My Dad Was A Comic Book Hero

"I always suspected he was Superman because he fit the description so well."

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was about ten.

 I lost my faith in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy around the same time.

 But I never stopped believing in Superman. How could I? He lived in my house.

 The Superman under my roof didn't wear a red cape and boots. On most days I'd spy him in a white shirt and a tie, carrying a briefcase out the door before anyone else in the house was even out of their slippers.

 I always suspected he was Superman because he fit the description so well. He was the fastest person I knew. I raced him on countless occasions and never came close to catching him except for the times he let me win.

 As for strength, he was liable to swoop me up off the ground at any time and lift me high enough so that my back touched the ceiling.

 And I knew he had some kind of X-ray vision because he always knew when I was telling the truth—and when I wasn't.

 He could fix any break, kill any spider, and win any game. He possessed enough smarts to teach me math and enough patience to teach me how to hit a baseball.

 And within the thick brown leather belt he wore on most days, he held the power of motivation. I can count on one hand the number of times he used it for anything besides securing his pants. But I never, ever forgot it was there.

 He also held the power to take away my Big Wheel, my bike, and later, my car keys.

 As I began making friends, I discovered a secret. They lived with Superman, too. All of my friends swore they did.

 My dad owns a grocery store.

 My dad's a heart surgeon.

 My dad played football in college.

 The boasts were big and they were sincere. Superman lived in everyone's house, apparently. Secretly, though, I knew the real Superman lived in mine.

 I didn't hold that conviction forever, of course. Neither did my friends. By the time we were adolescents, the hero of our stories had become us.

 Nothing maudlin here. Dads can't be Superman forever. Children grow up and parents grow old. It has always been that way. It's supposed to be that way.

 But we suspend those rules on special occasions, don't we?

 I used to rail against Father's Day for being artificial; it was probably the brainchild of some greeting card company marketing executive, right?

 But Father's Day isn't really about the cards. It's about putting the red cape back on Dad's shoulders.

 My dad is in his mid-sixties now, and most of the Superman claims I used to make about him have ceased to be true.

 He's not the fastest guy on the block anymore; if we were to race again, I'd probably win nine out of ten. OK, maybe six out of ten.

 He's still strong, but not strong enough to lift me to the ceiling. That's a treat now reserved for his grandkids—the smallest of them, anyway.

 He's not Superman in the way the comic books describe Superman. From the vantage of age and experience, I understand that he never was.

 But the point is I believed he was once. He knew it, too. So did your dad. Most dads do—they accept that responsibility.

 They try to live up to the impossible standard of Superman.

 Forget the kryptonite of fatigue and financial responsibility. Forget the demanding boss and the need to hang out with the guys.

 The best dads give it all up to play Superman as long as their children are willing to believe. Longer, actually.

 Eventually, they all hang up their capes, but a special strength is to be found in that surrender as well.

 A father myself, I'm now the one trying to impersonate Superman. Like most dads, I fall on this side of Clark Kent most of the time.

 But retired supermen make great advocates for weary fathers. "No dad is perfect," they will tell you. "But children are able and eager to find the superhero behind the mask."

 Powerful encouragement is in that advice. It's more powerful than a locomotive.

 I guess that's a superpower dads keep for life.

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul: Celebrating the Bond That Connects Generations © 2011 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

Cover image via Yuganov Konstantin I Shutterstock