Fatherly Fear: Or It Ain't Easy Being Green

When it was announced that Warner Brothers would be making a Green Lantern movie, it was pretty much a given that I would be at one of the first showings. When it was announced that Ryan Reynolds had been tapped to play the lead role of Hal Jordan, it was also pretty much a given that my wife, Ashley, would be shoving comic geeks out of the way in order to get a good seat. Because the family and I were traveling back from our annual trek to Pennsylvania, making it to the opening night wasn’t possible. However; Ashley was still able to knock a few stringy-haired, pimply faced, lifetime virgins to the ground this past Friday on her way to securing the best seats for ogling Ryan’s rock hard abs. (There was some pouting over my refusal to pay extra to see them in 3D.)

Lest you get the wrong impression, let me say up front this post is not a review of the movie. There are a gazillions of them already out there, few of which are very flattering. When it comes to comic book movies (especially of DC characters), I go in with low expectations, hoping to be surprised; instead, I focus on the basic story line. So, in the case of the Green Lantern (*spoiler alerts*), I looked past the questionable casting (*cough, cough* Tim Robbins), the awful acting (*cough, cough* Blake Lively), and the poor plot development (moving right along). If you can ignore these things, then the movie otherwise wasn’t half bad.

The kids liked it at least. (My youngest son, Sawyer did a fist pump and whispered “yessss” when Hal finally kissed love interest, Carol Ferris at the end. –Not exactly sure how to interpret this, but whatever.) One of the things I found interesting, though, was each of the kids’ reactions to what they interpreted as scary both in the film and in the thirty minutes of movie preview shown beforehand.

Every time Green Lantern nemesis, Hector Hammond and his bulging, oversized head filled the screen, my stepdaughters, Allie (9) and Avery (7) would cover their faces. “Now I know why you don’t want us watching scary stuff,” Allie said to me as we got up to leave. This coming from the girl who is entranced by ghost hunter reality shows. Of course she and her sister had no problem with Colin Ferrell as a vampire in the upcoming remake of Fright Night (“He’s hot,” they both agreed. What the hell?), and they nearly squealed themselves into a euphoric stupor at the sight of big snakes, “Death Eaters” and the perpetually nose-less, yet allergy free Voldamort as they wreaked havoc in the final Harry Potter installment.

Sawyer wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. “I am NOT going to watch that,” he announced, bolting straight up in his seat. “Evo-we time I watch Hay-we Potter it fweaks me out!” Transformers 3, on the other hand, was a different story. Forget Cars 2. That’s for babies. Apparently, fifty-foot, monster robots that can hide in your house disguised as a toaster ovens waiting to attack the second you drop two slices of Wonder Bread inside it is what the 6 year old boy crowd is into these days. Okay, but If there’s as much cussing in #3 as there was in #2, then the little guys is going to have to settle for the antics of ‘Mater and McQueen.

By the way, why does Michael Bay feel the need to add “A Michael Bay Film” at the end of his movie previews? If a skyscraper is crashing into another skyscraper in the heart of downtown Chicago while fighter jets weave in and out between buildings amid earsplitting explosions, all part of an epic battle against gargantuan alien beings sent to take over the earth, then I’m pretty sure no one’s going to mistake it for a Woody Allen flick.

Noah was not impressed, even by all the military hardware in action. “That’s going to be so stupid,” he said after the narrator informed us this was a Michael Bay film. I leaned forward and asked him why. “That guy doesn’t even have the same girlfriend in this one,” he responded. Logical. Considering that Noah shares my cynical leanings, and because his 12 year old body is being flooded with raging hormones, I understood where his head was at on this one. Right now, he’s got an entirely different thing to fear—-girls.

Harrison (9) didn’t seem to have an opinion one way or the other on any of the films. He seemed more preoccupied with the fifty pounds of candy he had crammed into the pockets of his cargo shorts. By the time the movie started, I’m guessing he had eaten close to his body weight in Tootsie Rolls. Still, all that sugar didn’t affect his ability to focus on Hal Jordan and the origins of the Green Lantern.

Throughout the past week, Harrison has been the most excited about seeing this movie (well, except for my wife, but her reasons were completely different). The handful of Green Lantern Corps actions figures and hardware he had to play with probably had something to do with that (Ashley couldn't keep her hands off of them either), but regardless, Harrison declared it his favorite movie as we left the theater. Other than that, he didn’t say much else.

Harrison is a carefree kid for the most part. But even though he can appear to be having a great time, his brain may be churning over something on much deeper level. Sometimes I forget this, and he’ll catch me off guard like he did as I tucked him to bed after coming home.

“Dad,” he said in a quiet voice.. “I’m scared.”

Coming from a boy covered in covered from head to toe with bruises and scratches garnered from such fearless acts as using tree branches to swing back and forth across four-foot deep ditch, I was more than a little curious as to what he’d be afraid of. “What are you scared of, buddy?”

He stared down at his covers for a few seconds. “That you’re gonna die.”

This wasn’t what I was expecting, and yet I knew where the idea had come from. In the movie, one of the defining moments for Hal Jordan was witnessing his father die in a plane crash, this, right after his father said in the preceding scene that as a test pilot “it was his job not to be afraid.” KABLAMO! The event is what prevented Hal from being totally fearless—the essential quality for being a Green Lantern. This is the internal conflict central to the story that Hal must confront, which of course he does in defeating Parallax, an evil super villain that grows stronger by feeding off of, what else—fear. Hal nearly dies in the process, but is rescued and subsequently honored as a member of the Corps. The end. Stop at restroom. Load van. Drive home.

That would be Parallax feeding on someone's fear

For me, sitting there on my son’s bed, I was at a loss for words to reassure him with. “Son, I don’t want you to worry about that happening to me.” Movie dads seem to have all the answers. I, however, am not a movie dad. I live 1,300 miles away from my sons for ten months out of the year, and in the two months that I do get to see them, I have to jam in as much fatherly "wisdom" as is possible hoping that it sticks in their brains when they’re gone.

With one son mere months from being a teenager the realization that all of my kids are soon going to be faced with serious issues and they’re going to need real help. For my boys in particular, because of the current geographical circumstances and other divorce-related factors, that need is even greater. A few weeks back this was on my mind as I walked through the house, when a sudden question made me freeze. “Am I enough for my kids?”

Knowing everything that could happen to my kids, this terrified me, but not as much as the answer: No. No I am not enough. I am human. I will fail them. And yes, I could even die without warning, leaving them to deal with much of life on their own. From this perspective, there is a lot of room to doubt myself. When I screwed up that one time way back when, will they hold it against me? Will they feel like I wasn't there for them when they needed me? Will they blame me for the divorce when the fallout from the family separation becomes too frustrating for them?

These thoughts crush me. They freak me out, and I start to overcompensate, or worse, become depressed because I can’t overcompensate. Then I turn apprehensive , and eventually become emotionally unavailable being too wrapped up in my own issues. I hate the idea of not being enough for my children, and yet, there’s no way around it either.

What I have to remind myself of though is that, despite all the doubts, fears and circumstances, I am still by far the best option my children have available. No one will love them or care for them more than me (and their moms). No one wants the best for them like me. No one will work harder for them than me whatever the situation.

After I told Harrison not to worry about me dying, he followed up by asking, “Why?”

“Well,” I explained. “Because we all could die at any time, but if we keep thinking about it, it’s just going to make us sad, and then we might be too sad to have any fun doing stuff together. Kinda like the Green Lantern. He almost didn’t get to be a superhero because he kept thinking about his dad dying and it made him too afraid to try. Make sense?”

Harrison glanced at the wall and then back at me. “Yeah. I think so.” He smiled.

The Green Lantern may not have been a perfect movie. It might not have been a Michael Bay production. And the hair tussle I gave Harrison was probably lacking in comparison the one performed by Hal Jordan’s father minutes before being flame broiled, but if nothing more, the movie had a simple message I could use in talking to my son about his fears and for reflecting on my own as a parent.

* * *
In compliance with FTC regulations I have to disclose that Mattel supplied me with the Green Lantern toys. I probably was supposed to do a product review or something, but I don't do those. I tell stories. And I have a weakness for free superhero toys which probably makes me a sellout. Mehh.


"Bricks" A Father's Day Guest Post

First, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Father's Day! Today, the Lunchbox has a special treat: a guest post from Brian of The Cheek of God. If you've not familiar with Brian, then you are missing out. I highly recommend you add him to your reader (and after reading his post today, I'm sure you will). Amid the ever growing sea of dad bloggers out there, Brian is among the best in my opinion. Rarely will you find a voice more genuine and honest. Brian's writing has a compelling quality about it that draws you in and makes you feel exactly what he's feeling. In this guest post, you will experience this firsthand as Brian puts into perspective our failures and roles as fathers.


Somehow I became the lag man. The one chosen by the Family Adventure gods to walk behind those that like to run ahead and instead keep time with, and track of, those that tend to lag behind.
I’m with the family at Six Flags Great America just north of Chicago for a late-summer rendezvous with my in-laws and an assortment of nieces and nephews. We’ve had our carbohydrate-heavy continental breakfast, have driven the .645 miles across the road from our hotel to the massive parking lot, and have already ridden our first attraction, an octopus-like purple contraption upon which our bodies, and breakfast, have been thoroughly shaken and stirred. There was laughing, giggling, some noxious belching, and a bit of frantic screaming.

Mission accomplished.

And so we’re walking down the midway, off toward the Next Big Thing up and around the bend, when I look back and notice my youngest son Ethan has been sidetracked by a carnie. I glance ahead to get a sense of the direction where the front of the procession is heading, and then turn on my heels and jog back to the ball toss stand where my son has fished out his dollar bills and is slapping them down. How cute! What growing boy wouldn’t want a . . . giant stuffed Tweety Bird? Um. Yeah. But there he is, tossing another ball at a tilted board off of which he is to ricochet said ball into an awaiting basket. It is a classic setup that required a certain amount of skill. I’ll just step in, do my dad thing, and explain the physics of it all. Show him a thing or two. Only he isn’t paying attention to me. He’s just pulling out dollars . . . and glancing over his own shoulder. Must be afraid they’ll get too far ahead and have all the fun without him. Aww. How cute! Only he seems anxious. Excited.

And about to cry.

I catch on after a few bucks, look back, and notice my youngest daughter Zoe, lingering a bit behind the group, staring at us. Her face is only slighter calmer now compared to how it had appeared on the octopus ride. The screaming? Her. And her favorite stuffed animal? The one she hugs tightly when life overwhelms her? Back at the motel. She looks more than a bit lost without it. And it hits me like the proverbial brick in the head:

He’s trying to win a Tweety for his baby sister.

I loaned him a few bucks when his started getting low. Even tried a few tosses myself. We didn’t win, but we fought the fight. For his sister. For my daughter. We left the ball toss stand empty handed, but he ran ahead and grabbed hers. I walked just behind them and smiled.
These are the good days.

Bad days?

A note. Found lying on the kitchen floor. Smudged pencil scrawled on a small crumpled slip of paper. It began . . .

I feel so stupid and worthless.

The penmanship unmistakably my oldest daughter’s, but the words so . . . not her. Not the smiling and intelligent and beautiful daughter we encounter most days, anyway. She’s a teenager. She has her ups and downs. But this?

I feel stupid and ugly and pathetic!

I literally gasped.

Some time later, I read this:

“Often the one child who is softer than the rest, who is more sensitive than the family is used to, is the one selected to deal with what no one else will deal with.”

That brick I mentioned earlier?


How many times have I belittled myself in front of my children? Lamented the poor choices I’ve made? Apologized for being a subpar father? And turned away from them when they offered words of adoration and love?

What oftentimes seems like honest accounting is nothing more than begging the pity party. And worse is when the load shifts onto the shoulders of children.


There has been much written lately about dadbloggers. Who they are. What it takes to be a good one. So on and so forth. I have purposely avoided most of it, because it was about the time the conversations and debates started heating up that I felt those bricks. The ones that have reminded me time and again that I am far from having this dad thing figured out. At least not to the point where I can be so bold as to share my notions with the World Wide Web.

So I stopped blogging. Refused to process these things through that blog lens we all wear. The one we use to shape each and every little thing into a series of words and images that are supposed to neatly wrap up for the waiting horde this thing called Fatherhood. That’s how some dadblogs come across, unfortunately. Whether intentional or not, there are a lot of dudes who believe they have boiled being a dad down to a science. Sure we get the good shit every once in a while, the stuff of wide-eyed wonder and salty tears, but it gets lost amidst the pitches for products or services we don’t need. Stuff that they got for free. And the never-ending barrage of “Please RT!!!!” or “Like my page!!!” or “Last chance to enter!!!”

Ad infinitum.

Ad nauseum.

I saw myself, becoming that. So I stepped away, zipped my lip, and sought to recapture for myself the answer to the question . . .

Where is the mystery?

My kids? In a big picture sense, they are THE mystery. Oh, I still try on occasion to step up to the plate and show them how to swing for the bleachers. But my back is stiff. My knees hurt. And I just make it all look so silly.

Much like Fred Waitzkin did in this scene from Searching for Bobby Fischer . . .

Seven Moves from tysdaddy on Vimeo.

Did you catch those looks on daddy’s face? There’s the first one, where he’s all up on his high horse putting little Josh down for losing to “that patzer.” His chest all puffed out, like, “I’m spitting fucking gold nuggets here!!” And then that other look. When Josh throws that brick and hits him square in the face. Daddy’s speechless. Shut down. Gasping for breath.

More than just that scene, the movie resonates with me on so many wider levels. Like how we as dads often see ourselves bringing up our kids to do certain things or like this or that simply because we want them to. This is only natural. They are blank slates, right? And it is our prerogative to train them up however we see fit, following a plan best built upon the bedrock of personal experience or pleasure. By doing so, maybe they’ll do it all better than we did. Deep down, we want them to find what has eluded us. Or perhaps need them to, as Fred Waitzkin echoes in his book that inspired the movie . . .

“For some fathers and mothers, passion for their child’s success has become so gargantuan that the kid’s own predilections have been subsumed by their needs.”

This won’t make much sense to those of you with small children, but if you’ve got t(w)eenagers like me, you’d be the ones nodding your heads right about now. We fashion a dim reflection in them of what we want them to be, and then have the nerve to turn our backs on them when they show some genuine spark in another area of interest. What is ultimately just another facet of this blindingly beautiful gem called life appears unfamiliar to us, and we foolishly throw up our hands, recoiling in what is meant to be the light of discovery. For them. And us.

They grow up so fast, many people told me, and I’m starting to believe them. And I am at my best as a father when I choose to remember that children live, as Dylan Thomas put it in his poem Fern Hill, “once below a time.” Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian theologian and writer, introduced me to this poem, and particularly to this turn of a phrase, in his book The Sacred Journey, where he writes, “It is by its quality rather than its duration that a child knows time.” For a child, all time is “now time and apparently endless.”

And we are placed into this most sensitive of spaces. We walk with them, ceaselessly counting their steps even as they bound ever onward, eyes up and ablaze, with no signs of slowing down. Or letting us catch up. Leaving us dads to lag behind.

If we’ve done this thing right, if we choose to pay attention when it counts, and to be always mindful, then we won’t lose sight of them. And the view will leave us gasping . . .


You can follow Brian on Twitter at @TheCheekofGod

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