Posted on April 23, 2019
by Steve Janowick

I sensed something.  

Even in a dead sleep, I felt someone in my presence.  But he wasn’t real. He was an apparition at that moment.  A hallucination yielded through foggy eyes. My semi-conscious state rendered me confused. Was this a ghost I was looking at standing in the shadowy door frame of my bedroom?  Was it a strange dream-like manifestation? It wasn’t until I shook my head to clear the cobwebs that lucidity and cognition decided to finally join me, and It was then that he came into focus and I realized it was the boy.

“Dad, I need you,” he timidly whispered, “are you awake?”

“Yea…What is it?” I replied in a raspy mumble.

“I…I…can’t sleep.”

I didn’t bother asking him why.  Because I knew why. He and his brother had watched a scary movie earlier in the evening and now his 10-year old imagination was running wild and he couldn’t break consciousness.

I reluctantly pulled the covers off myself and stumbled out of my warm bed, making sure not to awaken my snoring better half.  Most Dads would probably be a bit perturbed right about now. A little frustrated at the disruption of some much-needed slumber after a hard Friday’s work.  I’m tired young man, get your little ass back into your bed, they’d probably say.  But I wasn’t most Dads.  I was the divorced Dad. The every-other-weekend Dad.  A part-timer. And guilt, pain, shame and longing weren’t just words I heard while in earshot of the Dr. Phil show.  They were now the feelings that most defined my reality, and, often times, the catalysts for most of my fathering decisions.  So, instead of risking the boy getting his feelings hurt, and possibly ruining the remaining 36 hours I had left with him, I set aside my disciplinary paternal instincts and put my arm around him as we navigated the dark hallway back to his room.

Five years ago, when this scenario played out, I’d have scooped him up in my arms and squeezed him tight as I traversed.  But he wouldn’t have any of that anymore. He had just entered the age of double digits, after all. I’m not a baby, Dad!  So, I just cupped his bony shoulder and guided him along.  Two tired, taciturn zombies shuffling, trying to avoid the hampers and railings and toys not put away, until we finally reached his bed.  Neither of us said a word. We both knew the drill. No talking. No lullabies. No comforting head rubs. He snuggled into the covers at the head of the bed, and me at the foot.  My six-two frame was way too long for the tiny twin bed and my feet hung off the side.

I waited.  But not too long.  Because through the dim glow of his Spider-Man nightlight I could already see his eyes begin to flutter-he was drifting off.  That quickly he was drifting off. I watched the blankets rise and fall with each of his breaths. I could hear the air enter then leave his nostrils.

The boy was at peace.

In his brain he was now safe.  He was protected. He knew that if the talons of that sinister winged creature that took up residence under his bed at night were to appear, Dad would rip them off into bloody stumps.  He knew that if that eight-foot, ax wielding intruder with the hockey mask was to suddenly show up with the intent of brutally murdering a 10-year old boy, Dad would beat him into the next life.  He knew that nothing could get to him now.  Superman was on the job.  Clocked in and at the ready.  Lying next to him with the power of a hundred men.

And because of that the boy drifted off completely and slept soundly.

And I laid there in the warmth of my own inner peace.  I was a giant in the boy’s eyes. He needed me. I had a purpose.  I was his protector. His guardian. And I reveled in that role. It’s a post that was immediately assigned to me the day he was brought into the world.  The second the doctor handed him to me, I looked down into that wrinkled visage and, through my tears, took an oath. To always be there for him. To guard him from the monsters.  And being able to perform my duties only two days every other week was like a jagged blade to my heart sometimes.

But on this night, it beat in a peaceful cadence.  I was so content lying next to the boy. Calmed with the love only a father knows.  Normally, I’d have crawled out by now and made my way back to my own bed, but on this night, I let myself drift off into a tranquil rest next to him.

And when I awoke, he was gone.

Those bony shoulders were now muscular.  That high-pitched, youthful voice now a deep, brooding growl.  I blinked and the boy was no more. Every other weekend turned into once every six months. There were no more monsters under the bed-or anywhere.  I had punched out on the time clock as the superhero many years ago. That occupation was no longer needed in my household anymore. I still had the skills and met all the requirements, but no one was hiring.  He was his own superhero. The boy could take care of himself now.

Just the other day I was sitting alone in my room, lost in one of my autumn reveries, a little greyer around the temples, a little more long in the tooth, feeling a little empty-when the phone rang.  The voice was almost unfamiliar. The man on the other end was distraught and upset. He had just gotten fired from his job and he was scared and even slightly panicked. The man sounded like he wanted to break down and cry, but he also sounded proud and maybe too embarrassed to do so.  So, for the next hour and seventeen minutes I talked him down and we talked it out-until he was calmed, reassured and at ease. We then laughed a little, cried a little and even reminisced. He thanked me for comforting him and making him feel better and right before we hung up, he told me he loved me and missed me.

And I realized at that moment that time or distance or how often I donned the cape didn’t matter, and it never really mattered.  I knew now that he’d always need me.  I knew I’d always be a superhero to…

The boy.

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