If being a dad is a constant expedition then Father’s Day is the annual return to Base Camp. My children profess their love for me, hand me cards, make me some food and I’m refreshed and recharged for the next foray into the unknown jungles of parenthood.
Usually, I can keep my fatherly perspective, asking my daughters to give me nothing more than what should be expected or required of teenagers — grumbling and resistance as they do chores, homework or get up in the morning, arguments at the dinner table, and misleading answers about their weekend plans. I work hard to not take their behavior personally.
But recently my self-esteem was stung when my 13-year-old daughter told me that I don’t take risks or challenge myself, in short, that I’m not cool. I didn’t immediately go out and buy leather pants and Ray-Bans or a big Harley, but her comment became an itch I wanted to scratch. What parent wants his kids to think he’s lame?
So when an opportunity came up to go on a ropes course with my girls, I thought it was a chance to dazzle them. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a ropes course, you put on a helmet and harness, get clipped to a safety line with a burly staff person on the other end, climb 50 feet up a telephone pole and proceed to move through various obstacles and challenges made of rope that’s a little thicker than thread, hoping you don’t fall, scream or pee in your pants. You end by flying down a zip line or a swing that feels like a roller coaster without all the steel to keep you safe.
My teenagers flew through the course, the zip line and the swing and were sitting around bored, waiting for the old man to finish, which I did, slowly, but without shaming myself.
I felt proud of my performance, but as I walked toward my daughters thinking how impressive I was, I realized that this little adventure would not change how they saw me. And I realized that I shouldn’t care.
True, I experience fatherhood as daily feats of daring and danger, but my kids won’t ever see me that way.
Being a dad is like being Superman and your kids only ever see you as Clark Kent. No matter how many train wrecks you prevent, how much rubble you pull them from, you must keep your cape hidden from them. And when my daughters ridicule me or dismiss me as unimpressive and uncool, I’ll just take it knowing there is more to being a father than boring glasses and unhip clothes.
In fact, if I do my job well, my girls won’t even realize all the work I’ve done when they head out into the world.
They may not see the risks and challenges I take daily as a parent. They may not realize the fears I face each time they go out into the city with a cellphone, a few dollars and a Metrocard. But being a dad is not about being my children’s friend or hero. It’s about having the superpowers to read to them, cook for them, listen to them, argue with them, and love them no matter what, day after day.
So on this Father’s Day, as my girls treat me as an unimpressive and kindly nerd with unfashionable glasses, I will still be ready to secretly fly out and keep them from harm’s way, without their ever knowing.
Besides, there’s only one woman I really need to impress — my Lois Lane. But that’s another story for another time.