My kids think I’m a god.

No matter what I do to correct this notion—no matter how many mistakes I make, how many times I lose my cool, how many times I have to apologize, how many times my back goes out, how many times I can’t be in two places at once or speak to more than one child at once—I am Dad to them, which means I am a god to them.

They are thirteen, nine, and seven. Right now, they believe I can protect them from everything, fix anything, and solve any problem. When life becomes a question mark, they think I’m the answer. I am their superhero.

Photo Credit: Bigstock (CHOReograPH)

Some of us, well into adulthood, do whatever is necessary to continue thinking of our parents as perfect superheroes. We gloss over their faults, ignore the ways they’ve disappointed us, and bury our wounds. However, there are signs my thirteen-year-old son is beginning to entertain his doubts. In fact, some days, he seems to think I’m the problem. This is a good thing.

I don’t want to be seen as a superhero.

It’s too much pressure. I get sucked into pretending it might be true, and I end up feeling like a fraud. But here’s the thing: when my son finally sees through the illusion completely, he’s not going to give up on finding a superhero to save him. He’s going to go looking for another one. It’s what we all do.

We’re all looking for a superhero who will make us feel safe again.

A boyfriend or girlfriend. A husband or a wife. A guru. A therapist. A politician. An ideology. A dogma. A movement. Anything that promises to lend us its strength, anything that promises to make us feel safe and saved. The problem, of course, is that all of these promising heroes eventually fail us. There is a reason for this: no one else can become the hero in your story.

You are the only hero you get.

What we need is not more doomed surrogate heroes. We need a redefinition of heroism. Heroism does not rescue us from our pain or suffering. It does not help us avoid the problems and pitfalls of being human. It does not erase our fear and our failures. It does not turn life into nirvana.

A hero is someone who walks into pain and suffering and. just. keeps. going.

A hero is someone who can plummet into the pitfalls of being human and claw their way back out.

A hero is someone who fears and fails, and fights to be authentic and adventurous anyway.

A hero is someone who has embraced all of life, not just the blissful parts.

You are here, on this planet, in this life, walking on this ground, breathing this air, and fighting this good fight to find the hero inside of you.

Having said that, it is true that in every good story, the hero has a mentor. Luke has Yoda. Harry has Dumbledore. Frodo has Gandalf. Peter and Edmund and Susan and Lucy have the great lion Aslan. In other words, feel free to look for someone to join you in your story, but don’t look for a hero. Look for a mentor—a friend or a partner or an elder—who sees the hero inside of you even when you cannot see it yourself.

If you’re so inclined, look for a therapist who can help you find that hero.

After all, we therapists aren’t perfect either, so we make very disappointing heroes. But we are more than ready to be your mentor. We are more than ready to help you see the everyday hero who already exists inside of you.

The one who just. keeps. going.

The one who claws.

The one who fights.

The one who, eventually, flies.


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Dr. Kelly Flanagan
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