedes all over the yard. Finally I took one of the babies and held it up to the screen for him to smell. He sniffed it up and down then rubbed his cheek back and forth against the mesh.

The first time I let him in, the kittens were almost 4 weeks old. They were wobbly as they charged and wrestled with each other and tried to follow their mother, who did not seem fond of them at all and spent most of her time on furniture out of their reach. I don't remember the details that day, only that both he and I were very nervous, and that mama - who tended to hiss at him - was out of the house. He spent a while washing each kitten, and he kept his eye on me.

Within the next few weeks, we worked out a routine. In the morning I would open the screen door - mama cat would run out and he would step just inside and murmur. The kittens would run to him. After he washed their faces, they followed him in a line - tails straight up in the air - down the steps into the garden, where only his tail was visible above the tall grass.

One morning he showed up with a half dead centipede, killed it in front of them, and let them play with it. He taught them to kill mice too, and climb the lychee tree. For the next six months, until I moved taking the kittens with me, he was a daily visitor. Although he never let me touch him after the broom incident, he would often catch my eye and I like to think we developed a mutual friendship and respect.

So, yes. Male cats can be extraordinary fathers, and pretty amazing beings as well.

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