Tougher – Better
You are much stronger than you think…

Fathers and Sons

Jor-El: “You will travel far, my little Kal-El, but we will never leave you-even in the face of our deaths. You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father. And the father, the son.”

My father’s death has influenced every day of my life since it happened.  Not as much as his life of course but being the traumatic and defining event of my early twenties it marked a serious change of perspective.  A detour, if you will, which put me on a very unfamiliar road for a very long time.

As an unabashed fan of Superman I find that his story is endlessly entertaining, intimate, and defined by things that will always be important.

Listening to a recent Savage Critics podcast conducted by Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan the two diverged (as is their style) into a discussion of Superman’s character – specifically how the character “works” best.  As I would have expected, All Star Superman by Morrison was readily referenced as was the Silver Age version.  A point of contention emerged over the marriage to Lois and was summarized neatly by both contributors.

To Jeff’s view Superman works best when the triangle of Clark – Lois – Superman is preserved.  There is a nebulous uneasiness that makes Superman relatable  in that under this characterization what he wants most is what he cannot have.   Oh sure, he could have it.  Lois loves Superman but she does not love Clark.  She does not love the man Kal-El was raised to be by the kindly Kent family.  Dismissed as a hick and an easily played country rube Clark Kent doesn’t stand a chance against the man of action.  This characterization brings into play a number of interesting conflicts but Graeme astutely pointed out that it fails for one primary reason.

“Superman is CONSTANTLY lying to Lois.”

That, my friends, is something my Clark Kent cannot long abide.

The pair go on to espouse the theory that exists that Superman is something of an “All Father” figure.  Always wise, always honest, always helpful to others.  I can’t explain what happened next but it was likely the alchemy of a long drive across the unremarkable highways of Ohio and the sun in my eyes which reminded me of the image of Superman toiling away inside our dying star to restart it and keep us all safe.

What I felt when I remembered it surprised me.  I was proud.  Proud of him for being the best of us.  Proud of his living up to his potential, proud that he faced evil and did not flinch, proud that he chose to make a sacrifice few of us can comprehend for the promise of a better future for all but him.

Why don’t I think of Superman as a father, like so many others?

Two years ago in April…I became a father.

I will tell you that Superman is (to me) not about looking backwards to our fathers.  It’s about our fathers looking forward to us, as sons, to see if we fulfill our promise.  It’s about me hoping that I can impart, imbue, and convey what it truly means to be a good man and what it means to strive for better.

The son redeems the father even as he becomes the father.  Superman has.  I hope I have and I hope I will.

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One Response to “Fathers and Sons”

  1. That really was a very moving and thought-provoking piece. And touching too, if you don’t mind me saying so.

    The wonder of the tale of Superman is that it can be endlessly reinterpretated. My reading isn’t yours, but what does that matter? Since we both agree that Superman is the person who does the right thing as best he can, and of course we do, then whether he’s father, son, older brother or whatever is all a question of individual taste and experience; it’s a mark of how wonderful a character he is that we can all find our own marker of humanity in him, even when we might disagree so about what that means in practise.

    My best to you, sir. I hope you’re having a fine day.


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