I CAN’T remember much about my life before I was 10 years old. It’s not that I’m trying to suppress any trauma. I can recall the hard parts clearly: my dad crying, my mum leaving, me and my brother starting a new life with her and her lover at the other side of the country. It was kind of upsetting, but I got over it. After all, I had Superman and Batman on my side, Spiderman and Captain America, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk.
It’s more the day-to-day business of being a kid that I’ve forgotten.
When I talk to my childhood friends, they have clear pictures of the times we used to spend together, and the games we liked to play. I have got next to nothing.
I suspect I wasn’t keen on childhood. The gig didn’t really suit me. If I’d wanted to be shouted at and bossed around, made to wear a uniform and charge about outside, I would have joined the army. But I just asked to be left alone to read my American comics in peace, and dream of the day when I too would be bitten by a radioactive spider or soaked in gamma rays, acquire super powers and embark upon my real mission in life: to save the world from evil, rather than master long multiplication.
I loved my superhero comics. I have no idea of the names of most of my teachers, but I know Batman was Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker was brought up by his Aunt May, that Mr Fantastic was Reed Richards and he married Sue Storm.
When I’d finished reading a comic, I used to get up and leap around, re-imagining the stories, then running and jumping and inventing my own heroes with their own archenemies and peculiar powers.
By the time I was about 12, I had more than 1000 comics, all stacked up in my bedroom cupboards. Marvel and DC in separate piles, the titles arranged in alphabetical order, the editions sorted numerically.
Then, one day, I became a teenager, and I sold half my collection to buy an amplifier for our garage band. The rest of my comics languished, suddenly unloved, until I was a few years older, when I took them to a specialist shop and traded them for beer money.
I never thought much about my comic collection again until I had a son of my own, an event that coincided with a movie-driven Marvel superhero revival. Last year, at about eight years old, he started to regularly read superhero comics.
It was weird, and weirdly gratifying, to see my boy – made perfectly in my image – absorbed in the adventures of the Avengers, Green Arrow and the Mighty Thor, but absolutely startling to see him fold closed the comics, spring out of his chair and bounce through the house, playing out his own stories in his head. And he moved exactly the way I did, with the cadence I remembered: the small step, the rush and the bound. How can something so specific be hereditary, genetic, coded into his DNA? And yet, how could it be anything else?
He’s certainly not mimicking me; these days, I hardly even move from the couch. But what he does goes to the heart of being a parent.
At first, I thought it offered me immortality, the promise that when I’m gone there’ll be another person just like me left behind. But eternal life is for the comics. Nobody lives for long, or even for long enough. And if we did, we’d all die of broken hearts.
So what was it?
I figured it out the other day, when I sat with my arm around him while we each read a different Thor comic, and I felt like the luckiest dad in the world, because his childhood had given me back my own.
It meant something to him, too. I could tell by the way he groaned when I left him alone.
But I wonder if he’ll remember it when he’s grown up like me.
MARK DAPIN | THE ADELAIDE ADVERTISER, 30 MAY 2014