Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's a bird! It's a plane!

Nah... it's just my dad.

Eleven years ago, my dad had a heart attack while weeding in the small lake that served as the "backyard" of the house where he and my mom live. It was the first time I have ever seen him vulnerable, hooked up to tubes, wearing an unflattering gown in a dreary hospital room.

At first it was a shock to me. Even in my 30's I still truly believed that my father was invincible. But as I saw him struggle and subsequently recover, he became a stronger figure in my eyes than ever before.

That's when I got him the Superman doll.

It was a cheesy plush figure about 18 inches tall that said a variety of "Superman-ish" sayings when you punched it in the chest. It was silly, I know, but I wanted him to know how much I looked up to him as my hero, my "Superman" - even in the shadows of illness.

I still try to remind him of his star status every once in awhile, whether it be a greeting card with a blazing "S" on the front or most recently, a silver "S" keychain that he promised to put on his golf bag for good luck.

There is not a blog long enough to list all the reasons why my father is what he is to me. For one thing, I can count on him for anything. If he says he'll do something, he will. If I had a nickel for every time he dropped everything to come to my aid - from science fair projects in grade school, to a tearful college freshman dropout needing a ride home, to a multitude of home improvement and fix-it projects today... well, let's just say I'd be a rich woman.

He's also the smartest man I know - and if he doesn't know the answer, by God he'll find it out. In fact, he's so smart that occasionally I will fall victim to his dry sense of humor. Case in point:

Dad: "You know how birds fly in a 'V'?"
Me: "Yes, of course."
Dad: "Ever notice that one side of the 'V' is longer than the other?"
Me: "Yes, I guess I have."
Dad: "Know why?"
Me: (thinking of the complicated physics lesson I'm probably about to learn) "No."
Dad: "Cuz there's more birds on that side."

He's also incredibly talented - in many ways, but the most impressive is his woodworking. Again, the list is too long to name all the amazing pieces he has created: a playhouse for me when I was growing up, a wooden toy chest for my son (that can convert to a coffee table when he goes to college), grandfather clocks, a Noah's Ark complete with two of every animal (except the rabbits - there are three - since as he put it "the suckers multiply"), and not to mention the scale model replica of a Habitat for Humanity house he just spent over 300 hours constructing.

But the quality that has impressed me the most over the years - possibly because it is a quality I don't necessarily possess - is his quiet strength. I'm not sure that my dad has an enemy in this world, though I think he's intimidated many. I know he makes many a car dealer squirm as he sits there in silence, slowly removing his pad of paper and mechanical pencil from his pocket and quietly writing his best offer. It's quite a sight.

My father is a man of few words, and we don't have the deep conversations that my mother and I share. But he serves the role in my life as the quiet patriarch... the faithful rock... the Man of Steel (even though I know he has his Kryptonite).

I once dated a rather ostentatious guy who seemed to think he had to relate to me every wonderful thing he did. At one point I flat out told him, "There are great people who know they're great and have to tell everyone (that would be you...), and there are those who are great just because they are."

That would be my dad. He doesn't need to say it. He IS it.

My mom and dad have been married for more than 50 years. After my divorce, I kiddingly told them it was their fault for setting the bar so high. And perhaps my father has done just that - set the bar so high that no man will ever quite measure up.

Disclaimer here: Just so I don't get too much flack from my mother, yes, I know he does have his faults. And I know she had to be the "bad guy" when my siblings and I were growing up - I see that now that I have children more than I ever had before. And yes, my mother is my hero as well - in a completely different way that I will save for another time. But I know if my dad reads this blog, he will be embarrassed, so I'm writing it while they are on vacation and hopefully without internet access.

We all need "Supermans" in our lives. For some of us, it's our spouse, a sibling or a best friend. For others, it's a teacher or business associate. No matter who it is, think about who your hero is in your life, and why. Take a moment to reflect on all the qualities that make he or she that way in your eyes, and how you can emulate those qualities to make yourself a better person.

And while you're at it, let that person know that they are your "Superman". They may not be faster than a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they do have extraordinary powers that make them deserve that "S" you bestow upon them.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your Dad. You're lucky you still have him. My dad was my superhero, too. Lots of reasons why, but the belief in him was sealed when he took care of my mom as she battled cancer the last 3 years of her life. He didn't put up as much of a fight against his own cancer. Don't you hope that our kids will think the same of their dads?


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