What makes a Superhero?
Tino can spot a superhero a mile away. “It’s a bird! It’s a plane!” I say. “No Daddy. It’s Superman!” Tino replies. Right now it’s all about Superman and Spider-Man. I should note that he has seen neither in any form of movie, book, or TV show, so it boggles my mind where the perception and connection had been generated from. Regardless, we cannot walk through any store without him excitedly pointing out any paraphernalia related to the two superheroes. He has Superman PJs that he has to wear all the time, zooming around the house shrieking “Superman to the rescue!” He even wanted a Superman cape so he could fly. At first I tried the old school towel-as-a-cape. That worked about two times. Then one day he spotted a real Superman cape in a store and it was over – he had to have that cape, just like Superman. I realize that Tino is just in the beginning stages of really tapping into his imagination, that he is vividly making his own stories up, and with that, also making inner determinations of good and bad, good guy versus evil villain. Sometimes now when we play he assigns one of us as the good guy (usually him) and one of us as the bad guy, sometimes even the monster (usually me). Then he sets out to destroy me. I try not to take it personally; I’ve actually developed quite the repertoire of roars and growls. I’m just happy he is choosing to be the hero or the good guy.
I love to encourage this kind of play. In doing so he is active, engaged, imaginative, talking constantly, and taking command of his own playtime. All of these are good things for a two year old. I just keep wondering where he is getting his references from. I pride myself on thinking I know everything that he is being exposed to, but apparently that is not the case. He knows that when he’s climbing up a wall or my body he is Spider-Man. He knows when he is flying with a cape he is Superman. Aside from the cape and the pajamas, he has no hero toys or figurines. I know that is coming, but I want to hold off as long as I can. It’s natural for kids to create heroes and role models even from early on. This is why when a child is witness to any form of violence from someone they love and admire, like a father figure, it can have a life changing and devastating impact on their so impressionable minds. I have been asked if it’s a lot of pressure to be a good dad. I think it’s not. The most important thing is to demonstrate love at all times. If we can do this, we will automatically be super heroes in the eyes of our little ones.
Role models come into our kids’ lives in many forms, from baby spotters and teachers, to camp leaders and neighborhood friends. As parents, it’s our responsibility to look at all these influencers and the messages they are sending out to our kids, even unknowingly, and even more importantly, to be there for our kids when the heroes they place on pedestals let them down and demonstrate their human-side. I know I have already had many moments where I did not meet my son’s expectations – it’s heartbreaking. I have also noticed that the times I need to step in and be the active lesson teacher and disciplinary father, that he respects that position and does not (at least not yet) hold it against my super hero qualities.
Looking back I can remember the cycle that is to come very well. I remember when my own dad was invincible; my own super hero. I remember when I thought he was outdated, behind the times, not cool, and just plain embarrassing, I remember when he was frail, old, and needed me to be his strength – and lastly and until this day, he has forever moved back into the position of superhero and best father figure I could have ever asked for. No matter the place I was in or my opinion of him as I grew, he remained the steadfast, loving, and present father I knew him to be. It was these qualities that made him super. My father was older. He could never leap a building in a single bound, but he could build a business from the ground up. He could never fly, but he showed me the world and exposed me to every kind of art, food, and culture that he could. He did not wear a red cape, but he wore his chef’s hat with incredible pride and his patrons applauded him whenever he emerged from his kitchen. But like most super heroes, my father was also fair, just, and honest. As I finish this, I am full of tears and overwhelmed with love and remembrance of my own Superman. I only pray I can be as good a father as the hero my father was.