Cody is my son’s best friend. They play on the same basketball team. Tristan is short and stocky for his age, while Cody is tall and slender. Tristan looks up to Cody both physically and mentally. He often tells me how Cody is the best player on the team, and it’s true. Cody can dribble and take a shot. He is also a good foot taller than most of the other players. At 7-years-old, this makes him an all-star. However, I would like to point out that Cody is a bit of a ball hog.
Right now, I’m pretty sure that Cody is Tristan’s hero. A few days ago, each family member made a list of goals for 2015. Tristan’s number one goal was to become a good basketball player, “You know,” he said. “Like Cody.”
He’s had other heroes over the years. For a long time he wanted to be Spiderman. He was about five and was always on the look out for crime. I’d see him stretch his hands out, middle fingers down to activate his web slinger. I’d ask him what he was up to, and he’d say, “Catching bad guys. That’s what heroes do.” Before Spiderman, it was The Hulk. And before that is was Wolverine from the X-Men, and before that, it was me. However, that was short lived. I mean, honestly. How am I supposed to complete with Spiderman?
When he was 2, he’d say things like, “When I get big and strong, like daddy.” I admit, I’d always blush when he said that. Mostly because I’m not all that big. I only stand 5’ 7”. And I’m not all that strong. But it felt good to have someone look up to me. Especially my own son.
So much of his young life has been spent in search of heroes, He feels this enormous pressure to be the biggest, the strongest, the bravest, the fastest… Right now he is into Skylanders, a video game about big, strong, and brave monsters that live in Skyland. Most of the characters are males, naturally, and they have super human powers. Tree-rex has super strength, while Prism Break is made from solid rock and can shoot lasers from his hands. You get the idea.
Sometimes I look at the unachievable greatness he is surrounded by, and I want to say, “Tristan. It’s okay. You don’t have to be like those guys to be significant.” I don’t know what it is about being raised a man, but it seems like if you are not big or strong or fast, you are nothing. If you are not the fastest, then you are the slowest. I see it on t-shirts, “Second place is the first loser.” That sort of thing.
As crazy as this sounds, I don’t want him to be a hero. I want him to be Tristan. I want him to look at what he has, his charm, his intelligence, his emotions, and realize that he is significant. That there is pride in second place. There is power in emotion and passion and love. Not everything is about strength and power. Just because he is not the best on the court doesn’t mean he is failing at life. There are so many people for him to look up to, and so many of them are imaginary and unachievable. Tristan will probably never be as tall or as fast as Cody. Both his parents are short. The genes just aren’t there. He is also never going to save Skyland with superhuman strength, and he will never use a web slinger to stop a bank robbery. And you know what, that’s okay. None of those things make him a real hero.
I want to change his definition of “Hero.”
In the real world, heroes get up everyday and are dedicated fathers. Heroes love their family and the people around them. Heroes give the people around them the benefit of the doubt. Heroes pay it forward. Being a hero is about love, and compassion, and friendship. Heroes are generous. Real heroes put thought into everything they do, and they are not afraid to show fear, or weakness, because that is, ultimately, what makes them human.
Heroes are not always big, or fast, or strong. Most of the time, they are just normal people.
I’m not sure how to tell my son this, honestly. I’m not sure how to let him know that I don’t want him to be a basketball star, or Spiderman, or to save Skyland.
I think it’s going to be a lot of little lessons like the one I gave him a few days ago when he fell in the driveway playing basketball.
I was in the garage, working on laundry. I went to check on him, and his face was buried in his knees, his arms wrapped around his shins, blood dripping from a cut on his right leg.
“What happened?” I asked.
He wouldn’t answer, so I crouched down and put my hand on his shoulder.
“Is it because you are crying? I asked.
He nodded without lifting his head.
“Oh…” I said.
I didn’t know just what to say, so I told him a story about his grandfather. We were driving in the woods, Grandpa was behind the wheel, and he hit a deer. Mel, my wife, was in the back seat. She was pregnant with Tristan. “Once we got the truck pushed off the road, and had found help, Grandpa started crying.”
Tristan looked up at me, tears in his face, and said, “Grandpa?”
Tristan was right to be shocked. His grandfather is probably the strongest man I know. He is a professional blacksmith with a mean grip. Not the kind of man to cry.
“Yup,” I said. “He cried because he was so scared that he could have hurt you. That’s how much he loves you.”
Tristan rubbed his nose and unfolded his legs.
“Your grandfather is probably the toughest guy I know. In so many ways he is a hero to me. And you know what I learned that day?”
“What?” he asked.
“That sometimes heroes cry. Especially when they love someone.”
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.