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The epic silence of Iron Dad

Promotional art for The Invincible Iron Man vol. 5, #25 (second printing) (June 2010) by Salvador Larroca. From Wikipedia.

My thirteen-year-old daughter and I like action movies. Lately we’ve been into superheroes — Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man (1 and 2), and the Avengers.

Thanks to Marvel Entertainment for reinforcing a father-daughter bond. We’ve talked about which hero we like best, and second best. We’ve discussed how their back-stories are interwoven in the scripts so people who aren’t comic-book geeks can get a sense of each hero’s persona. Except for Thor, who claims to be a god, they are mortals who’ve enhanced their fighting skills with martial arts, bio-chemical agents, gamma-radiation, or futuristic hardware.

Hero stories have been around for ages, and I bet they do more than entertain us. They boost our morale and might help to dispel our fears. Maybe they raise our resolve to kick ass when some herculean hardship comes to town.

I’d like to see Marvel turn an average dad into a superhero. He could be watching a movie, say, and eats some supernatural popcorn grown by shamans. Suddenly, BAMM, he’s the embodiment of paternal power!

Just think what Iron Dad could do. He would know exactly what to say to kids in every situation, no matter how hard. Goofball snafus would be replaced with laser-beam humor. His storytelling would never cease to amaze. Young audiences would be cheered by the knowledge that his wisdom could banish any bogeyman.

Of course Iron Dad’s awesomeness would be anchored in the fact that he’s the world’s best listener. Rather than talk over kids, he would help them find their own words to make sense of whatever troubles come their way.

Sound like a blockbuster? Probably not. Needs more peril. The strength of every superhero is measured against the enormity of his adversary.

How about this: let’s say Iron Dad must face an unthinkable terror — one no Marvel hero has ever confronted.

He must deal with the suicide of a beloved teenage girl — a cherished comrade of his daughters and sole child of close friends.

If ever we needed a superhero, it would be then.


Lacking
the real thing, we make do with what’s at hand. I’m grateful for movie stars in cool suits surrounded by special effects.

People respond differently to tragedy. Some talk, others are quiet. One thing we share, in the wake of suicide, is the need to connect in life-affirming ways. Sometimes all a dad can do is engage in seemingly mundane diversions. Pass the popcorn, play catch.

For several nights straight we watched superhero movies I rented from Nehalem Bay Video. It was good to exchange a few words with the owner, Larry Gresham, on my way home from work. Larry likes superheroes, especially Captain America, and always takes time to help me choose movies depending on which family members are watching.

The culmination of my Marvel experience was taking the whole household to see The Avengers in Portland. First time at a 3D theater. Overwhelming.

As it happened, this re-connected us with another dad in a family of close friends in California. J.R. Grubbs assisted in the making of many of those movies and was listed as the first sound editor for The Avengers. Seeing his name in the credits was a highlight of the experience (especially for Jennifer, who prefers romantic comedies).

Last time we were at his home J.R. took us into his little backyard studio hut and showed us clips he worked on from Iron Man 2. We saw a first scene, cut from the movie, where the hero and leading lady sport their chemistry before she kisses his helmet and he jumps off a plane to go wow a crowd of fans at a high-tech convention.

J.R. explained what he did to bring that crowd to life. It isn’t simply a matter of overlaying pre-recorded applause. To make the cheering feel real he timed the sounds of singular claps to coincide with the hand motions of individuals. The task looked as tediously daunting as any I’ve seen — reconstructing a whole acoustic world in minute detail to surround the dialogue (usually the only sound recorded when the scenes are filmed).

As I write these words I’m suddenly aware of the familiar ritual of my daughter making an omelet. I listen to her crack the eggs, scrape the pan, and clink utensils. She chews and swallows then realizes her dad has stopped clicking at the keyboard and is staring at her spellbound.

How do we move on when the most precious vibrations of sound and light are suddenly absent from our senses? What is the sound of no hand clapping? What did heroes look like before they were born?


Driving
home from work I pull into the parking lot of Nehalem Bay Video. A man named Gordon Hempton is being interviewed on the radio. He is an “acoustic ecologist” who records the quietest places on earth. His life bears witness to natural soundscapes that haven’t been drowned out by man’s metal drone.

The interviewer paraphrases a profound finding he’s made that is summarized in a quote from his book.

“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”

Over the radio Hempton shares a recording he made at one of the quietest spots in North America — the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula. As I listen to that soft symphony in my car, sitting in the video store parking lot, I’m comforted beyond words.

We are all children in a society that often feels like its bound for self-annihilation. All I know to shift course is tune in more fully to family, community, and the creation that surrounds us. Cheer with a good crowd, yet remember everything contained in quietude. In this way I hope to help cultivate what a bereaved father-friend calls a “culture of kindness.”

Grief reminds us to nurture what’s beneath our hard exterior, the only thing that can absorb the silence.

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