He’s faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Look up in the sky. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!
Oddly enough I remember that intro from the Superman cartoon series of the 50’s. Odd, considering I was way from being born at the time it was created. Actually, my parents were probably toddlers then. Growing up, however, we used to watch these episodes with my older brothers. I was barely a baby then, but somehow, either through their conversations or through some subliminal absorption, I remember that intro. And it stuck. Superman was my childhood hero.
And so as I grew up, since Superman was just on TV and the comics, the person I considered closest to him was my dad. The chief. He was my real life Superman. In my eyes, he had the biggest muscles. He was strong. He was fast. He was wise. Wiser than any wise person I knew. Even for the one’s I didn’t know, he was wiser than them. He was My Superman.
He probably knew when I stole 20 shillings to buy those wire bicycle toy guys. I have no idea what they’re called. You’d push it around and this yarn clad bicycle guy would look like he was cycling. It was a neat piece of engineering now that I think of it. So when I purchased one from my ill gotten wealth, depriving the household of a loaf of bread,I felt the guilt thereafter and threw it over the fence into the neighbour’s backyard. Out of fear that the chief would catch me. How? I don’t know. He was Superman. He was probably telepathic among his many powers.
My Superman taught me that I should know BODMAS at Standard two. Amid tears and wailing I learnt it in a night. Only to realise that I didn’t need to know it till Standard five. He taught me my times tables and made sure by the same Standard two I knew all my times tables up to 12. It was a painful process, but I learnt. He was my hero. He probably was born knowing his times tables up to 17. Or higher. That’s why he was an engineer. It was probably his cover to hide his true identity. Just like in the cartoon Superman was a journalist. My Superman could fool anyone with those thick rimmed, coke bottle bottom sized lensed spectacles. Maybe he had them to hide the fact that he had x-ray vision.
But just as a rising sun illuminates the previously darkened land, I learnt my Superman was far from the hero I though he was.
The first time was when the Peugeot 305 (the Chariot) engine caught fire. We had just backed out of the car park at home and were maneuvering to leave the estate, when suddenly smoke engulfed the car cabin and flames menacingly leaped from the sides of the bonnet. Out jumps the chief from the drivers seat, in his favourite red and black checked blazer. He flings open the bonnet, and in and almost similar motion takes off his blazer and immediately whacks away at the daring flames. The fire was no match for him. His blazer was ruined though. He loved that blazer. I loved it too. I was proud at how he’d saved the day, but surely, couldn’t he have saved that blazer?
Then one day, while we were awaiting the chief and his missus to return from a trip to the village they arrived, but not at the expected time. They were hours late. And not in the Chariot. We later found out that there had been a car jacking, with the chief, his passengers and the chariot being the hapless casualties. The chief was slightly injured, having met the business end of a wheel spanner. How could that happen? He was My Superman. I remember walking off to my room in disappointment. My dad, the strongest man I knew, maimed by mortals.
A few years later he landed in hospital. This time, the vertebrae in his back unable to support him in an upright position. A slipped disc they called it. He could barely walk let alone take those 2 hour baths he liked to take. How could My Superman be on a hospital bed? Unable to sit up without wincing.
Slowly it dawned on me. He was no Superman afterall. He was just a man. Mortal. Susceptible to pain and anguish. It broke my heart.
He eventually got out of the hospital. He painfully started doing the things that normal people do, like going to work, sitting, walking, driving and taking 2 hour baths. In all this he never stopped providing for his family, for us, for me. He listened, he gave advice, he shaped me and my brothers into the men that we are today. And he never stopped. He has never stopped. He continued driving the Chariot ( yes, it was retrieved thanks to an actual working police force, or clueless robbers, or a bribe. We’ll never know).
As I thought about Father’s Day this past weekend, I remember something one of my brother’s told me about being a father.
You guy, fatherhood is about giving up your comfort zone. Your couch corner, your food, your money, everything. Give it all up with a plan to ensure your clan succeed in all God has planned for them.
Wise words from a young man. And they ring true when I think about the chief extinguishing those flames with his checked blazer. Protecting his missus from marauding carjackers and getting injured in the process. Teaching a young boy complex mathematics concepts late into the night so as to empower him for the future. And countless other sacrifices he has made to ensure his sons live the life he wished he could.
Of course when I called him to thank him for being a great dad, he retorted that an African man should not show such feelings. It’s a sign of weakness. But deep down inside I know he appreciated that call. But that’s the chief, impervious to emotion.
No. My dad is no Superman. He’s just a man. But what a man. He’s still My Superman, and always will be.
Happy Father’s Day Chief.