Superman and me at Scarborough Beach
John Walsh ([email protected]), a monthly contributor, is a partner at East Greenwich-based communications firm Walsh & Associates.
I envy them when they drive past my house pulling red wagons with toddlers in tow: new dads.
That was me 27 years ago when we moved to the neighborhood. Back when we had three children under the age of 5. Back when I was Superman.
My kids all giggled and had big eyes when I twirled a basketball on my index finger. They cheered when I flew a kite through the cloudless skies of our Block Island rental. And if the thunder cracked like gunshots in a summer storm, they would come up into my arms. I assured them that the skies would calm down.
But when a fall nicked my youngest son Evan’s hand in our backyard, his blood was my Kryptonite. I was Everyman, not Superman, with an ashen face and sweaty skin.
My children have also seen me as Everyman on other occasions, such as when I cursed at the drivers who cut me off on Route 95, and sometimes yelled at our dog and, painfully, when I put Evan to bed one night.
I don’t remember what prompted his question, but it surprised me.
“Do you miss your father? he asked with an innocence that belongs only to children. My father had died three months after Evan was born. The last time I’d seen him, Dad had handed me the bill for his recent, long-awaited doctor’s visit.
“Yes, I know that,” I said. Evan’s eyes were asking for more.
“Do you know what I think?” I say, my Everyman voice quavering. “My dad is alive every time we talk about him. Maybe this is paradise.
My 5 year old son cleared it up for me. “You’re not really going to heaven,” he said evenly. “You are buried. Heaven is where you go in your head.
I’ve often pondered the shocking wisdom of my son’s words that night, and I think about it now.
In my head, I see my father in black-and-white glosses of family photo albums: as a Marine Corps officer earning his commission, as the dean of Brown’s students, smoking a cigarette and looking like to George Peppard.
I see him calmly taking me in fourth grade to the emergency room at Roger Williams Hospital after I slashed my head on the corner of a coffee table while walking with my older brother.
And in a less than heavenly reverie, I see him 20 years later in his two-room apartment on Waterman Avenue in North Providence, writing a letter that recently came into my possession. It’s his brother in New Hampshire.
In his elegant hand, my dad notes that he “finally got a cripplingly boring, underpaid job, low wages, no benefits, but thank goodness a check every week.” He reports that he suffers from emphysema and is quick-witted: “The diagnostician wants to do a series of tests. I asked if he was paying. He concludes with reassurance: “I am writing to you only to inform you and not to alarm you. You see, with you there and the boys here, I have a lot going for me.
Now, in my head, I’m going to another paradise – to Dad and I in the water at Scarborough Beach on a beautiful October day. I’m 7 years old and I feel the strong pull of the undertow when approaching a rising wave. My father is next to me, lean and athletic.
As the wave rolls in and begins to break, I dive to ride it, arms outstretched for the shore. But the water pounded me and I was knocked down in the tumult until, dragging me by the wrists, dad pulled me out of the chaos of the ocean.
We stand in the white sea foam laughing, Superman and I.