The first time I remember being aware that my father was not some sort of mythic, almighty creature—that he actually had a mortal human age like the rest of us—he was 34 years old. I know it’s true because at the time I was writing and illustrating a series of uninspired comic books with storylines cribbed from the pages of Superman and my hero, a talking cat, needed an age. So I made him my dad’s age. He was about four times as old as I was, a level of permanence I could barely fathom. Old enough to be a father, old enough to be a hero.
It’s due either to life’s clever way of delivering on-the-nose moments or my all-too-ready willingness to look into patterns that as a first time father I am also now 34 years old, and the experiences I have daily enter my mind regularly as scenarios in which I imagine my own dad. I wonder if he had the same doubts and insecurities, if he selfishly lamented the truncation of his free time (and freedom).
I will admit that I feel nothing much like either a father or a hero some days as my infant daughter wails relentlessly while I cycle through options like troubleshooting a piece of electronics, unplug it and plug it back in again, check it with a different cable, is the diaper dirty, does she want to be held while I’m sitting, would she rather I be standing, is it tummy time, is tummy time over, have you tried removing the wireless network and re-adding it, are you hungry, what do you want from me, what am I doing.
I think of him trying to figure out whether he needed to be swaying back and forth while he held me, or if I was too hot or too cold, or just tired, and in the brief moments of despair when I feel like I’m screwing it all up I try to remind myself that he never considered himself a hero—I did. Not because he kept me from crying, or stopped me from falling down, but because he was there for me when those things happened, to do whatever he could, such as it was.
As she pouts red-faced through tiny little baby tears, I tell myself I might not always know how to help her but I’ll sure be here to try—and hope that just as it’s been for me in the case of my own hero, it’ll be enough.