How to Be a Superdad


I’ll soon be celebrating my seventh Father’s Day as a dad. During those years, I’ve tried my best to be a “Superdad” for my daughter, Jessie. I’ve taught her to read and do math, and how to throw, kick, hit and catch all kinds of balls. I jogged behind her bicycle, hands outstretched to catch her in case she fell, until she pedaled faster than I could run. I’ve rushed to the rescue when she saw spiders or had bad dreams. I’ve played along with her games, even though she makes up rules as she goes. And I’ve applauded her imaginative shows in the living room, even when I would have rather taken a nap.

Although I strive to be Superdad, I know I’m not Superman. If I were Superman, though, the ocean would be my kryptonite and the garbage can my Lois Lane. I tend to get sick on boats. My wife, Mattie, and I went on a whale-watching excursion in San Diego many years ago. On the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean, Mattie and the other passengers saw whales. I spent the whole trip hugging the garbage can. No one mistook me for Superman that day.

A few years ago, when my garbage can romance in San Diego had faded to a distant memory, my brother-in-law, Gary, took our family out on his sailboat. Before we boarded, I slipped a plastic bag into my pocket as a precautionary measure, but I didn’t think I would need it. After all, we were sailing on a river on a calm day. Soon the wind picked up, though, and as the boat pitched back and forth, my motion sickness, and breakfast, reemerged. I tried to smile and crack jokes to let Jessie know that I was OK. Mattie and I encourage Jessie to take an “I can” attitude and I try to lead by example … I think I can, I think I can … Blah! That time I couldn’t. The plastic bag got a serious workout. I’d recommend to other seasick passengers that they double bag.

Mattie took Jessie, who was 3 years old at the time, down into the boat’s cabin so she wouldn’t watch me vomit. She told me later that Jessie entertained herself by pretending to throw up in an ice bucket. Children follow their parents’ lead.

Jessie has taken many more boat rides since then, but not with Daddy. Luckily, fathers don’t have to be Superdads all the time. Grandfathers, uncles and brothers can be super, too. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, teachers and friends also enrich our children’s lives. Father’s Day is a good time to express appreciation to the people who sometimes take on father-like roles.

Jessie, I’ll keep trying to be a Superdad with an “I can” attitude. Although, by mutual agreement with Uncle Gary, I won’t be sailing with you anymore. I can and will be there for you in other ways. I will encourage you to dream big and maximize your joy each day. I will hold you when you need to be comforted. There are many places that I can take you and things I can teach you. I can learn from you, too (like how to divide five cherries on a dessert, three ways). I’ll be there to support you as you chart your own path to discover and achieve your life’s purpose. Superman, I am not. Superdad? I’ll do my best!

Happy Father’s Day! I know that I’ll have a happy one … on solid ground.

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting, and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and writer.

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