If I asked you to name a superhero, there is a good chance that your first instinct would be to say “Superman”. Superman first made his appearance in comic books in 1938 and has been actively in our presence through today. There were animated cartoons on Saturday morning when I was a child, and then movies with actors and even a TV series (I adore Dean Cain, so he was my favorite!). Although I don’t know for certain, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that there’s even a video game for gamers today revolving about this superhero.
But, if I asked you to name your superhero, what would your answer be? Would you even have an answer? For many of us as children, “dad” was considered to be the superhero of the family. But not every child had or knew of their dad, through whatever circumstances. A relative or close family friend could have somewhat taken over the role as “dad”, even a stepdad, but that’s not always the same. And sadly, not all dads were superhero material.
I don’t recall ever recognizing that I had a superhero in my life. My dad, who was absent from home so much for work as it was, also did some things during my childhood that made it impossible for me to look at him as any kind of hero. He was smart, intelligent, capable of fixing a lot of broken things, and he paid the bigger share of keeping a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs and food in our stomach. But I must have thought even back then, as I do now, that those things are a parent’s responsibility when you choose to raise a child. And, in my case, my dad did actually choose to give me his last name and take the responsibility for my upbringing (no doubt, my mother was quite persuasive in his decision). I know there are parents out there who don’t even provide for their child/children’s basic needs, but doing so is the expected “norm”.
It dawns on me that the word “superhero” in terms of actual people isn’t anything but fantasy. We have our share of heroes – think events of 9/11 or the nurses, doctors and other essential workers who put their lives on the line during this COVID pandemic – but is there a way to differentiate between “hero” and “superhero” for any of those people? Every person who has or is serving in the branches of our armed services literally signs the right to their life away upon taking the oath to be sworn in, and aren’t they all heroes simply for being willing to do so?
Oddly, what I remember most about the Superman I grew up with was his ability to step into a telephone booth as Clark Kent, whirl around in a vortex, and exit as Superman. And don’t you DARE ask what a telephone booth is or I will smite you! Maybe I actually need to see the transformation of an ordinary person into someone with extraordinary powers in order to understand the definition of superhero.
I am lucky to have a hero in my life – not a superhero, but a true hero. He is someone who will draw his sword at and slay dragons he can’t even see because he knows I can see them. He has the uncanny ability to see me from the inside out. Like me, he will fight for what he believes in, but doesn’t judge someone for believing differently. Like me, he’s learned to choose his battles and has learned to discover how few of them matter in the big picture. I know that he would kill for me, that he would die for me.
He wasn’t always my hero. We butted heads a lot over the years, and there were times I wanted to shake him by the shoulders (probably times he wanted to do the same to me!). But for all of his faults and flaws, he remains steadfast and true to himself, and he cares for me more than I probably deserve. And I am lucky because the person I call “hero” I also call “friend”. And this person I call “friend” I also call “brother”.
I don’t have wealth, am not and will never be famous or become a celebrity. But if anyone wants to be envious about me for any reason, be envious of the fact that I have a relationship with my brother that I know is rare and precious. And even though he doesn’t step into a telephone booth and exit it wearing a cape, he is the closest thing I’ve ever known as being a superhero in reality.