My dad — is not Superman.
I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone conversation that I have been committing to Motha Russia for the last few years. It’s the least I could do, I always thought: to take the initiative in maintaining this long distance relationship that had affected every romantic choice in my own biography. Because dad was the man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life. So, da: It was the least I could do.
As someone with the burden of having left her beloveds behind, with the guilt of exceeding her parents’ lifestyle — survivor’s guilt — I have been dialing an endless line-up of numbers every Sunday (by the Russian clocks): My Prodigal Sundays. And after a while, I’ve given up on premeditating the concepts of these phone calls: For they never turn out to be redemptive, or even philosophical.
“Hello, what’s new?” I would ask, every time, surprising myself with how mundane I could be despite my lists of questions about my heritage, my character, my past.
“Nothing,” dad would answer, echoing the matter-of-factness of it all.
(It’s offensively insane if you think about it, really: After more than a decade of separation, you would think beloveds could concern themselves with anything other than gas prices (for me) and bread prices (for him). It must be why, then, I had always found fiction to be more perfectly narrated than life.)
But then on the other hand, my dad was Superman. For years, he seemed immune to suffering. Between the stoic nature I myself tap into sometimes, in my own character, and the military training of his lifetime career, he never vented, never sought faults; never passed a judgement on the humans he had vowed to protect. So, I’ve had the audacity to assume he was stronger than the rest of us, capable and tough. Because that matched the picture of the first man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.
Dad always stood so tall, with his stereotypical Eastern European features juxtaposing my own (that I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side). But it was height that I insisted on remembering the most, never measuring him against other men. There had to be other humans larger than dad’s slim stature, so well hidden underneath the boxy cut of the Soviet Army uniform. Just by the mere fact that, for centuries, Motha Russian was famed for repeatedly spitting out giants out of her national vagina — there had to be humans taller than my dad. But no, not from my perspective! Not from where I stood — not from where I looked up, in my blinded worship of him, for the first two decades of my life — never growing past my own 5 feet in height (a feature I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).
And he would be the best of them all. Always the highest ranking officer in every room, he would be granted the respect pro bono. So, how do you stand next to a man that gets saluted before even being spoken to, giving him a complete command over the course of the words that would follow? How do measure yourself against someone addressed by his title rather than his name? I tell you how: You fall in love with him, blindly, for decades getting stuck at measuring your own romantic choices against Superman.
We could be on an errand trip to the nearest city — my Superman and I — standing in line at an ice-cream kiosk, when a stranger in civilian clothes would salute my tallest man in the world. Beautiful women (for centuries, Motha Russia was famed for spitting those out of her national vagina as well — in galore) would blush and adjust their hair when father marched past them. (For the rest of his life, he would never surrender that manner of stepping — as if on a chronic conquest: A man on a mission to protect the human race.) And even the harshest of them all — the bitterly disappointed veterans on the benches of Moscow’s parks or the fattened-up, unhappy female secretaries at my lyceum’s administration — they too would melt a little in the esteemed company of my dad, making life seem much easier to navigate than when amidst the stocky, brown brand of my mother’s side.
Oh, how I wish I could’ve dwelled in this blind worship of him, for the rest of my life. But the romantic choices in my own biography — a biography that had happened during the period of separation from my dad, now nearly equaling in length as the first two decades — they have began to catch up with me. And as I continue to fall out of my loves, I begin landing in truth about the very first man with whom I was once so blindly in love.
“And yes, you do mythologize your men,” a man, not as tall as my father, had told me the other day.
And da, herein lies the pattern: Willingly, blindly, I fall in love, worshiping each new romantic choice, pro bono. And when he doesn’t measure against my personal Superman, I fall out of it, quite disappointed but never surprised. For no man can live up to my mythical expectations — not even the Superman that had started them, back in the first two decades of my life.
And nyet, my dad — is not Superman. I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone calls on a typical Prodigal Sunday (by the Russian clocks).
Because, “I’m just a man,” he told me, refusing to echo the matter-of-factness of it all. “And it’s time for you — to give up on me.”