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Superman versus the teenaged brain

A father learns from his father–finally

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“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” Those were the classic words that my siblings and I chanted each time the “Superman” cartoons aired on TV.

We loved Superman. He was not just a hero. He was the classic superhero. He was so perfect that he did not even tell a lie. He could do anything he wanted, but he chose to help people. The police and army listened to him. He truly was a super-man.

As we grew older, we felt frustrated as new experiences showed us a bigger and confusing world beyond our home. We wished that Superman was a real person to help and guide us. And as we got even older, we began to realize that he was just a character in comic books and on television.

My own superhero

Luckily, in the real world, I had my own superhero. My father was a superman to me when I was a child. He was so tall he could reach the highest-placed objects on shelves. He was so strong he could move furniture (when my mother would redecorate) and he could easily carry me and another sibling on each arm at the same time.

He was an athlete—in better shape than many of his peers—and seemed to be able to play all sports at a high level.

He was the smartest man around—my math homework was easy for him to understand.

As a Philippine Military Academy graduate, he had a dislike for lying. The military and police respected and listened to him. As an officer in the Philippine Air Force, he was a strict disciplinarian who practiced physical punishment. And we kids listened to and obeyed his words like they were the law.

He could do no wrong in our eyes. My brothers and I wanted be like him—to go to the PMA and be soldiers.

Just a man

But something about him changed as we grew older. As our knowledge of the world expanded, my father’s super powers seemed to diminish. We were teenagers then and we thought we knew it all.

Dad’s old, outdated knowledge didn’t seem to be on par with our new ideas. We felt that the things we learned in school and from friends were more than he had learned.

He was no longer infallible. We began to see flaws in him. He made mistakes.

As our bodies developed, we grew bigger. Our father was no longer super strong to us. We felt faster, stronger and, in some ways, smarter.

Dad was no longer Superman. He was not the Man of Steel. He was just a man.

Suddenly we no longer wanted to be like Dad. We wanted something else. We did not want to be soldiers. To be different, we spent more time with our friends than with Dad (and Mom).

Teenage phase

I have learned that this is a natural and confusing phase teenagers must go through. Between childhood and adulthood, the teenage body radically changes. The human genitals develop 10 years before the brain is done with its maturing process! Adolescent brains can think, solve problems, learn and remember, but the connectors between their thinking center and their emotions are not yet fully functioning.

At this time, teens (like I was) have a feeling of greatness and superiority over their parents. This period is nature’s way of preparing them for adulthood.

At this stage, the emotional dependence of the child on the parents is meant to be broken down. This will later allow the child to be able to make independent choices all the way into adulthood.

Parents, do not despair if you see this pattern in your own child. Remember that we felt this way at that age. Be comforted that it is a (normally) passing stage.

When the teenage brain fully matures, things begin to settle down and make more sense.

My father never pretended to be more than the man he was. My child-brain saw a superman. Now, as adult and father myself, I see him in a different light. My own experience as a dad help me understand the man. I see a man who laughs—and cries. I see a man who strives, sacrifices, tires and feels pain. A man who raises his family the best way he humanly knows how.

I respect and love my father more than ever.

As Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”


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