Super Dad and the hero quest of fatherhood

The college dorm room I shared with my best friend was at the center of the hall and, for that reason or not, became a gathering space for many of the guys. 

At some point guys on the hall began using our door frame to mark their heights, like little kids do to measure their growth.

Then it got silly, and marks for fictional characters started appearing on the door frame with, eventually, Batman at the very top.

I don’t remember the conversation that prompted it, but one night my friend Porter took his pencil, went to the door frame, and wrote “Eric’s Dad” at the top of the list of heights, above even Batman.

My dad is not tall, but Porter wasn’t being snarky. He was marveling at, and maybe a little jealous of, how much I respected and admired my dad. All my college friends, even those who had never met him, knew my dad was my hero.

I used to take for granted that I had a father who was engaged in my life in the best way and who was truly a role model and friend even through my teenage years and into adult life. But then I began to realize that was not the norm. 

Years ago I was taking my student staff through a training session at our campus counseling center. The facilitator was talking about the relationship counseling services his office provided and asked my group of a dozen college students: “How many of you would like to have a relationship like your parents?” 

I immediately raised my hand without having to think about it. 

But I looked around the room and realized I was the only one with my hand up. And everyone was looking at me like I was odd, including the facilitator who was trying to make the point that most people need better training on relationships than what they learned watching their parents.

It’s sad that I was the odd one and that too few had the good fortune I had in having parents that I genuinely admire and who sent me into my adult life relatively unscarred.

Now that I’m a dad I realize how hard this is. But it’s the most important job in my life. 

Maybe becoming a father later in life, at age 40, has been a blessing. I’m less interested in career accomplishments and life adventures than I was in my 20s and 30s. I just want to be a good husband and a good dad.

I don’t always come up with the right answer or a wise insight or respond with compassion and calm. I worry I could be doing so much more to be a better parent. But my daughters know they are at the center of my life.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make it onto either of my daughters’ dorm room door frames someday in a superhero showdown. But I hope to be the kind of father they look back on with appreciation and affection. 

Mothers typically just get it done, with or without or in spite of the dad. Mothers deserve a holiday more than once a year. 

Dads, sadly, there’s a low bar to cross in our culture for us to be considered exceptional. You’ve just got to show up and keep showing up. At least do that. 

If you’re a dad, realize you will have no more important job. Ever. 

If you have a dad, even if he isn’t always a superhero for you, let him know you appreciate him.

It’s never too late to start being the person you know you want to be and need to be for the people you love. 

Making that attempt is the only hero quest that matters.