Yesterday was my dad's 80th birthday. I am feeling the sorrow that comes from loss and separation, the rage that comes with being forced into estrangement by a stranger, but also, the joy that comes from knowing that I had twenty-nine years of the best dad a boy could ask for. A dad that lives inside me and guides the good ship Donavan into the port of manhood like a bright star on a foggy evening.
My best friend David's dad is in town this week and he told a story at dinner the other night about buying Davey a toy rocket when he was little and how the rocket failed to blast off. When he told David that they would return it for a working one, David reminded his father that the toy store was closing in ten minutes. "We can make it!” his father said. He put David in the car, raced to the store and they had a successful launch a half hour later. Young David said to his father, "You're the best dad in the universe!” His dad recounted the story to us with tears in his eyes and said, "that's the kind of thing dads remember". David looked as his dad with the eyes of a boy in love.
I felt so sad in that moment, so sad in fact, that I excused myself and went to the bathroom. When I got there, I burst into tears. As I looked in the mirror, I saw the man that I have become staring back at me. A strong and capable man. I felt a deep melancholy wash over me as I pondered the fact that my father will seemingly never get to see that newly formed man up close. I felt envious of David. Envious that I too didn't have a dad who raced to the toy store to make things right for his disappointed son.
Then I remembered.
That is exactly the kind of dad I had.
I could recount dozens, hell, hundreds of stories proving my point but I shall keep it to one.
When I was about five, I had a small rubber Superman.
He went with me everywhere, leaving my little pocket only to take occasional flights of fancy from the end of my fingers and the depths of my imagination.
One night, as my father and I returned from a day of frolicking together, I walked hand in hand with him up the driveway of our home and noticed that my old rubber friend was not in his usual resting place inside my forest green corduroy trousers.
"Where's Superman?” I asked.
My dad sensed the panic in my voice.
"I'm sure he's in the car, sweet boy. Don't worry", said my daddy reassuringly.
He wasn't in the car.
I started to cry.
"Superman!!!” I wailed, my cheeks as red as apples.
I saw my fathers mind go to work.
"Where was the last place you remember seeing him, honey?"
We had spent the day at the park and went to Sears on the way home.
Sears closed fifteen minutes ago.
My father took me in his arms and we got back in the car.
Dark as the bottom of the ocean.
My father, my hero, didn't give up. He rapped on the door.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
A security guard.
"We're closed sir".
"I just need to come in and take a look around for a small Superman toy. My son needs it".
"The children’s department opens tomorrow morning with the rest of the store. Come back at 9am. We'll be here".
"No, you don't understand...we don't want to buy it. We already own the toy. My son dropped it when we were here earlier today..."
"Sorry mister, we're closed. I can't open these doors".
"Do you have kids?"
"I said, do you have any children"?
"Yes. A daughter. Eight."
"It's his favorite toy. I'm asking you, father to father. Man to man. Please. Open those doors".
With the help of a flashlight and a couple of good daddies, Superman and Baby were reunited twenty minutes later. It sits on my desk to this very day, cape in tatters and paint worn off from decades of love.
My father and I aren't talking. We haven't spoken in over five years.
Cape in tatters.
Decades of love.
If we could talk, I would say the following to him...
"Dad, I love you. You will always be Superman to me".
And Superman will I one day be, to my own children.
Like father, like son.
When I lean down to kiss my future baby in their crib, I will kiss them with heart and lips that were loved by a father who always had an S on his chest.
And always will.
He lives in my fortress of solitude.
My yesteryear and my future.
And no amount of anger or loss or time will ever disturb that peaceful slumber.
Thank you dad, for teaching me how to live, but more importantly, for teaching me how to love.