It’s the dream of every little boy, a longing that has captured the hearts of generations and will ensnare countless more to come. Be it soaring through suburban backyards, scaling city skyscrapers, or battling evil along back country roads, every boy wants to be a superhero.
He carries these celestial notions, imagining himself saving the world from the likes of Goblin and Red Skull, until that tragic and inevitable day, shared by all his forebears, when he resentfully concedes that no matter how sincere his hopes or deep the prayers, he will never soar above the clouds, have lasers for eyes, or run at the speed of sound. The uncontrollable rush of adulthood, and the laws of gravity, drowns the boy’s dream in an ocean of reality
Yet no matter how deep that dream may sink it doesn’t completely die; within him is a smoldering ember that can’t be extinguished by mortgage payments, conference calls, and deadlines. The superhero of his imagination stays hidden from view in the dark quiet corners of his heart; and but one thing remains with the power to resurrect his youthful dream and spark that tepid flame into a blazing inferno – fatherhood.
From the moment a man realizes he is to be a father, his life becomes filled with worry, doubt, and the fear of sleepless nights. Those first months of fatherhood can feel like a cold and lonely fortress of solitude. Mom and baby, with oneness of purpose, nurture their God-given and unbreakable bond while the father feels like a sideline spectator. He may question what part, if any, he has to play in it all. But this period of isolation is but preparation for that day when the child turns his gaze towards the one man he will idolize above every Dark Knight.
It’s at that moment, when his child begins to understand the meaning of ‘father’ that the man’s long smoldering imagination for heroic caped crusaders can again erupt into a white-hot blaze.
The older I become the more I realize how imperfect my father was, how much he left my childhood to fate, and how little he prepared me for adulthood. Yet amid all his fatherly failures, and the eternity that now lies between us, I still see him as the superhero I once did as a child, and in truth this sense of awe is universal, no matter the kind of father.
I mentor a fourteen-year-old boy who has experienced enough heartache and disappointment to last a thousand lifetimes. His father inflicted such hurt on his children no prison sentence could begin to make restitution for the damage done. Yet considering the unspeakable acts of betrayal and outrage this father acted upon his son, the boy wants desperately to see his father again, to look into his eyes – even through Plexiglas – to simply be in his presence. Why? Because he still considers his father a superhero, even if a shamed and fallen one. Is there any better example to illustrate the inestimable power a father has upon his children?
Yet the greatest human downfall this side of Eden is perhaps the father who can’t, or more precisely won’t, embrace that power and recognize the idyllic heights to which his children look at him. Every father has, by his mere presence, the strength to shape the future. It’s knowing this that I have such profound contempt for any father who rejects this Providential responsibility, for nothing more than his own insatiable motives. Who instead chooses to cast his children into a turbulent sea of chance and heartache, leaving a crater in their souls no animated character could begin to fill.
I can’t help but ask myself, do these men not know that through fatherhood they finally become the superhero they’ve always wanted?
In a upcoming Fatherhood Wide Open conversation with author and fatherhood advocate Dr. Keith Jowers, he tells of walking out the courtroom doors as a newly divorced dad with a toddler, and in that courthouse lobby deciding that no matter what others said or did he would root himself firmly into his daughter’s life. He decided in the midst of loss and anger to be intentional and in so doing chose to be her superhero.
Superman didn’t save Lois Lane by coincidence. Batman never rescued the citizens of Gotham by accident. The hidden charm of every superhero is determination and conviction to do what’s right no matter the personal cost, a singleness of purpose, and an unwavering self-sacrifice shared by those who wear cape or mask – heavenly qualities that mark the ridges of God’s fingerprint on a boy’s soul.
For any father, and especially a divorced or single father, there’s a choice between acting the coward and fleeing towards a life of personal ease and freedom by ignoring our responsibilities, or firmly steadying ourselves looking straight into the eyes of duty and sacrifice, and so doing, become the superhero we always wanted to be.