Love, Angry Birds, and Superman

by Wolf Pascoe on April 19, 2011

The Man with Zero Eyes

An honorable human relationship – that is one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” is a process,

Delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

Adrienne Rich

“Dada, can I play Angry Birds for ten minutes?”

A simple, yes-or-no question. What a ridiculous assault of feelings and images it brings. As if someone has said, “Howya doin?'” and I have to grope and grope before coming up with a measly, “I have no idea.”

Since the Computer Wars, we have strict screen limits in our house. An hour on a school day. Two hours on a non-school day. This has restored a measure of sanity to us. Nick even is happier. But his desire remains, and its plaint washes over my heart and baptizes me in regret.

“I’m sorry, Nick. You’ve had your hour today. Tomorrow.”

“Okay, dada.”

He trudges off, little pools of disappointment collecting in his steps. How is it three lines of prosaic dialogue have left me feeling a tyrant?

I sit frozen for a few minutes, the piece of reading I was absorbed in now trivial and tasteless. The memory of a day I’ve not thought of in years flies in the window.

A

NINE

I’m nine. My father has been gone a year. I’ve already discovered Superman comics and my desire for them is insatiable. My mother has not yet taken them away from me.

My collection had begun when I noticed a rack of comics in a local market and fished ten cents out of my pocket. I know the exact date. But I know also that Superman comics started coming out years before my time. There are thousands of them I will never be able to see, unless I can somehow find them. They call to me out of a misty darkness, as from the original Fleischer cartoons:

A

A

On this particular day, a Sunday, I’m at my cousin’s house and we’re about to go to the Purim Carnival. Printed on the flier in bold letters are the words:

SALE—Toys. Art. COMIC BOOKS.

It’s there in black and white. They will be selling comics at the carnival. Old comics.

I am bursting to get there early. I know with a certainty absolute that the comics I want will be the first ones sold. Yet we dither. My uncle, who is taking us, is talking on the phone with some imbecile. He gets off and must consult with my aunt. The carnival is starting.

The Super Family from Out of Space

“We need to go,” I say to my uncle.

“Hold your horses.”

“But the good comics will be gone.”

“There’ll be plenty of comics.”

Nothing I say will convince him of the matter’s gravity. We arrive half an hour late. I see a few boys with comics in their hands. I race to the booth. Arrayed on the counter and stacked in open boxes, I find Archies. Little Lulus. Ritchie Rich.

Not a Superman among them.

An older boy passes by with a batch under his arm.

“Look what I just got,” he says.

He shows me a dozen Supermans. My eyes fix on the covers with X-ray force. I own a couple, but the rest I’ve never seen. Each one is a Rosetta Stone, a key to something crucial in my past. My secret identity.

“Hey,” the boy says. “Give ’em back.”

I remember nothing else of that day.

DIFFERENT

On my tablet of reasons why I can’t bear Nick’s disappointment, I now inscribe this story. I feel pathetic. Surely missing out on some comic books ranks low on the list of plagues assailing the world. It doesn’t even matter to me anymore.

But it matters to Nick that I sort it out. It matters because if I don’t refine the truth and do justice to my own complexity, then I can’t tell us apart. I will end up rubbing balm on my own wounds which I imagine to be his. I will end up withholding balm for his actual wounds where I imagine him to have none.

And it’s important to write this down because there are so few people we can count on to go that hard way with us.

There will be, perhaps, a time when ten minutes of Angry Birds equals ten lost Superman comics. Or when some other thing that is troubling Nick has troubled me in precisely the same way, and my past can illuminate his present instead of obscure it.

Today, I can see clearly now, is not that day. Today we are different.

. . .

A

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A

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EXPRESS YOURSELF!

Any thoughts about Angry Birds or Superman? I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf April 19, 2011 at 11:45 am

This is quite beautiful, Wolf: It matters because if I don’t refine the truth and do justice to my own complexity, then I can’t tell us apart. I will end up rubbing balm on my own wounds which I imagine to be his. I will end up withholding balm for his actual wounds where I imagine him to have none.

How many parents are willing to do the work to separate themselves and their experience of the world from their child’s, and thus to give to the child what he needs, rather than what the parent needs to give?

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Wolf Pascoe April 19, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Everyone willing please raise your hands.

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Barbara April 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm

As a mother, I’ve been in your shoes so many times – I know what you mean by those pools of disappointment he left behind. Wonderful post! (I was an Archie and Ritchie Rich aficianado, myself . I sure wish I still had all of mine!)

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Wolf Pascoe April 19, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Didn’t mean to downplay Archie and Richie Rich. I liked all of them. I especially loved Uncle Scrooge. So does Nick.

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David April 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm

It is a delicate uncovering what you’re doing here, a peeling away of layers of living skin to arrive at a living truth. As complex as surgery I imagine, where Love is the patient.

I think it was Sufi Inayat Khan who said, The Source is not impressed with heroism. I would submit this needlework you do is more impressive and much more difficult.

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2plus1dad April 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

We have rules on screen time, too, but the I doubt the disappointment will be so enduring if you do something else with your little guy. If you play catch or run round outside with him for an hour every day after the screen time is over, he’ll remember that for the rest of his life. Not so sure about Angry Birds…

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Wolf Pascoe April 19, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Amen. I think he won’t remember Angry Birds, the same way you don’t remember anesthesia.

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Wolf Pascoe April 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm

“The Source is not impressed with heroism” is an interesting thing to say. There is an African saying Michael Meade used to quote, which warned, “Do not excel the world.” Wonder if they’re equivalent…

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Amanda Morgan April 19, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Beautiful writing, Wolf. Really gave me a lot to think about. I particularly liked the same passage BigLittleWolf cited. Your insight and composition are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

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Wolf Pascoe April 20, 2011 at 7:47 am

Thanks for the visit, Amanda, and the kind words.

All parents should check out Amanda’s fabulous blog, Not Just Cute, which brims with essential tools and ideas for raising kids.

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Clark Kent's Lunchbox April 20, 2011 at 8:49 am

I’ve read this twice–yesterday and then again this morning. So poignant. You really know how to create a vivid image in these flashbacks to your boyhood and then tie them to your roles as a father today. Great, great stuff.

Knowing that line of disappointment for the kids–when is it okay because it’s important to them, and when you have to stick to your guns because it’s not–that can be a tough call.

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Wolf Pascoe April 20, 2011 at 10:04 am

Thanks, Ron. I like that phrase, line of disappointment.

Dads can keep a finger on the pulse of the online father world through Ron Mattock’s hangout, Clark Kent’s Lunchbox. It’s Nick’s favorite blog.

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Sirena April 21, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I had ideas along the same lines as 2plus1dad, like engaging him in some other activity – even better to do it with him. I’m sorry you didn’t get the Superman comics at the fair, which to my old fashioned mind seems much more painful than not getting to play Angry Birds, whatever the heck THAT is. Love the new, more spacious blog!

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Wolf Pascoe April 21, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Thanks, Sirena, and especially for your kind feedback on the new look. So glad you didn’t get lost finding your way here.

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Charlie April 23, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Inherent in the struggle and triumph that is parenting, we find ourselves passing on to and simultaneously bristling at the idea of injecting our children with our stupidity. My father was deathly afraid, as a radio disc-jockey, of being sophomoric. But his pain and desperation pulled him away from his children. At what point, do you starve our insecurities rather than examine and thereby validate them?

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Wolf Pascoe April 24, 2011 at 12:10 am

At what point indeed. It’s my fears as well as stupidities that I worry about passing on.

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Charlie April 24, 2011 at 12:33 am

Wow, typos and bad grammar from me on the above. Sorry. My boy is teething again. I am going to remake “Neverending Story” and call it “Neverending Teething”. If you need any respite, our blog is here for you. 🙂

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Wolf Pascoe April 24, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Thanks, Charlie. You can edit your comments here any time and approach perfection.

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Tracy TC April 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Beautiful, Wolf! A big shout out to Wendy for sharing the link in her facebook stream. Screen time is a constant debate at our house, and I don’t mean just between parents and kid. =-)

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Wolf Pascoe April 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I know we all go through this. Sigh.

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claire April 25, 2011 at 1:23 am

Thank you. This is poignant, beautiful, giving us pause to examine what disappointments are made of. Prompts me to ask myself again, are most disappointments ours to begin with, or did we model the feeling of disappointment from our own parents only to pass them onto our kids unknowingly? As a grief coach, one of the exercises I have my clients do is map out a loss timeline, listing every significant loss in their lives. Often, not wanting to disappoint, seeking approval for others, were often top the lists of why people grieved alone, or without support. As a parent, when my 3 year old asks for the umpteenth time in the same day, “can we, PLEASE, can we?” I catch my inner child straddling that thin line down memory lane.

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Wolf Pascoe April 25, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Claire,

I wish I knew where all my disappointments came from. Now I’m thinking about what I inherited from my own parents. Didn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald nail it? — “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Thanks for dropping by.

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