My oldest son will be 7 years old tomorrow, and he has become a bona fide super hero nut. I now seem to spend the majority of my days answering questions about who (fill in the blank with super hero name)’s “main enemy” is. My house is now home to items such as Hulk Hands and Captain America costumes. Books brought home from the library about Bob the Builder or the Berenstain Bears have been replaced with titles like Hulk Saves the Day and Darkseid’s Revenge.
But what he loves more than anything is Marvel’s Super Hero Squad. As I type this, there is a box of Super Hero Squad party supplies at my house awaiting deployment during my son’s birthday party this Friday night. He would watch the cartoon on the Hub Network every afternoon, if we let him. I finally broke down and got him an account to play Super Hero Squad Online, which lets you control these child-friendly versions of Marvel super heroes and send them out on different missions, and now I get a full briefing every afternoon. I may as well be an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Cute as they are, it’s these enthusiastic rundowns of the day’s adventures that have been bothering me as of late. I wouldn’t say my son’s interest in all things super hero has become unhealthy, but he does talk about them an awful lot. An awful lot. As someone whose own head is full of seemingly useless facts and information, I worry he’s not spending his time and energy on truly useful things. I wish sometimes he would talk to me more about wanting to build things or what he want to be when grows up or about God or really anything besides the Super Hero Squad.
You know where gets this from, though? Right here. Me.
I still have a box full of comic books in my closet. I made my very pregnant wife wait in a long line of comic book geeks several years ago just so I could see the first Spider-Man movie on opening night. In fact, I still have my Secret Wars Spider-Man action figures (Traditional costume and black symbiote, thank you very much.). I’m playing Marvel Avengers Alliance on Facebook, and I’m at a higher agent level than I care to admit here. And I am so, so jealous of all the cool super hero stuff my son has access to these days. I would have bankrupted my parents (or tried to anyway) if it had all been around when I was growing up.
We have a family tradition now where I take each child out to celebrate their birthday – just me and them. I have a Chevy S10 pickup truck, so there’s only one other seat besides mine. This means if you ride with me you’re the center of attention. I took my son out this past weekend, and our conversation inevitably ventured into super hero territory. I was beginning to feel that familiar discomfort when I suddenly realized something I had never thought of before: My son was talking to me about something he was interested in.
I loved my dad, and he did a lot of things for me. He coached my baseball team for a couple of years, even though he didn’t really know that much about baseball. He worked hard to provide for me. I don’t ever remember talking to him about comic books, though. I’m not sure why, but we somehow never made that connection. And now, all these years later, my son is trying to make the same connection with me, and I’m worried about it?
There are thousands of stories out there about dads and sons who never learned to talk about anything. They just don’t understand each other. While it may seem juvenile and unproductive and silly, I understand comic books and what makes them so appealing. And somewhere in his 7-year-old brain my son understands that Dad actually thinks the Super Hero Squad is pretty cool, too. Sometimes you don’t get to choose the connection; sometimes it chooses you.
So instead of powering down, maybe it’s time for my hero up. It’s what any good squaddie would do.