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Fathers, Sons & Superheroes

Not all that long ago, Henry, 3-and-a-half, looked up at me and told me point blank that he needed to watch something on my computer.

It always amuses me when toddlers have their own ideas about things.

“You do?” I asked him. “Well, what is it, Buddy?”

He looked at me as if I was stupid and just spat it out.

“I need to watch the Incwedible Hulk.”

Oh, my.

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My heart burst into a supernova of unexpected joy. I never saw this coming at all. That’s the thing with kids, the beautiful thing, even though you’re with them all the time and think you know exactly what’s going on down there in their wee brains, you really have no idea. So often they stun you with the fact that they have wandered way further out into the vast stretches of real life than you had ever imagined.

Just hearing my kid say the words The Incredible Hulk for the first time was a very strange and uplifting gift from the Gods of Fatherhood. I’d grown up watching The Hulk. I’d memorized whole episodes of the cartoon on Saturday mornings and then when I was a little older, I spent entire weekdays counting down the long hours until the next episode of the major network Lou Ferrigno version of the tale would air. If we would have had a DVR back in the early '80s I doubt I ever would have bothered to venture away from the TV. I would have just put my baseball bat out in the garage to rust and laid down on the shag carpet and watched Hulk burst through Hollywood drywall until someone physically forced me to get the hell out into the sunshine.

I smiled down at my son.

“How do you even know who The Incredible Hulk is, dude?” I really had no idea how he might have known. I wasn’t even sure that The Hulk had survived the decades since I last paid much attention to him. Maybe he had faded into the past. Batman and Superman were still going strong, I knew that much, but the Hulk? I guess I hadn’t been paying much attention to him. I guess I just hadn’t ever expected him to show up on my radar ever again.

Henry didn’t answer my question. Henry is not into explaining himself all that much.

“I need to watch The Incredible Hulk, daddy! NOW!”

Henry curved his arms like a muscleman and growled as hard as I ever heard him growl.

It crossed my mind that maybe he was too young for The Hulk. I mean, there’s a lot of guys getting their puny human asses kicked when The Hulk shows up, and I wasn’t all that confident that letting a young child tune into something like that would win me any parenting awards.

But the past will win a lot of battles in your heart if you let it and this time was one of those times. My kid wants to watch The Hulk? He needs to watch The Hulk?

Then you’re damn right he’s going to watch The Hulk. I Netflix’d the big green guy back into my life within three minutes.

There were a lot more Hulk things than I had imagined I’d find. There were slews of cartoons and a couple of movies he was in. I didn’t see Lou Ferrigno anywhere, but that didn’t matter because I reckon Henry wanted to watch something that didn’t look like it was shot on a home video camera back when Reagan was in office.

We settled on a cartoon and as soon as it loaded itself into my computer’s guts and fired up on the screen, and an animated Hulk appeared on the screen, Henry curved his arms like a muscleman and growled as hard as I ever heard him growl.

I was mesmerized. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the kid. Here he was, my own spawn, freaking out over the very same thing that his old man used to freak out over when I was about his age.

A few minutes passed by and I kept staring at Henry staring at the show. He didn’t really understand what was going on, I could tell that much. There are themes to these kinds of things, little plot lines that connect the meager dots that allow Hulk to ram through someone’s fireplace from outside and start laying a beat down on the bad guys.

Soon enough, something happened though and maybe five minutes into the show my boy turned to me and spoke softly.

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“Daddy, I wanna watch somting else,” he said. “This is scarewee.”

I rubbed his mop and clicked it off with all the love in my heart.

He’d made me prouder than he could have imagined he could do in the middle of a weekday afternoon when nothing much else was going down in my world or his. I put on The Moo Brothers for him instead. A couple cartoon cows that never smash anyone’s cheek in seemed a better fit anyway. There will time for the Hulk. He will rise again. And I’ll be ready.

Henry, my lad, take your good old time.

Because, you know, The Incredible Hulk is a very, very patient superhero at times.

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