To my kids,
I know you’re not old enough to read this (getting through Spot The Dog is challenge at times).
But I’m writing this all the same.
All parents make promises to their kids. I’m not different. And we do our best to keep them.
Sometimes the hardest promises to keep relate to ourselves rather than others. We want to be healthy for our kids. Not only healthy, but strong.
What does it really mean to be strong? What do fathers and kids associate with strength?
No, not the David Bowie song (although in my opinion it’s the best song of all time). I’m hoping you love Bowie as much as I do (you’ve been indoctrinated with a lot of Bowie when you’ve been playing with LEGO…sorry, you’ll understand when you’re older).
Kids, I’m talking about the kind of heroes that are everywhere these days.
Superman. Thor. Iron Man. From the outside, these are representations of strength in the media that we can admire. Amazingly powerful individuals who can conquer anything. Kids, adults and (I’m guessing) grandparents watch these characters use their physical and mental strength to overcome insurmountable odds. My kids watch these shows and movies. I’ve always watched them. Sometimes I still watch them (Hellboy was awesome and The Dark Knight is a classic).
But this isn’t what strength really is, in real life. A real superhero is someone who admits that they’re weak. That they need help. A superhero is someone who sits down with you for a long chat over coffee when you break up with your first love, or at the footy when you’ve lost your job. Or that person who doesn’t shy away from life’s uncomfortable moments, from doctor’s check-ups to conversations about mental health.
I know it sounds like something from George Orwell that you’ll be studying in high school, but I believe that “weakness is strength”. I should clarify, “acknowledging weakness is strength”, because we’re all perfectly imperfect heroes.
Kids, you’re not living in a superhero narrative, where we can fly through space, stop a supernova and get the girl/boy. As much as I’d love to tell you that you can conquer anything with super speed and X-Ray vision. You won’t be able to do any of that.
Life doesn’t really work out like a movie. There’s a lot of monotony, and fireworks can be few and far between. There are moments where you’re struggling to get past the demonic bosses at work. There are the paradigm shifts that come with raising a family, which can make or break your relationship. Or maybe you’re dealing with other galaxy problems that nobody else knows about.
Strength doesn’t look like flying so quickly in outer space that you change the pattern of the earth’s orbit. It’s not carrying an entire tree like Arnie in the opening scenes of Commando (I love that movie).
Look, being healthy is important. Working out, eating right, drinking less - you’ve heard the mantra. If you want to hit the gym and turn yourself into a human cloud, then good luck to you (you’d have to be way more motivated than your old man).
But you’ve got to work on yourself. You’re not a car. You can’t simply accessorise your body. You’re not an inanimate object. Not matter how oiled, ripped or shiny you look, you’re still going to need to reconcile with your emotions. Deal with dreams that have been realised and the ones that have shattered. That’s life. You can’t simply shut the world out and live in your Batcave. You’ve got to remain open.
Strength is speaking with someone when you’re in trouble. It’s chatting to your partner instead of blocking them out. It’s seeking out help when you’re self-medicating. It’s making yourself open to change. Open to advice. Listening to people who care. Listening to people who know what they’re talking about. People who probably know what you’re going through. Maybe they’ve been through exactly the same thing that you have? They’ve possibly played the same role and fought the same villains.
But you won’t know unless you’re open to a conversation. Unless you’re willing to show true strength. There’s a big emphasis on men that to be “strong” is to be “powerful”. But most of the “powerful” individuals I’ve met in my life have been short-sighted, arrogant bullies. The strongest people I’ve met are the ones who can admit when they’ve been wrong. To acknowledge that they can’t go it alone, and have asked for help. It could be a mental health issue. Or something physical.
Which this letter is all about – my promise to you to do my utmost to be the best I can be, and reach out for help when I need to. To focus more on my health, both physical and mental, so we have as many moments as possible together. I love you with my entire being, and can’t wait to see you grow into the amazing adults I’m certain you will be.
Your Loving, Everyday, Non-Super Hero,
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