As a twelve-year-old in 1978, I saw Superman and immediately went home to work out with my long unused barbell set. I wanted big muscles, a pretty girl, and the admiration of the world, just like that guy with the big "S" on his chest.
I've had to settle for being more like the mild-mannered writer, Clark Kent, though I did manage to nab a pretty girl for a wife. More importantly, unlike the fine actor who made Superman so real, I've been fortunate to walk and breathe without assistance.
As the world continues to feel the death of Christopher Reeve sink in, the word "hero" crops up repeatedly. This is rightfully so, considering the man's powerful will to rehabilitate, to work as an actor and director (and win awards for it), and his activism on behalf of those affected by paralysis. While I continue to marvel at what he accomplished publicly, I am humbled by what he achieved in his private life as a father.
I cannot imagine not being able to run with my children, to lift their tired bodies into their beds, to hold them close. So, it is with ocean-deep admiration that I consider how powerful Reeve was in overcoming his physical limitations to be an involved father to his children.
When Reeve was injured in 1995, his son Will was just two years old. His young child would have no memory of the athletic six-foot four-inch tower of a man that Reeve had been. The actor was quoted as saying that he thought of giving in to death soon after learning of his paralysis, but his wife, Dana, spoke the words that saved him, "You're still you, and I love you."
As a recent People magazine cover story explained, for the better part of the next decade, Reeve worked tirelessly to regain his mobility, achieving control of touch and smell that defied predictions. Often he would work out with Will at his side. His passion for life set an example for his young son. But he would go beyond passion for his own progress to be as much of a "normal" father as he could. Reeve talked his son through rites of passage such as learning to ride a bike and frequently attended Will's sports matches. He so wanted Will (now 12) to see his father as more than just handicapped.
Reeve's older children (from his first relationship with Gae Exton), Matthew (25) and Alexandra (21) remained close to him as well. Along with Will, the three children never lost a father, though he lost most of his physical abilities. They had a dad who supported them with his words, hugged them with his smile, and showed them the meaning of living a principled, courageous life.
So many fathers abdicate their responsibilities, despite able bodies. So many other fathers think they just don't give enough because they can't throw a football or understand the nuances of a school play. Reeve taught all of us, particularly the dads, that what really matters is being there. No wallowing is self-pity. No apologies to others. Just doing everything possible to be available to our children.
Christopher Reeve's death continues to affect me. I, like the rest of the world, was rooting for him to complete his journey of beating the odds and walking the earth again. But I am emboldened to think about the way he saw beyond his limitations to give the world an example that having little doesn't mean you can't give greatly to the world. I am inspired by a man who gave the most to his wife and children. Such a man was made of something much stronger than steel.