• My father is Superman, and kryptonite only stuns

    At the age of 13, I thought my father, Richard Merle Weinshilboum, would live forever. This belief ran contrary to my aversion to illogical stances. I can’t recall a time when I considered the tooth fairy real; it was a silly little concept cooked up by parents who wanted to provide monetary compensation for the unpleasant loss of enamel.

    When I was about 6, my sister, five years my elder, quickly doused any irrational thoughts I might have had regarding a fat man in a red suit; she showed me where my parents hid the “Santa presents” and good old St. Nick poofed away in a puff of elementary deduction. (Thanks again, sis.) By the time I hit my teens, I had serious doubts about God; my departure from the local temple (I know, Jewish and Christmas; what’s to say?) was one part disbelief on my part and one part excommunication by Mr. Marks, a man whose orthodoxy would never mesh with my overt reservations.

    My father’s immortality was my one transgression, my one belief grounded in the absurd. My father didn’t look like the type who would live forever. He was a skinny five-foot six, wore glasses and lacked hair. He wasn’t exactly a pillar of health, either. He suffered from migraine headaches that would debilitate him for 24 hours at a time. I watched as he took almost 10 days to recover after surgeons removed his wisdom teeth. It was clear that he was not going to rebound quickly from the procedure: The first words out of his mouth were “I feew wike shift.” Even the happy-o-gram lady, a woman paid to deliver balloons and be perky, couldn’t hide her true feelings when she bounced into my father’s hospital room a few hours after his surgery. The exaggerated smile dissolved from her face, and she murmured, “Oh, geez, is he OK?”

    Still, I remained convinced well into my teen years that my father was simply not going to die. Looking back, I realize that my father’s unwavering presence in my universe made him seem immortal. He emanated stability and calm. When I was scheduled to have nine teeth extracted, my father somehow managed to convince me that the procedure wouldn’t be so bad. I wasn’t worried in the least on the day of the extractions. With my father’s calm demeanor and soothing words, who needed the tooth fairy? During the holidays, I didn’t so much mind the absence of Saint Nick. In fact, the most vivid memories I have of the winter holidays involve Christmas Eve day, when dad would ritualistically take me out for a lunch of pizza—then we’d frantically try to complete his holiday shopping list.

    On weekends, I much preferred visiting his laboratory than any place of worship. The lab was a wondrous place where the stainless-steel counters housed a litany of pipettes and magnets of all shapes and sizes (to stir the genetic cocktails). You could hear centrifuges whirling about, emitting a low, thrum. These were my father’s tools, tools that helped him solve quirky medical problems that needed solving. His experiments battled cancer, helped people.

    His permanence never wavered, even in the wee hours of the evening when I experienced insomnia until I was about 12. When I would toss and turn, dad would wander over to my room, never mind that he had a 6 a.m. meeting. He’d take time to chat for a few minutes telling me to relax, that I didn’t need to get worked up about lost sleep. Just knowing that he was there, awake with me, calmed me into somnolence.

    ***

    Now I am 38, the same age my father was when he had me convinced of his immortality. Dad is 70, and his frame is even slighter. Now that I’ve had time to incorporate logic and life experience into my paternal analysis, I’ve reached a different conclusion about my father: he’s Superman.

    A few years ago, my father had a run-in with a bridge abutment at 70 mph — and survived! Granted, he is a tad more lopsided than he was prior to the accident, but we all have our kryptonite. Remember all those pipettes and magnets? My father is still using them, retirement be damned! To date, his research has saved thousands of lives by ensuring that kids with leukemia receive the right dose of cancer-battling drugs. Breast cancer is his next foe, and I wouldn’t bet against my father.

    But battles against cancer and bridge abutments are just part of what makes dad a superhero. Now that I have two boys of my own, I see my dad’s success as a father in clearer focus. I hope that I can come close to emulating him.

    David Weinshilboum would like to wish all fathers a happy Fathers’ Day. Contact David at weinshd@crc.losrios.edu.



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