I had the opportunity to guest post at one of my favorite blogs, and I am posting it here as well.
It wasn’t long after being introduced to Batman that my son began talking about Batman’s Daddy. From what I gather, he’s basically bigger, older, and has more authority than Batman. Such as, “No one can touch that, except Batman’s Daddy.”
Is this merely a cute imagination at work perhaps a peak at something more profound? This small child grasps an important metaphysical reality: a son is like his father.
Isn’t that obvious? Yes, but what if the clear ways a son looks and acts like his father are meant to teach us about the hidden meaning of fatherhood? My son’s imagination helped me realize that Batman can teach us about fatherhood if we unpack his justice, symbolism, and adventure.
When I think about fatherhood I ask myself, “What am I trying to accomplish?” Fathers naturally pass along a reflection of their physical image. But fatherhood requires more than contributing to the genetic makeup. By nature, fathers also possess the right and responsibility to shape their children’s minds, hearts, and souls. And this right and responsibility hinge on authority.
Underwear: a scene of power and justice
Batman and fathers both posses power. We often complain about those who have positions of power over us – a judge, president, or a boss. It’s not their authority that really bothers us, but the degree which they embody justice. This is why we love Batman – we crave justice and we see him giving to bad guys that which they deserve. My son learned that much from the scene on his Batman underwear: He has power and uses it justly (as opposed to the bad guys who use their power unjustly). My son came to understand Batman as having approximately the same powers as angels, so I sometimes refer to him St. Batman the Archangel. (In our house, Batman fights the devil).
The authority of a father is necessary to lead his children into truth, to guide and protect, and ultimately to love them. I’m now grateful for my father and his authority over me when I was young. Today, I desire my children’s obedience, not just so they don’t embarrass me by fighting and yelling through Harris Teeter (though that would be nice for everyone), but because if they don’t respect my voice, I cannot speak truth into their lives and I cannot deliver the hardest kind of love.
Fatherly love should embody our Heavenly Father’s method: “The Lord disciplines him whom he loves and chastises every child he receives” (Hebrews 9:12). We reject discipline today because we don’t think it’s loving and so try to reduce God (and good fathers) to “nice.” The whole point of fatherly authority is not to lord it over children but to lead them to truth. I can misuse my authority or become my kid’s hero, depending on how justly I treat him.
My son has never seen any Batman movie. Yet, his love for this superhero is profound. Why? Perhaps because his disguise is baller or because he saw other kids wearing Batman shirts. Maybe more than anything, all of us deeply resonate with symbols because they convey meaning and sometimes even deliver power.
Batman’s sign in the sky is more than just a symbol, it actually brings about his saving power. Human fathers are signs of our Heavenly Father, but they also have the chance to bring about the saving power of the Father. We love Batman because somehow he’s never far from his sign, just as God is never far from a father.
Fatherhood itself is a sign
Human fathers are meant to teach us about our divine Father: they reflect His truth, love, justice, and many other aspects. Now, am I so perfect, that I am merely trying to shape my kids into a reflection of my excellence?
This question reminds me of a man who was afraid to teach some boys about God the Father because he didn’t want them to attribute their own negative experiences of fatherhood to God. That’s an understandable reaction, since we often learn from what we know. However, he soon realized, “We all need to know that God is our Father, especially these boys.” By learning who God is, we can learn what fatherhood should look like.
But is this knowledge enough to guide men today through their inadequacies and failures? As they remember their own fathers’ shortcomings and find themselves afraid of their ability to love their children, they can be reassured of two truths:
God remains the perfect model of Fatherhood, no matter how many disappointing images of fatherhood we find on earth, even when that broken image is in the mirror.
God desires to help fathers fulfill their vocation to their families.
From all eternity, God has chosen each father to raise his children. This means loving them in word and action while ever becoming himself a better image of God’s fatherhood, even though that man be a sinner. Perhaps the necessary virtue that will keep fathers great, is humility. A humble man kneels before God seeking forgiveness, admits his faults to his family, and doesn’t have all the answers. That father’s humility shines a beacon of palpable love on God’s perfect fatherhood.
Though I am far from perfection, my ultimate goal as a father is to love my kids. I want them to hear, see, and feel it. In twenty years if someone asks, “Did your father love you?” I want them to quickly respond with conviction, “Absolutely. I have no doubt about it.” The problem is, I don’t always love them more than I love myself and I don’t always feel that love. So this goal is important for me because its a challenge every day.
Made for adventure
For one reason or another, Batman is awesome to young boys. Maybe he captures adventure for which the human spirit thirsts. My son’s birthday request list included about twenty Batman items. A Batman vacuum is certainly a lot more exciting than a plain old boring vacuum.
Fathers may want to be like Batman because he’s cool, but does Batman have something to teach us about fatherhood beyond trying to be cool? Can his power teach us about justice? Can his sign help us think sacramentally? Can Batman encourage us to embrace fatherhood as an adventure?