My earliest memories of my father, Peter Winkler, are of sitting in his dark leather chair side-by-side with him and his faded Superman T-shirt.
I don’t know if that shirt came pre-faded like the one I purchased. It probably got that way by doing things Superman would do.
A native of Germany (not Krypton), my father was born post World War II and was raised mostly by his paternal grandparents. At some point his mother married a U.S. serviceman, and they packed up the family and moved to Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base.
My father would eventually become a Kansas City fireman.
Two occasions stand out in my memory. I must have been around 4 or 5 for both.
One occurred at Worlds of Fun. It was one of those hot, humid, hell-on-Earth days we get in the summer. It very well may have been the infamous summer of 1980, when 176 people died from heat-related illness.
Empty trams were leaving without any people on them. The masses waited — many of them elderly. After this had gone on for a while my father wouldn’t have it anymore.
He stood in front of a tram, preventing it from moving, so the overheated people could board it.
It brought a round of furious applause from all who were waiting.
What? Buck authority? How’s that for an example?
The other memory comes from a time at the Lake of the Ozarks, back when the lake wasn’t overloaded with vessels that belong in the ocean.
We were out on a ski boat when we came across a small fishing boat that had overturned. A couple of men who couldn’t swim were desperately clinging to the side. Their companion had gone underwater and hadn’t come up.
My father dove in to try to save the man. I was very concerned, as it had been drilled into my head that you don’t go into the water without a lifejacket. But, of course, my father wouldn’t be able to dive very far with one on.
Sadly, he couldn’t find the man. But darn it, he tried.
Though I may not have always been successful, I’ve tried to live up to the examples he has showed me.
Don’t we all like to think of our fathers as Superman? Other than his mustache, mine even looked the part, as he regularly lifted weights. He ran marathons, too.
We’re probably all much more interesting as mere mortals, though.
I’m a father myself now, to two wonderful boys.
Being a father is the most important job I’ll ever have. I would think most men wouldn’t disagree. Perhaps it’s why we strive to be Superman (or at the very least a great example) for our children, too.
That sense of responsibility and love pushes me to be the best father I can be. To make the right decisions. To expose my sons to all of the exciting experiences that life has to offer. It pushes me to be firm and disciplined when I need to be, even though I fall down at this from time to time.
My son Owen, who is 6, recently completed kindergarten. I was telling him the other day how proud I was of him.
“You’ve always been a good dada,” he responded.
That’s probably the most meaningful compliment or accolade of my life.
It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about my sons. As John Candy’s character, Del, said in “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “Love … is not a big enough word.”
I tried my best to explain it in a poem after Owen was born.
It’s titled “Rebirth.” It’s short, plain and simple. I’m no poet, so former Star books editor John Mark Eberhart helped me tighten it up a little bit. I think it pretty much conveys how I feel about my sons. It’s probably the thing in life I’m most proud of, other than my sons themselves, of course.
I thought I knew worry.
I thought I knew pride.
I thought I knew love.
I thought I knew how
my father felt about me.
And then I met my son.
Happy Father’s Day to you and yours.
To reach Eric Winkler call 816-234-4429, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/eric_winkler.