Most of us love superheroes. Did as a kid. Do as a Dad. That said, is it all good to wholeheartedly endorse my kid’s fanatical obsession with Superman?
Cast your mind back and, unless you’ve had a lobotomy lately, you should be able to remember a time when you wanted to be a superhero. Desperately.
Perhaps yours was Batman or Superman, but for me, it was always Spider-Man.
Sure, he’s appeared in eight movies in the past 16 years alone, so you might be over him now, but back before VCRs were invented (yes, that old), every sighting was a special event.
The idea that I actually might be a superhero one day wasn’t so much a dream back then as a carefully considered likelihood.
Surely, if I just wished hard enough – and bought enough of his toys – I’d find the right spider to bite me, eventually.
It was with a sense of both shock and transcendent joy, then, that I realised I’d actually achieved my goal, at least in the eyes of my son.
When we played superhero games, I actually was a giant and epic hero, possessed of preternatural powers.
After all, I could lift him off the ground with one hand, run at super speed, make pencils magically disappear up my nose without brain injury and throw him high into the air as if I was actually teaching him to fly.
With his dearly-beloved Superman outfit on, cape billowing behind him, and me in my super street clothes, I was half of a crime-fighting super duo at last.
Feeding the Fire
I’d encouraged his fascination with superheroes from the start, of course, with Superhero branded cups and clothing.
And as soon as he was old enough to have his attention dragged away from Thomas the Unbearably Boring Tank Engine, I’d let him watch whatever hero cartoons we could get our hands on. Because for once it was something we could gorge on together that didn’t leave me feeling lobotomised.
It didn’t occur to me, even once, that I might be encouraging violent behaviour.
I grew up in the Pre Nanny State Era, so you won’t hear any paranoid gibberish from me. That being said, it’s worth considering what sort of message the supers are sending.
Harmless Fun or Violence Dressed Up in a Cape?
In terms of which superheroes might actually make good examples for a young child to look up to, it’s a surprisingly thin field.
Even the seemingly cerebral Dr Strange is not averse to solving problems through violence, which is the standard superhero way, but probably not something you want to encourage in your kids.
Still, it’s possible that comic-book heroes are largely harmless fun, as long as you stay well away from The Dark Knight series. And most of the DC movies of the past decade.
You’d have to argue, though, that there are some good messages in a film like Black Panther, and some very strong characters. And, if you’re lucky enough to have a daughter, then violence aside, Wonder Woman is a hell of a role-modelling movie for a little girl.
Strangely, though, I’m yet to see my wife dressed up in a Wonder Woman outfit, running around the house attempting to look like Gal Gadot. But here’s hoping.
Superheroes Versus Dads… How do We Stack Up?
One problem with super-hero worship is that kids grow up and realise that you’re just a normal human being of average abilities.
The older they get, the more fallible you look, sadly. So are you just setting yourself up for a horrible fall by encouraging all this superhero stuff?
If you have any doubt that you’re going to end up looking ordinary next to these imaginary heroes, just ponder for a moment; the God who walks amongst us: Chris Hemsworth.
Aw Crap… We Have to Compete with Thor?
Yes, he plays Thor, and yes that means that he actually looks like a God. And God knows my wife is fond of pointing out this fact while drooling over his watch adverts.
But what makes him a particularly galling example of the superhero problem is that there’s no way you can live up to his real-world persona, either.
Hemsworth has become the Ultimate Dad, thanks to his folksy Australian charm and his inability to get through an interview without talking endlessly about his children. The unbearably cute, and no doubt carefully chosen, videos of him and his kids going viral via social media don’t help either.
His very existence is something of a “Thor point” in our house, thanks to my wife.
Fortunately, kids have no interest in his real-life wondrousness.
To them he’s one of Earth’s Greatest Heroes, not a Hemsworth. If you told them he was Australian they’d look at you with great sympathy and explain that, no, he’s from a different planet. Or perhaps a mythological realm.
The other good news is that while your kids might want you to be like a superhero, they’re not likely to look to these comic-book characters as substitute fathers.
It’s a good thing too. Hemsworth may or may not be a superdad, but Thor is definitely not a perfect role model. Wisecracks are fine, but hitting other kids with hammers is a no-go.