I was standing in line at the checkout at the grocery store. The woman in front of me looked at me and said, “I’ve been waiting for you all my life.”
My first thought was, “Uh-oh. What did I do to her in kindergarten that she has held a 35-year grudge against me? Can I give her back the Crayons now? I know I can’t uneat the glue.”
My second thought was, “That’s a little forward. We’re in the grocery store, which is not exactly ground zero for dating initiatives. And, oh, by the way, I’m a happily married man with two wonderful children and a fantastic wife who has been by my side for more than 20 years.”
Thankfully, I opted to voice my third thought, which came out as, “Huh?”
She nodded her eyes toward my chest. “Your shirt,” she said. I looked down and saw the big S on my shirt, a Superman shirt that I wear on occasion because I am, well, Superman.
I laughed an uncomfortable laugh, trying to swallow the first two thoughts I had and just accept the good natured and innocent comment she had intended.
We traded some relatively uncomfortable banter back and forth for a few rounds, which I capped off with, “You know, when your daughter gives you a Superman shirt, you wear a Superman shirt.”
Yes, this shirt was a gift from my daughter at Christmas when she was 11. She is 13 now, and, as long as her friends are not around, I am still Superman. My son is 11, and I have caught waaaaay more critters than he has and can also do a much better backflip off the diving board, so I am confident that I will be Superman for a long time with him.
But the window may be closing with my daughter.
She’s a teenager now, and way beyond becoming her own person, which I find both terrifying and necessary. That’s my little girl, after all. But my little girl has to grow up. She has to become a young woman, and with that Daddy becomes Dad. I’m OK with that. I really am. Yes, I miss the days when I had this little half-pint who was totally reliant on her mom and me for everything on the planet, including getting dressed, which usually meant, when it was my time to dress her, she would wear overalls because, let’s face it — she looked really adorable in overalls.
But now is the time where I shift into a different Dad gear. I hope she has seen the way I treat her mother, which is with respect, dignity, and a healthy dose of fear. (Ha! I kid about the last one! Humor, I mean. Treat ‘em with humor!)
But the old adage that the a girl grows up to marry someone like her dad is rooted with a lot of truth. I am the man she saw growing up. I’m the one who sets the standard for what a man is supposed to be in your life. I work really hard to be the man who sets the values that, hopefully, she will one day find.
Dads get to be Superman for a good chunk of their kids’ early lives. It’s a great role to have. We can do anything. It’s a pretty awesome power to be given, but also a pretty awesome responsibility that goes with it.
My daughter gave me that Superman shirt a couple of years ago because, at the time, she saw her Daddy as invincible. Infallible. Unstoppable. I think she may still see me as some of those of those things, even when I’m being so very not like Superman and asking her to do such horrific tasks as emptying the dishwasher. But I still wear the shirt to this day. Because I have to be that person she deserves. And it’s my job to be Super. Even if it may get awkward at the grocery store.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.