Finding Hero

super_heroI was never a comic books kid.  Never connected with “super heroes.”  I didn’t really discover Superman, Batman, or Wolverine until the box office started cranking out the movies and capitalizing on a market of now-adults looking to relive there childhoods.  I really enjoy the Hollywood films now and again, but it’s not like I am currently taking up a comic book collection and wishing I had super powers.

I loved sports as a kid.  Still do.  I spent most of my time growing up playing outside (mom insisted, even though Nintendo was new on the scene).  When I did watch TV, I watched sports.  I grew up in the era of Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Michael Johnson, Karl Malone, Wayne Gretzky, etc.  Real athletes achieving some unreal things.  And yet, I guess all I can say is, they were great and all, and I enjoyed watching them, but they were not my heroes.  These athletes all did some really inspiring things, but none of them resonated with me as a hero.  On a side note, I also grew up in the era of athletes doing some bad things.  I knew better then, and still know better now than to have idolized Dennis Rodman (North Korea, you can keep him).  I learned it’s never a good idea to bet on baseball (talking to you, Pete Rose). I saw what Tanya Harding did to Nancy Kerrigan (girls gone wild, for real).  I watched, we all watched, the OJ trial (I wonder how easy/hard it is to sell a 92 white Ford Bronco)…

I ended up studying politics in college but, it’s not like I idolized George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Bob Dole, and/or Dan Quayle “potatoe.”

I understood the whole Ghandhi, Pope, Mother Teresa thing… but there was absolutely no way I was going to live up to those standards.  So, although I could be in awe of the way they all chose to live life, I couldn’t relate enough to allow them to be my heroes.

So, who was my hero as a youngster then?  Well, my father was.  And he still is.  That will never change.

Let’s define hero:

a :  a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability

b :  an illustrious warrior

c :  a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities

d :  one who shows great courage

Well, that pretty much sums up my father.  How could it not?

As a kid, you are always in awe of your father’s strength and abilities.  The effortless manner in which he picks you up off the ground, swings you around in circles by your arms, throws you in the air, then lays you back down on the grass, holding you down with one hand and tickling you into submission with the other.  You are secretly hoping you can one day be as strong as him.  To one day wield that much power.

As a kid you see your father as a protector, a warrior, a defender of the family.  I have seen my father in a few altercations when I was growing up.  Nothing too serious, and nothing that came to blows… because I am pretty sure the other guy knew better.  You know, the usual… drunk dude at a football game makes a comment to the family, thinking he is funny.  Father “corrects” him.  Guy puffs up.  Father continues to stand ground and shows a willingness to offer an even more firm “correction” if necessary.  Guy thinks better of it, backs down.  That sort of thing.  Moral of the story, I would not then, and still would not now, fuck with my father.  Especially now that he has “old man strength!”

It is not as a kid, but now that I realize just how much my father has achieved in his life.  Having been in the “real world” now for a while, I realize just how noble his accomplishments are.  Beyond work, beyond wealth, I realize just how noble a pursuit it was for him and my mother to raise me and my asshole brothers.  Good on you, Dad and Mom.

And yes, the courage it must have taken, and still does (as I realize no matter how old I get, I will always be my mother and father’s son) to raise children is exceptional.

I work hard to emulate my father.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say.  I hope my Dad is flattered.  Because  I am trying hard… and if I could become a tenth the man that he is, I will have done okay in this world.

I think the fact that I never idolized a hero outside of my family is a testament to the achievements and commitments of my father.  I never needed to go outside the family to fulfill a need for inspiration.  My father provided me a happy and healthy childhood and he taught me to be a man.  He did this by example and he did this by word and he did this by reprimand.  And he did it all with love.

My father never scored 50 points a game, he never had a shoe line named after him, he never competed in the Olympics.  He did not hold political office, he did not try to solve world hunger or create world peace.  He can’t walk on walls and doesn’t swing from webs.

But I will forgive all that… because he showed me what it was to be a real man… and a real man is what he has made of me.  And that is a truly heroic feat, in and of itself.


The Outsiders

200px-The_Outsiders_bookWhenever I hear the term “outsider,” I immediately word associate and next thing you know I am throwing out terms like, “PonyBoy, Sodapop, Greasers and Socs, (of course, from the novel The Outsiders)… West Side Story, The Great Gatsby, and dare I say Romeo and Juliet…

And what do they all have in common?  In very simple terms, they all revolve around an “opposite sides of the tracks” storyline… They focus on the difficulty and peril associated with/resulting from crossing those tracks…  They are all stories with sad and tragic end… Cautionary tales of trying to live outside of ones given “place” in life.

To be an outsider is to be without means.  To be an outsider is to be of a lower social status.  To be an outsider is to be of lower socioeconomic status.  To be an outsider is to be lacking in power.  To be an outsider is to be left asking the question, “And what exactly makes them/you so much fucking  better than me?!”

In its basic, purest form, and outsider is exactly as it sounds… it is to be someone on the outside of a seemingly desirable existence, looking in.  If the outsider is you, then whatever it is you want (status, respect, a woman)… you see it, you want it, you likely even attempt a go after it…  But you are quickly reminded by society,  “it is not for you.”

What a bitter pill to swallow.  And many of the previously mentioned stories and their tragic ends result from the decisions and actions arising from an unwillingness to swallow that pill.  (But, in many of these stories, society insists the pill be swallowed and forces it down anyway… tragedy ensues).

But these are not just stories, in the sense of something you would read, say you read, and possibly remember reading it a few weeks down the road.  No.  These are great, widely read, critically acclaimed stories, that you never forget, no matter how long ago you read them.  And why?

Because of the way we can all relate to them.  In some form or other, we all relate.  There is an emotional connection to these stories.  They resonate with all of us.

At some point in time or maybe even what feels like (or is) all the time, each of us can relate to what it is to be and to feel like an outsider.  Maybe the group you want to associate with will not accept you?  Maybe the socioeconomic status you are looking to acquire you have not yet achieved?  Maybe the type of woman you wish you could be with is out of your reach, and you have to settle to see her pass by on the arm of “that guy?!”  Maybe it’s racism, maybe sexism, maybe bullying…

Whatever the reason, we can all relate to being an outsider.

So, before I get too long winded, if we all can relate to these stories of lacking and want.  If we all can see ourselves as the outsider from the wrong side of the tracks.  If we all can relate to feeling we cannot have something we truly desire… then this begs the question:

Who the hell are the insiders?!  And if the outsiders so greatly outnumber the insiders, and the thing that bonds the outsiders is the empathy of shared struggle, what is it that the insiders have exactly that we want?  Beyond status, or money, or some other materialistic or socially constructed entity, what is greater and more powerful than the bond of shared human experience?

What is more powerful than being able to relate to other people?

They say its “lonely at the top.”  And perhaps this discussion of outsiders is just one other way of confirming that expression.  And yet, despite it all, we all climb as high as we can.  We all scramble and hustle and grind…  Trying desperately to improve our expereince, our socioeconomic status, and our social acceptance.

Why?  Well, in short, The American Dream… but that is a post for another day.