Before superheroes became a phenomenon that appealed to all ages and demographics, they were written primarily for young boys and male teens. For many of us, Spider-Man represented the angst-ridden, smart-mouthed hero we could be in the present—all we needed was a radioactive spider bite. Batman represented the brooding, brilliant hero we could be in the future—all we needed was training and a few billion dollars. But Superman was different. He didn’t represent us so much as a hero from our past, the first superhero we ever admired—our fathers.
My own dad was a superman before I had ever heard of Superman. He was faster than The Flash (no matter how far my head start, he could always beat me in a foot race), stronger than Thor (he could open the lid of any pickle jar with ease), and more powerful than the Incredible Hulk (he could crush soda cans with a single smash of his fist). From the age of 2 to 7 I saw my dad as more amazing that any creation in the DC or Marvel universes.
But then it all changed. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but I began to see my father as no longer Amazing, Incredible, or Super. He was just a man, a dad much like everyone else’s dad.
When I became a father myself, I vowed to extend that period when my own child would view me as Superman. But it didn’t last long as I had hoped. It couldn’t, because fathers aren’t meant to be superheroes. We’re meant to be surrogates.
Surrogates to a King
The vocation of fathers is to be a surrogate for a king. Here’s what I mean.
A vocation is something we are called to by God in order to channel his love to others. In most of our vocations—such as in our jobs or our ministry in the church—we are called on to serve multiple neighbors. Yet in the vocation of a father we are called to channel God’s love in particular ways to a specific group—our children.
In some vocations, we are called to act as a surrogate, which is defined as a person appointed to act for another. In the case of fathers, we are appointed a vocation that is akin to being a deputy for a king. So fathers are called to the vocation of being a kingly surrogate.
While we aren’t kings ourselves, the one true king has delegated to us some of his own authority, power, and responsibility. Specifically, we are given authority over children who are (or we hope to be) part a royal family, God’s own elect.