He was four-foot something tall flash of energy under a platinum-blonde head of hair scrambling along the scree slope. They were on one of their many fishing trips in the rivers and lakes north of the city they lived in. In spite of having gone on many of these fishing trips, the little boy could not recall many times when they actually caught a fish. Catching fish was almost an after-thought. It was the journey–a few hours in the car, followed by a one or two-hour hike to the lake of choice for the day, and the peaceful time together at that lake that were the main events. Catching fish was a bonus that came along from time to time.
This one particular day, they took an impromptu stop at a river near the highway to try a new fishing hole. The hike down was steep, rock-strewn, and treacherous. The little boy had no fear as he scrambled across the rocks. He knew Superman was with him, and there was no reason to be afraid. When the loose rocks shifted under him, he could hear the admonishment Superman yelled to him to slow down and not get so far ahead. Reluctantly, the boy slowed down, and Superman caught up. Even when the rocks were moving, the little boy felt no fear. They didn’t catch anything at that fishing spot, but that didn’t matter.
Years later, Superman was remembering that day and many others to his adult son and some friends. His platinum-blonde hair had thinned somewhat and darkened, but to the 30-something son who had once scrambled across that scree slope, his Dad was still Superman, just not the one who was going to catch him if he fell down a steep hill. Now, he was the one who shared knowledge; the one the son came to for advice when some difficult life choice came up; or the man he could sit down with for an hours-long conversation about the deepest subjects. Superman always seemed to have the right answers. Superman confessed how scared he was that day on the steep slope when the little boy got too far ahead of him on the rocky slope. Superman’s memory of that day was different than the son’s. Superman was the concerned father who feared that his little blonde dervish was going to take the express route to the bottom of the hill under an avalanche of rocks, while the little boy was carefree. Superman was always a constant, a rock, that was there through some turbulent changes in his son’s life.
The decline started slowly and subtly at first. Superman couldn’t walk as fast or as far as he once did, and the son noticed that on a visit his parents took to his home one spring. While Superman always said he was fine, it was obvious he was in pain and increasing discomfort. He did his best to hide it. That’s what Superman always did, but unbeknownst to him and his family, his heart was failing. The pain and the decline took its toll. Six years later, after Superman’s Lois Lane passed away, Superman seemed like a ship that lost its rudder. His mental and physical health began a rapid decline. A stroke was the kryptonite that felled Superman and landed him in the hospital. As the son looked on at his bedridden father who sometimes now didn’t recognize him, he saw the roles change. Now, he had to be the Superman to the frail dying man who cowered in fear from things only his mind could see. He had to make the big decisions, and provide the comfort and reassurance. Sometimes, the old man cried during those moments of clarity when he realized what was really happening. The son saw the man who once caught the little blonde boy in his arms before he fell, grasp at him now for comfort. They both cried. Superman stayed by his father’s bedside to his last day.
The son honoured Superman’s last request, and he left him with his Lois Lane. The son drove away into the dawn of a new life without the two rocks that had always been constants through the many shifting currents of his life. Through the things they did right, and the things they did wrong, Superman and Lois taught him well. While his journey now diverged sharply from theirs and the path he had shared with them; their teachings, and now the teachings of new Elders in his life, continue to guide his path.
Seven years ago today, on December 25, 2009, sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 pm, my father, who had always been Superman to me, drew his last breath. While I was not at his bedside at his last moment, I had been there through most of that day, only leaving to have Christmas dinner with a friend and her family. The call from the hospital came just after we finished dinner. I vividly remember that day as a child when I was scrambling up the slope of loose rock, when some of the rocks began to shift under me. I wasn’t scared at all, but my Dad was–I never knew how scared he was until years later. As a child, when Dad was there, I had nothing to fear. I feel truly blessed to have had two of the most wonderful parents I could have asked for. Were they perfect? No. Nobody is. They made mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, but I always knew they had my best interests at heart, and I realize that my close relationship to them was one that not everyone has with their parents. The grief has long passed, but as a friend of mine once said, “you never stop missing them.”