Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Am Clark Kent

When I was a wee lad, I was obsessed with Superman. I have vague memories of seeing the first movie with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel in the theater with my father when I was three years old. I can recall the extreme, full-body excitement of finding out that there would be a Superman II. I even have fond memories of my parents taking me to see Superman III. I will not speak of Superman IV, as I try to think of it as little as possible.

At home, my friend Joe and I would play Superman. Somehow, through warped kid-logic, we both got to be Superman. Eventually we made up our own superheroes who were thinly disguised versions of Superman. Mine was Supersonnix. He was from the planet Criptanian. He was exactly 100 times as strong as Superman (whatever that means), had blonde hair (as I did), and mostly did all the same stuff.

I guess you could say that I wanted to be Superman. Superman was everything a man should be to me. He was fearless and utterly benevolent. He was both strong and smart. He exuded confidence and made those around him feel safe.

But Superman was also Clark Kent, and Clark Kent was like a totally different person. I understood, even then, that Superman had to use the Clark Kent disguise in order to walk among people without being treated like a god, and also to protect the people he cared about. His Superman persona - his real persona - had to remain somewhat mysterious, since the only way to hurt an invincible man is to hurt the things about which he cares that don't have the same protections. Clark Kent was all that Superman wasn't. He was meek and fearful, shy, clumsy, and socially inept. He had to be all that in order to throw Lois Lane off the scent, I guess.

Anyway, I think a seed was planted deep in my mind when I was young. I knew I wanted to become Superman. Being human, I would never have Supe's unearthly powers, but surely there was much about me that would set me apart as some better form of human, I thought. But I knew that being Superman also meant being Clark Kent. It meant learning not to show off, to be humble. It meant not ever really revealing the true amount of power I could harness.

Since I wasn't really developing any powers, I got to work on what I could do. I took on traits of Clark Kent. I was shy. I was deeply modest and never wanted to show off anything I could do (partially, I think, because attempting to show off might reveal to me that I did not and would not ever have super powers, and I wanted to maintain the illusion of my own specialness). I became socially inept and, as the lack of super powers became more evident, I withdrew.

As an adult now approaching middle age, I've overcome (or learned to deal with) a lot of the anxieties and such that plagued me when I was young. However, I still have that boy-scoutish drive to be Clark Kent. I never drink or smoke or do drugs or even use particularly harsh language, even though I really have no deep moral issues with any of those things (as long as they do not hurt others). I feel a strong need to make those around me happy, and I am driven by an internal moral compass to the degree that I find it difficult to do things I consider "wrong," even when alone.

These might seem like good things, and indeed they are traits that have generally worked out for the best. They have made me good at my job and at getting along with others, and they've really helped me to be a good example as a parent. But they are also burdens. They are things that single me out and make me feel like an outsider. I am always concerned that my way of life will be viewed by others as a judgement about their own, which it is not. I am driven by an internal drive, not by some consciously considered decision to act a certain way or a belief in some externally ordained right way of doing things.

I find that I sometimes envy those who just don't care, who swear like a sailor and get drunk from time to time and go to wild parties and have fun. I wonder why the Clark Kent urge still exists so strongly for me. Is it habit? Fear of change? I don't know, but neither of those feels like the whole picture.

I suppose I'll just have to keep on being who I am. I like who I am, but I wonder about these things sometimes.

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