Magazine | October 28, 2019, Issue

The Protean Superpower

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

So there I was, zipping along at speed on a brightly colored miniature scooter made for a five-year-old, as one does. I do, anyway, every weekday around 7:38 a.m. On this particular morning I nearly ran over an illustrious magazine editor, fearsome public intellectual, and noted television pundit. Okay, it was only John Podhoretz, but still. What on earth was I, a fellow man of letters, doing on this ridiculous toy transportation device? Simple: I was committing yet another act of fatherhood. John’s a dad. He gets it. He laughed in my face, but he gets it. This is how it goes: 6

Possible term-paper topic: Society is contemptuous of both single men and married ones. The single ones get divided into the ugly, who are tagged as psychopathic incels, and the handsome, who are presumed guilty of being frat bros, hence spreaders of “toxic masculinity” and “rape culture.” Hey, single guys, at least people pay you the respect of fearing you! Us married fellows, the world simply ridicules and dismisses: “dad jokes,” “dad bod,” all those pathetic sitcoms starring Tim Romano or Ray Allen. I’m not saying we don’t have it coming to us. Riding my daughter’s royal blue Micro scooter, I’m as conspicuous as the Hamburglar on a tricycle. 

I have perfectly legit reasons for scooting home so I can get started on a jam-packed day of providing you, National Review, with content. Twenty-eight bylines last month! How do you think I get so much done? I waste not a moment! My third-grader scoots to school, I rumble wheezingly along beside her at three miles per hour, and when she arrives at the door I am left with the option of either walking home while carrying this awkwardly shaped item or simply climbing aboard and zipping up Amsterdam Avenue. I’m aware that you’re smirking at me, moms of the Upper West Side. I was cool once! Fatherhood did this to me.

I was, of course, never cool to any exterior sensibility, but as a single man I maintained certain illusions about myself. I did not have to throw a cloth over that part of my cortex that blinks daily, in neon, “Isn’t this humiliating?” These days I do things like spend my Saturday afternoon at the Halloween store where they charge $59.95 for a flimsy Chinese-made polyester rag destined to be worn once. (Why do costumes cost so much more than ordinary clothes when they’re so much lower in quality?) Two hours went by last weekend while the kids made their choices. Those choices turned out to be: to keep looking, and to keep looking. I passed the time trying to trigger the $349 motorized It yard clown and wandering the aisles taking note of the various ways costumers have discovered of profiting from Donald Trump without having to pay him. There is a mask labeled “Combover Leader.” Another one says, “Billionaire President.” Idly I wondered what would happen if I wore one of these while trick-or-treating in Manhattan among all the Freddys and Patrick Batemans. Something tells me that among monsters, goblins, and psychopaths mine would be the one at which people looked askance.

“Hey Dad, we found one for you,” said my older girl. She indicated “Oktoberfest Man,” the package of which features a dork in Bavarian walking shorts and suspenders, topped by a Tyrolean hat. Reflected in the eyes of my kids, I can see fairly clearly that I’m not Batman. More like Horst, the guy who plays tuba off-key. Contra the kids, though, I’d like to suggest Dad is actually a superhero of many guises:

Packman: That strong-shouldered stalwart who carries the kids’ tote bags heaving with sunscreen, water bottles, beach towels, changes of clothes, and emergency snacks while they dash around the water park. 

Spider-Killer-Man: Shriek not, let your fears be put at rest, for Dad is a supernaturally gifted squoosher of bugs, swatter of flies, and sprayer of foamy toxins into the nests of yellow jackets.

The Charger: Who is the mystery guardian of all things electronic? No one ever sees him in action, for night is his lair, but the evidence of his handiwork is all around you, in the form of iPads, laptops, and phones whose battery levels unfailingly read “100%” each morning. 

The Incredible Bulk Purchaser: They who know not how their college education shall be paid for little suspect that Dad was able to fatten up their 501(k)s with the savings achieved as an unusually canny Costco shopper.

Stormsayer: Armed with the clairvoyance of the Weather Channel app, Dad can predict the precise days upon which to insert an umbrella into each child’s backpack. 

Starz-Lord: “Daaaad, what channel is Descendants 3 on?” “Allow me to assist you, fair damsel, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of every streaming service we subscribe to and how to summon forth virtually any programming you shall desire on the Roku! By the way, that one is only available for rental at $3.99 and no way are we paying that on top of all these pay channels.”

Mr. Credible: Also: dependable, reliable, and punctual! 

Captain Plunger: (Cue theme song from Raiders of the Lost Ark.) The scourge of toilets blocked by random children’s wanton overuse of toilet tissue, the Captain always appears miraculously in the nick of time to wield his trusty red-headed Wand of Clearance and restore order to the porcelain galaxy.

Daredevil: Whoosh! Whoa! Look out! There I go on my toy scooter!

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