Superman's Two Dads In Man of Steel

Last week Entertainment Weekly published an interesting (well, interesting to me) article in their Summer Must List edition. The article centered on Superman's two dads in the highly anticipated Man of Steel movie coming out in a few weeks. (I've already bought tickets and put in for a vacation day.) According to interviews with both Director Zach Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer, the role of fathers will be a central issue critically affecting Clark Kent's choices in becoming Superman.

EW correspondent Anthony Breznican writes that Clark is "in a tug-of-war between his Kryptonian biological father, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his adoptive earthling dad, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Coster)." Goyer continues the thought stating, "It's about Clark trying to decide whose son he is," while adding that Clark's decision will determine the the fate of the earth.

As I've mentioned before, the conflict, of course, stems from Jor-El sending Kal-El to Earth with a message to his son that he is to become a savior to his new home world, while Kent, on the other hand urges Clark to conceal his powers out of a fear for the worst from humanity.

What I liked best about the article, mainly because it's something I readily identify with, is that both Snyder and Goyer's experiences as fathers influenced this particular aspect of the movie. With eight kids, Snyder has had much to draw from, while Goyer goes on to recount a particularly poignant moment as a parent.    

"One day [my stepson] was mad at me and said, 'You're not my real dad! I don't have to listen to you!'" Goyer recalls. "[Jonathan] Kent says a version of what I said to my stepson, which  is, 'You're right. I'm not your real dad, but I love you and chose you. And I didn't have to choose you. And that's a big deal.'"

Being both a dad and a stepdad this article really hit home with me. In one sense I am both Jor-El and Jonathan Kent which often makes me question the consistency of the messages I pass along to my three sons and two stepdaughters. Sometimes I get it right; sometimes I don't. Mistakes are part of the story, but so too are triumphs.

In any case, I am thrilled that Man of Steel is going to explore this aspect of Superman's journey. In fact, Snyder tells that a lot of emphasis will be place on Clark's years as a child growing up and the character development that molds the superhero he will eventually become.

For a guy with a blog named Clark Kent's Lunchbox, this is exciting to hear. It's exactly the part of the Superman story that made me a fan to begin with, and it's what helped make me a better father.


Man Up Monday: If You See Me Wearing A Blue Wristband

It's Man UP Monday!  I'm proud to be a member of the Team Single Jingles Man UP Monday PARENT BLOGGING TEAM! Today, I'm doing my part to spread an important message about Testicular CancerThis post is in support of the Testicular Cancer Foundation (Team Single Jingles) which provides education and support to young men in order to raise awareness about testicular cancer, the #1 cancer among men ages 15 – 35. It's important to know this ahead of time because I rarely talk about my genitalia. 

* * * 

Every guy has a good story about testicles, either theirs or someone else’s, and usually they elicit some amount of sympathy. Whenever someone mentions they were whacked in the nuts by a baseball bat-wielding toddler, or shares how some guy they know had his genitals squashed against the steering wheel during a car crash, every male, young and old, within earshot will wince as sympathy pains suddenly coursing through their groin and a wave of peculiar nausea rises up in their stomach.

I, of course, am no exception to the above, and could, in fact, recount a number of stories—mostly of others—that would make even a eunuch cringe. Of these, the one that stands out from among the rest occurred while I attended the Army’s Airborne School, a three-week meant to teach willing participants how to get sucked out the door of a perfectly good airplane as you kiss your ass goodbye.

On the day after our first a fellow student, who I never talked with before approached me in the latrine.

“Can I show you something?” he asked. There was a worried look in his eyes, and I didn’t know what to expect, which is why there was so much trepidation in my voice when I said, “Sure.”

That’s when he unbuttoned his pants and pulled out his privates. “Do you think I should get this looked at?”

At first I thought this would turn out to be some sort of crude joke or perhaps worse until I saw the one inch tear the base of his testicles. I winced and nearly threw up as he explained how when he jumped from the plane earlier that day, the jarring yank that occurs once your parachute pops open caused one of the loose harness straps running between his legs to slice into his—well, you get the picture.

Under normal circumstances the answer to his question would be obvious; however, to do so meant being recycled into another class to repeat training. So demoralizing is this possibility that given the choice between this and having your balls ripped off, one is faced with a legitimate conundrum.

“Oh man, that’s a tough call,” I replied. “Could you tape it maybe?”

He nodded his head. “That’s what I was thinking,” he said. Then he pulled a wad of Army-grade toilet paper from his pocket and stuffed it against the wound before buttoning back up and heading to the harness shed to suite up for another 800-foot jump.

I’m not sure if this chap ever graduated, of if he ever had children, but you can be damn sure I cinched down my leg harness tight enough to cut off the circulation to my feet.  I didn’t need any further motivation for keeping what’s naturally mine, which is why I recently went to see the doctor after my right testicle started hurting.  My lone hesitation in this, however, came at the thought of my doctor, Dr. Zhu, a middle-aged Chinese woman who stood no taller than the average 4th grader.

The idea of Dr. Zhu inspecting my package with her tiny child-like hands was enough to make me rethink my concern over the dull ache I had been experiencing over the last few days. Fear of the unknown won out, though, that and the impossibility of finding a make physician on such short notice.

What if it’s cancer? The thought both scared me and gave me a slight thrill over the attention I would receive. Ignoring the fact that my symptoms failed to coincide with testicular cancer, I started picking out colors for awareness wristbands I would give to friends and sell through an Etsy store.

Whatever the case I needed to know the answer sooner rather than later which is how I found myself with a miniature Chinese woman fondling my testicles which at this point looked like two overly ripe, fleshy grapes sporting the long, scraggly beard of a homeless Vietnam vet working the intersection of MLK and JFK. In the vet’s defense, he probably smelled better.

Dr. Zhu did not go about her work quietly as she pinched and squeezed the way people check for fresh produce at the grocery store.

“This hurt?” she asked.

“No.” The hesitancy in my voice more than conveyed my embarrassment over the present circumstance.

“How this?”

“It’s okay.”

“How ‘bout now?”

I jerked away wincing.

“Ah, I see,” she said rolling a few feet back in her stool.

By her tone I knew something was wrong. It was only a matter of how serious, and I braced myself for the worst while settling on blue for the awareness wrist bands.

Tossing her extra small latex gloves in the trash, Dr. Zhu took a deep breath. “You have more than one par-ten-ner?” she wanted to know.

More than one partner? The question was so absurd it hardly registered until I noticed she was waiting for an answer.

“Whaaa? No. I’m married!” As I said this, it occurred to me that being married could be taken as a flimsy excuse for why I shouldn’t have more than one partner, but it did not rule out the likelihood.  

Of the three possible diagnoses for my discomfort, two were STDs including gonorrhea while the third meant I should be doubled over in extreme pain. By simple process of elimination I started to doubt myself. What if I did have an STD? How would I explain this to my wife? I visualized her setting me on fire as I slept in our bed.

It seemed my doctor had her doubts too. “We order more test,” she said, scribbling on a note pad. “You need urine test and ultrasound.” Then she added patronizingly, “Just ah to make sure.”

During the car ride to the hospital my wife asked what Dr. Zhu thought.

“Well, uh, she isn’t sure and won’t know until after the tests.” I tried to disguise my nervousness which I hope would be interpreted as trepidation over the inconclusive diagnosis. This same nervous feeling stayed with me as I explained to the hospital admin checking me in that I was here for a sonogram.

The admin quickly glanced at the doctor’s orders. “You mean ultrasound.”

“Ultrasound, sonogram. It’s all just semantics. Am I right?” I tried to joke, but the admin didn’t laugh. Instead she gave me a disapproving eye as she read through what Dr. Zhu wanted to confirm or rule out.  

After a two hour wait, a radiology technician lead me back an exam room and told me to take off my cloths. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Seth Rogen, and I wondered how often he got the lucky job of pouring a thick, oozing goo onto another man’s genitalia in order to rub some plastic device over every hairy inch. By the confident manner in which he instructed me on the strategic placement of several hand towels meant to prop things up, I figured it was pretty often.

Moments later Seth Rogen returned to find my unkempt homeless vet setting prominently in a way that made me think it was holding a sign promising work in exchange for a good shave.  What followed were the most awkward and intrusive twenty minutes of my life thus far. Thankfully, the technician made no attempt at small talk. For dentists, a little conversation is fine, but when it comes to touching another man’s balls, outside of a consenting relationship, there are rules about such things, rules each of us was not about to violate.

With the procedure done and after nearly another hour in the waiting room, the test results were in. Seth Rogen’s doppelganger put me on the phone with Dr. Zhu who explained everything had come back negative, and the source of my aching pain was nothing more than a fluid buildup that should go away in a few days.

Although a part of me was relieved to learn I wouldn’t have to tell my wife about a mysterious STD, another part of me felt slightly disappointed over the blue wrist bands. My emotions, however, shifted to both panic and hope. I forgot that I had scheduled a full physical with Dr. Zhu which included a peek at my prostate. Maybe the wrist bands would be a possibility after all.  

* * * 

Did you know that Testicular Cancer is the #1 cancer in young men ages 15 to 35? 
Did you know that Testicular Cancer is highly survivable is detected early?
Did you know that young men should be doing a monthly self-exam?

What can you do?
Stop by the Testicular Cancer Foundation website for more information on Testicular Cancer
Request a FREE shower card with self-exam instructions - it just might save a young man in your life!

And if you're feeling just a little AWKWARD about this conversation, check out this video from some parents who feel the exact same way!



Dump Truck Full of Dead Babies #MaleDepression

Full of dead babies
Recently the dad blog community learned that Marc Block of Divided Dad took his own life as a result of his struggles with depression. In the aftermath of this tragedy a number of dads committed to writing blog posts meant to bring awareness to male depression. This is mine. I originally posted this last year, but it still applies.

* * * 

"What's worse than a dump truck full of dead babies?" my teenage niece asks me. I shake my head having no clue how to repsond. "Unloading them with a pitchfork," she answers with perfect deadpan timing.

I laugh. I laugh so hard tears come from my eyes and my sides feel like they're being gripped by a monster's gigantic hand.

I haven't laughed like this in four, maybe five months. I don't know. It's been so long I can't remember.

I've been in a fog. A daze. A darkness that won't release me. The longest depressive state I've ever been in. Still is. I don't know yet.  That's how it works--just creeps in and never leaves.

My on-going struggle with depression is not something I talk much about. As I recently told one dad blogger who knows a little something about the topic, writing about my chronic depression isn't what I want to be known for. There are some, like this guy's wife, who do talk about it, and they have a gift for helping others as a result. Then there are others for whom blogging about depression is their "jam," and they play it like a harp for comments and page views. I am too afraid of coming off as the later.

Besides, depression is ...depressing. Who wants to read about that all the time. Plus I'm a guy. Guys aren't supposed to be depressed. We're supposed to provide for our families, drive luxury SUV's to the golf course, and exude the confident of Don Draper. Well, it's either that or we're supposed to be so slovenly stupid that our lone hope for survival is exclusively dependent on the female of our species. 

Honestly, both extremes sound depressing to me. Either way, there is no middle ground, no spectrum of reality where a guy can say, "Hey, I'm so depressed, I'd rather shovel dead babies from the rusty bed of a 25-ton Caterpillar Super Truck than get up and face another day." Try using that line without getting some looks after somebody asks you how's it going.

I'm of the opinion that it's easier for a man to admit he's gay than it is to admit he's depressed. For one, the very term gay (to be happy) has depressed (to wallow in a pit of dead babies) beat by a long shot. Done deal. When opening up about being gay, most people (the non-judgey ones at least), pat the person on back and applaud his courage to be himself (and rightfully so). "Well, done," they say. Mention that you deal with constant depression and you usually get an empathetic response followed by, "Are you on any medication?" The irony in this is that the depression is just as much a part of a person as is being gay for someone else.

To answer the question, yes, medication is involved. I've gorged myself at the buffet on the dining car of the pharmaceutical crazy train. Sometimes it helps just long enough for you to get a few hours of work done, or to write a blog post, or to listen to your kids for a change or to sound completely normal to others, or perhaps not. It's never the same, and the effects never last. Eventually you'll find yourself lost again in the strange Land of OZ, still searching for courage, heart, and a chemically balanced brain.

Today I do something different. Today I go for a run. It kills me. My lungs are blazing after only a minute and thirty-seven seconds. People walking their dogs pass me. I am dying. I can't see how this is supposed to be good for me. I try to forget about all the fears and worries as my feet pound (shuffle) against the pavement, and over the music from my iPod I hear my niece's voice. "Hey Uncle Pookie, what do your friends have in common with a tree?" There's a pause before the punchline. "If you use and ax on them they'll both fall down." I laugh again.

* * *

Read other blog posts by dad bloggers talking about male depression

Christopher Lewis - Dad of Divas: The Time is Now to Ask for Help

Jeremiah Delatycki - Krazy Dad Memoir: Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night

Oren Miller – A Blogger & A Father: The Solitary Confinement of Depression

Chris Read - Canadian Dad: The Day the Darkness Crept In

Aaron Gouveia - Daddy Files: Come Back to Me

CJ Cat - Legal Dad: Words From the Wife

Scotty Schrier - Dads Who Change Diapers: When the World Goes Numb

James Hudyma - Dads Round Table: Strategies to Fight Depression


Man of Steel, Free Will and Where My Kids are Going Wrong

To say I'm excited about the new Superman movie is an understatement. Giddy is more like it. (I mean have you noticed the name of this blog?) My kids on the other hand couldn't care less. Last week at the theater the boys practically went nuts over the World War Z poster, this while I'm Instagramming the hell out the one showcasing Man of Steel. Pffft. Who would ever want to see a movie with Brad Pitt and zombies? As if.

Truth be told, my kids really don't get my--obsession is too strong, so let's say my fascination with the whole Superman thing. "Why do you like him so much?" they ask me over and over to which I launch into my standard spiel about what we can learn from Clark Kent as he grew up and how, as Superman, he uses his powers for the good of others and so on, and so on.

Why I keep doing this, I don't know because all it does is prompt the boys to remind me of every instance where Batman somehow manages to pummel Superman, which is a bunch of contrived hooey not to mention a faulty counterargument to my line of reasoning. A guy can hurl a tank into outer space, and they're all like, yawn, but give them some brooding schmo armed with a utility belt that's always prepared for every occasion and suddenly we have the world's greatest superhero. For the record, being prepared is not a superpower; it's a motto for the Boy Scouts. But like, whatever.

I've long since learned to ignore my children's misguided opinions about Superman. I realize they don't see the whole story from the same perspective that I do as a father--a theme that, based on the trailers, appears will be prevalent in Man of Steel. The film also promises to deliver on the theme of nature verses nurture according to screenwriter David S. Goyer in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly.

We get a glimpse of this in the early teaser trailers. Two versions were produced, one with the voice of  Kal-El's biological father, Jor-El (Russel Crow), representing the innate qualities (nature) that influence his son's development, the other with Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) personifying Clark Kent's personal experiences (nurture) that shape his behavior.

Version 1: Jor-El

Version 2: Jonathan Kent

What makes this interesting, though, is the conflicting messaging the two fathers pass on to their mutual son.

"You will give the people of earth something to strive towards," explains Jor-El. (We assume this takes place at some point after Kal-El finds the Fortress of Solitude and learns more of his Kryptonian heritage.) He then goes on to say that despite the people of earth's shortcomings, "they will join you in the sun [and] in time you will help them accomplish wonders."

This sounds contradictory to what Clark is told by his earthy parents, who, despite passing along the many good values that govern Superman's morality, also instill in him an element of fear. After young Clark rescues a busload of students, a worrisome Jonathan tells his son that he has to keep that part of himself a secret. "What was I supposed to do? Let them die?" Clark then asks to which his father says, "Maybe." That's hardly heroic advice.

Trailer 2

This conflict becomes central to the internal struggle Clark wrestles with as he finds himself in what looks to be a number of situations where he's forced to use his powers in order to rescue others. In fact, in the  trailers we hear Clark say, "My father was convinced the world would reject me, the world wasn't ready for me." Somewhere along the line, though, Clark has to make a choice.

Choices. That's what it comes down to. In the nature verses nature debate, there's another factor that those who are smarter than me like to stir into the mix--free will. Free will kind of throws things off by dictating that people can ignore inherent and environmental influences and choose their own course. In Man of Steel, free will appears to get a nod too with each father passing it along in their own way.

In the Entertainment Weekly article, Goyer explains that Krytonian babies are genetically engineered to fulfill roles within society such as a warrior or a scientist. Jor-El and his wife have Kal-El naturally, an act that creates trouble, but it also frees their son to, "dream of being something other than what society intended." Had Kal-El's DNA been tampered with, who knows how he would've turned out on earth or how it would've affected Kal-El's decisions once General Zod shows up.

Jonathan Kent acknowledges free will too as he recognizes the impact Clark's powers can one day have on society. "You just have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark. Whoever that man is--good character or bad--is going to change the world." Jonathan might not like that his son has to make a choice, but he knows that moment will eventually come, and he'll have to accept it.

This is something I often think about with my own children. I recognize the behaviors they exhibit that mirror my own, and I can see how various circumstances influence their actions. There are examples I could point out on a daily basis. What's funny is there are also times when I've tried to change their way of thinking, and my only motivation for doing so was to maintain control.

Control is something that continues to erode as my kids grow older. It's much more difficult to relinquish than I expected, and yet I have to with the hope that, through word and deed, I've passed along enough good character traits to help them make the best decisions for themselves.

Where it's clear my kids have gone wrong, however, is with their whole World War Z and Batman mentality  But that's their choice. Me? I'll still be front and center come June 14th the minute Man of Steel is released.

* * *

NOTE: This post was in response to friend and fellow comic enthusiast, Eric Bolton, and his post "Why I Hate the New Superman Movie" at Boltonshire.

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