Here's an odd book I stumbled across at a local store. It's hardback, 8.5" x 11.25" and features a relatively slim 32 pages. The book is entitled "Dad you are my Super Hero", and each of those pages provide prompts and space for you to add your own text and glue in photos about how great your father is.
The book is published by Scholastic Australia, and is (as far as I'm aware) available only in NZ/Australia. Certainly I can't find it on the U.S. Amazon site at the moment. Scholastic (and their UK partner Parragon Books) have previously published a couple of excellent self-affirming diary/writing books for teenage boys: Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Secrets (Parragon) and Marvel Super Heroes: Super Hero Secrets (Parragon).
This one is different. Instead of self-affirming, it's father-affirming.
For each of Marvel's greatest male super-heroes (Hulk, Wolverine, Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man and Iron Man), the books features a splash page, followed by two or three pages prompting the reader to write a few words about a specific aspect of their father's awesome character - how they are funny, creative, strong, healthy, and what wonderful plans they have for the future.
Super-Hero as father figure? Rather ironic, I fear! Marvel characters tend to die and un-die sporadically and spontaneously, so it's a bit hard to keep up with whose father is alive or dead. But Spider-Man's parents are definitely dead, and Captain America's parents are deceased too. I'd have to go check the latest roster, but I'm pretty sure all six of the featured Super Heroes have no living parents.
As for children? Well, Spider-Man's daughter was stillborn. Hulk's son Skaar is a murderous savage, as is Wolverine's son Daken. Iron Man is a playboy, Hulk and Wolverine are lone wanderers. Spider-Man for most of his career couldn't hold down a proper job, let alone a relationship, Captain America is married to his sense of duty, and Thor... well, he's a plane-hopping Norse god. So just exactly where is the good example coming from here?
It's no secret that "Fatherhood" as a concept is in a pretty sad state of disrepair. 25% of US homes are currently single-parent homes. Then thanks to the extraordinary divorce/remarriage rate, there's also another great swath of homes where children are raised by step-parents. I went out to lunch last week with five friends and we did a snap poll. Six boys, not a single one of us with both parents still married. So yeah, there's a problem out there for sure!
But does this book really have a chance of making a difference? Who would buy such a book? Would a father buy it for his own son? I'm a happily married dad with four kids. I adore my children, but even I would never presume to put a book like this in front of them!
Would a mother or grand-parent buy it? Well, they would have to possess some definite confidence that the exercise of filling out the pages would have a happy outcome. Just imagine if the kid couldn't think of anything great to say about their father? What if they weren't interested?
Marvel's pantheon of orphaned and dysfunctional single male Super Heroes provides scant material for any practical life lessons in the domestic arena. Spider-Man is not an ideal theme for a Father's Day card, nor for a book like this!
There's a deep-rooted, incredibly well-meaning intention buried at the bottom of this book. But layered on top is a minefield of potential disasters. Some pages are patronising, while others can seem egotistical. For a happy, secure and safe family this book seems insufferably smug. For a fractured family with internal problems, a book like this feels either disingenuous, dangerous, or both.
This book makes me uncomfortable on several levels. I will give it one web, and bury it deep in a dark closet.
Note: The books was obviously successful enough to earn a complete update three years later.
The 2016 edition features the same physical format, but the illustrations are all-new. The X-Men/Wolverine pictures are gone, replaced by Guardians of the Galaxy, Antman, Hawkeye, and Falcon. Got to keep the Fatherhood Message up-to-date with the latest Marvel movies, right?
The written content and layout on 90% of the pages is word-for-word identical with the older version. This is the same book with a fresh lick of paint.
So how do our new characters score on the Parental Success Scale?
Clint Barton was orphaned at an early age when his parents died in a car accident and was sent to a children's home with his brother Bernard. Black Panther's father really was a super-hero. Starlord's father was a tyrant who abandoned his son. Antman in the movies was a criminal who lost custody of his daughter... yeah. Marvel Super Heroes really aren't ideal father figures.