License to dad

The writer’s name is Orkin. Haris Orkin.

I was a skinny, bookish, bespectacled, and insecure 12-year-old living in the suburbs of Chicago when I first realized what I wanted to be when I grew up: Alexander Mundy in It Takes a Thief, James West in The Wild, Wild West, and James Bond. Those men had no fear. They were confident in any situation and were comfortable in their own skin. Not me. I lived a life of perpetual embarrassment. Of course, now I know that’s how most 12-year-olds feel. At the time, all I knew was I wanted to be someone else.

The first Bond movie I saw was In Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond was engaged to be married to Teresa (Tracy) Draco, played by Diana Rigg. I was a huge “Avengers”‘ fan back then. (I’m talking about the English “Avengers,” not the Marvel “Avengers,” though I was an avid comic book reader as well.)

Who wouldn’t want to be engaged to Diana Rigg in 1969? She was beautiful and smart and effortlessly cool. Bond was heartbroken when (spoiler alert) Diana Rigg died. At least he avoided getting married. It was clear even to my 12-year-old self that no one wanted a married Bond—a Bond who had to change nappies and help with the dishes. They killed off his fiancé so Bond could continue to be a lady killer. This is probably just as well. Bond would have made a terrible husband and a worse father. The first time his kid spilled a Cherry Slurpee on the supple leather of his Aston Martin, Bond would have launched his tiny ass into the stratosphere with his ejector seat.

There’s no denying that being Bond has its perks. You visit all kinds of exotic places and drive unbelievable cars. You have a license to kill and because you do, you can take what you want and do what you want and no one stands in your way. Men fear you and women fall all over you. Best of all, you get to make a difference. You get to save the world.

There’s also a pretty significant downside. After all, no one really cares that much about Bond, and Bond doesn’t really care all that much about anyone else. That makes for a pretty lonely life. That’s not the worst of it. Bond isn’t willing to open himself up to love. He’s kind of an emotional coward. He isn’t willing to care deeply about someone. He’s too afraid of getting his heart broken, too afraid of experiencing loss.

Fathers face that kind of fear every day. We worry about our kids. We worry about them physically and psychologically. We worry about their futures. To me, the idea of losing a child is far more frightening than having a supervillain like Auric Goldfinger barbecue my scrotum with an industrial laser.

In the original Magnificent Seven, Charles Bronson played a gunfighter who comes to a Mexican village with six other gunmen to protect the town. He’s admired by three little Mexican boys who follow him everywhere. They worship him for his bravery and aspire to be just like him. They think their fathers are cowards in comparison. Bronson paddles their asses and gives them a speech that has always stayed with me:

Don’t you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally, it buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery.

Am I sorry I didn’t become an international super spy? Would I have enjoyed jetting around the world, dispatching super villains and romancing women with names like Pussy Galore and Holly Goodhead? Probably. Then again, when I was in junior high, I was painfully shy around girls. I was awkward, tongue-tied, and insecure. Not exactly James Bond material. By the time I hit college, I started capitalizing on the strengths I did have. Like my honesty, my empathy, and my self-deprecating humor. Besides, if I had become James Bond, I wouldn’t have had time to coach my son’s soccer team or teach him how to ride a bike. I wouldn’t have had time to take him hiking or watch “Looney Tunes” or play video games with him. I would have missed everything.

My son saw me for who I was: a combination of contradictory traits. I was klutzy and confident, bold and bashful, and I made fun of my own awkwardness. Humor was my secret weapon. He watched and learned, and had none of my bashfulness when it came to the opposite sex. He had a lot of friends who happened to be girls. He saw them as equals. He had no expectations, so he didn’t make things weird. He was honest about his feelings and didn’t play any macho games. He was a good person and girls could see that. And he was funny. That’s probably why he had a girlfriend from the time he was 12.

Maybe you don’t need a license to kill to be a hero, after all. Maybe there’s more than one way to save the world. Maybe it’s more important to be a good parent. Maybe it’s more important to raise a child with confidence and kindness.

 

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