By Contributing Writer, Joesph Shrader
For me, becoming a father was never about a “choice,” a “yes or no,” a “will they or won’t they,” or even a “maybe someday.” Instead, it was always a “yes, absolutely,” a “some day soon,” and an “I can’t wait to have kids” scenario. Always.
So, as a lover of all things Superman through my adult years, I often would imagine the latter was also such the case for Jonathan and Martha Kent—a kind, loving, middle-American couple that was eager, and desperate, to have children; but for whatever reason, the doctors always believed life wouldn’t allow it to happen naturally for them. However, the Kents always pressed on, strengthening their resolve each day as time continued to move on and work against them, still certain that an opportunity to have a child of their own would one day present itself.
And so it did, and in grand fashion. A ship fell from the sky and a child landed in their lives—and all those years of believing, persevering, and staying true to their faith were rewarded with a new member to their family. And it did not matter that this child seemingly came from the heavens as an answer to years of want, believing, longing, and faith—all that mattered was that Jonathan and Martha Kent now had a child that they could call, and love, as their own.
2013’s Man of Steel is, at its very core, a revealing and truly heartfelt exploration of the extraordinary bond shared, lived, and loved between a parent (or more exactly two sets of parents) and their child, and the person that child ultimately becomes as a result of years of love and guidance. And with this extraordinary film a specific focus between father(s) and son is examined, as a boy searches for his purpose in a world that he learns early on is not inherently his own. All things in this film transpire as a direct result of the many conversations, decisions, actions, and ramifications of a parent’s, or parents’, enduring love and hope for their child.
And such is parenting, be it portrayed on fictional film or in real-life itself. As a father, I can tell you it is not always easy to raise a child, but that doesn’t mean that it is not any less rewarding. In fact, it’s even moreso rewarding in many other, oftentimes unspoken, ways. You see, life changes the day you find out you will become a father, or a parent—a euphoria takes over. And while it is sure to be tempered with caution and worry, it’s also an undeniable and unstoppable joy—it’s a feeling of absolute love that consumes every part of your soul. And with that, the thoughts of future responsibilities also begin to run rampant, but never in doubt is your new ambition to spend the rest of your life committed to always striving towards doing, providing, and giving what’s best for your child.
I have a 14 year old daughter, and she is absolutely magnificent in every way. She is my first-born, one of the few true loves of my lifetime, but the bond I have shared with her all these years is now waning in favor of a closer relationship with her mother. And while that hurts, it is to be expected. She is extremely smart, undeniably compassionate, and she loves Superman nearly as much as I do, though she’d certainly tell all of you that she loves Supergirl and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman that much more!
But I was never worried about being HER Dad—I always wanted children, and I always wanted to have a daughter. So, when I got both on the first try, I was truly blessed and without concern. However, I also have a son, but with him, and for me, it has been a far different, more winding road since the day we found out he was coming into our world.
“People are afraid of what they don’t understand.” – Pa Kent
Full transparency, my father left home when I was 11 or 12, and I spent all of my adolescence and young adult years without him as a regular part of my life. I firmly believe that this is part of the reason that I have always felt drawn towards the story of Clark Kent / Kal-El, and also why I desperately love Man of Steel—it’s the story of a boy tasked with navigating life, including the largest part of his formative years of simply growing from a boy to a man, with whether or not to also willingly become Superman—all this without a father to guide him during the most difficult part of his journey. Of course we know he spent his early years alongside Pa Kent, but when the time came for Clark to truly have a go at life on his own, a time when he would need to discover himself, he lost his father.
And this is much how I spent my own formative years—raised very well by my mother on her own, but without a father figure who was often needed at times when Mom just couldn’t understand and Dad could help guide me to some of those right decisions. My mother did a bang-up job, without question; but not having my father around will always cause me to wonder about “what ifs” and the like for the rest of my days.
All the challenges of my formative years returned and came to a head the day I learned I was going to be a father again, this time by having a son. That feeling of euphoria was there again, but this time it slowly, and surprisingly, became tempered with some serious self-doubt: I was raised without my father present in my day-to-day life, so how was I to be expected to raise a son of my own? After several days, I reasoned with myself that so far I was doing a decent job with my daughter, so raising my son should be little different.
Or would it? Self-doubt started to creep up inside my mind and it grew ever-present as the days became weeks, which then became months; and, before I knew it, the time had come for my son’s arrival.
I often wonder if Jonathan Kent also shared these concerns—not that maybe he had no father figure of his own and he was now, suddenly, a father himself (that’s a story I’ve never read or maybe one that’s never even been told)—but instead on the day his son arrived in his life, would he be worried that he himself was ready to lead Clark through life and show him how to become a man?
“You’ll have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, he’s going to change the world.” – Pa Kent
With Man of Steel, every single scene between Jonathan and Clark shows us a father struggling with exercising true honesty in the face of his greatest fear: failing his son. Jonathan always tells Clark what he feels is right, true, and just, but ultimately he himself is coping with whether or not the guidance he provides will be the right choice, the correct path, and ultimately the best decision. And why this is so very important is that Jonathan knows the legacy his son will have to live alongside for years to come, and also the legacy that will certainly stand the test of time for countless generations that will follow him.
And again, such is parenting. As a father, I feel the weight of nearly every single piece of advice or decision that I have made or provided for my children. We, as parents, want to guide them, even lead them, to all the right destinations, decisions, and crossroads in their lives, until physically we no longer can. Jonathan also feels this throughout Man of Steel; as a father, I can relate this weight on our shoulders even though my child isn’t the greatest fictional hero of all-time!
Jor-El is also not without true concern throughout Man of Steel. We watch as he, like Jonathan Kent, also makes nearly every single decision in the film for the betterment of his son, with one significant difference from Jonathan Kent: ultimately, Jor-El has to let his son go.
I relate to this as well, though not with the same great certainty and confidence of Jor-El. At 2 years of age my son was diagnosed with cancer, and for two months life was without any certainty at all; instead it was dark, it was desolate, and it was quite uncertain. Batteries of tests, followed by a nearly 6 hour fully-invasive surgery, months of recovery, and years of follow-up care. I struggled with not only now being a parent of a child with cancer, but with the greatest of all fears: would I lose my son?
Questions mounted in my mind: had I failed him somehow? Had his mother and I not noticed the signs of this tragic illness soon enough? Were we responsible because we didn’t take action sooner? To be completely transparent, this was the darkest, most unsettled time of my life thus far. We didn’t know what would happen, only that we needed to provide him with every single possible thing we could in order to ensure his survival.
And in Man of Steel, we see Jor-El coping with an enormous impending loss as well, and though he had the highest of hopes for Kal, he was ultimately sending his son away to an unfamiliar world, even though it was a journey tempered with the best of intentions. Jor-El did not genuinely know what would happen once Kal left Krypton; in fact, he didn’t even know his son would make it safely to Earth. In the end, all he had was hope.
And, as we all know, sometimes hope is truly all we need.
“It’s not an ‘S’ – on my world, it means HOPE.” – Kal-El of Krypton, Clark Kent of Earth
In the end, sometimes hope IS all we need. With my son, we had hoped that we made all the right decisions as it related to the next steps in his care. And we did (along with his oncologist, of course!). For Jor-El, he hoped his son would survive the journey from Krypton to Earth and lead the people of Earth on to become something greater than they believed themselves to be capable of; and for Jonathan Kent, he hoped that he had given his son every available counsel and means with which to navigate his new world, and to discover his place within it.
Man of Steel reminds me of the special journey taken and shared between parents and their children, and more specifically, the unique, loving bond between a father and his son. The film itself defiantly and triumphantly underscores the want of every parent for their children to become the best version of themselves that they could possibly ever become, hoping that throughout their life’s journey, and by its end, that the proper, right, and just advice and support was always given to help their child reach his or her full potential. And the film serves as a reminder to me that, as a father, there is no greater calling in life than giving every part of myself to my children, and instilling in them my hopes for their future.