Every time our little guy learns something new, makes a new expression, says a new word, or just enjoys something in a way he never did before (splashing in puddles, apple picking, or just being pushed around the room in a cardboard box) it has filled our hearts with memories we will always cherish. When I watch him playing with mommy or running around our house, or laughing it up with Gramma and Grampa, I smile thinking of just how much joy he is experiencing and how these are the moments to hold in our memories.
It’s recently saddened me to come to the realization that these times we will remember so fondly, he won’t.
As we start looking to the future and think about what other needs we may have someday as our family grows, new locations, new housing, is at the top of that list. While it’s not immediate, it’s certainly a someday, as our current place was great for Meg and I, but as our family grows, our tiny space seems to shrink more and more.
That got me thinking about the various places that I had lived growing up, equating our current situation/house/neighborhood to what I remembered of the early residence my family had when my brother was born and I was three years old.
Then it began to dawn on me. That was at three years old and that’s the earliest I can remember…well, anything, really. Unfortunately, even that memory is spotty, remembering more just vague images of the surroundings and area through the eyes of a child. I don’t remember my brother being born. I don’t remember the apartment we lived in before that period of three-years old.
Of course, that led me to the inevitable conclusion that all of these wonderful memories we’re making, all these moments of enjoyment our little man is having each day, reacting to, communicating with us…it’s very unlikely he’ll remember any of it. And it just saddened me.
While I didn’t know it at the time, it’s an actual form of development known as Childhood Amnesia.
According to scientists, childhood amnesia (or infantile amnesia) is the term for our inability as adults to recall memories before the stage of 2-4 years old. During our first one to two years of life, scientists say that parts of our brain known as the limbic system holds what is called the hippocampus and amygdala (used in the storing of our memory) and are not fully developed at that point in our growth.
Researchers have found that sometimes children can recall memories from before the ages of 3 or 4, but that’s something they can accomplish while they are still children, and an ability that declines as the children age. It can vary from child to child, reportedly, as to when they start remembering. Sometimes it’s 2 year old, sometimes 3 1/2, other times 5 years old.
Days spent with no reference of time, of limitations – purely of emotion and the drive to do, to play, to enjoy and to love.
It seems a bit unfair to me that these wonderful, carefree times should go unremembered by a child. At these early ages, we as adults get to enjoy in the purest form of their joy and yet, they will not be able to do so themselves.
The researchers used 81 3-year-olds and their mothers who had volunteered in an earlier study on the development of memories in infants by the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development.
As mother talked with their child about six events (ranging from neutral events to positive events) that the child had recently experienced and were recorded doing so, asked to talk to their child as they normally would in any other situation.
In the years that followed, the researchers then made contact with the families again and asked the kids (at different ages, ranging from 5 to 9) to recall the events they talked about with their mothers when they were three. The age differences were so that the researchers could take note of what varied in each child along with how much they either remembered or had forgotten.
According to the MinnPost article, they found that “children 5, 6 and 7 years of age remembered a substantial percentage of events from the age of 3 years. In contrast, children 8 to 9 years of age had lost access to many of their memories of events from the same early age.”
That finding suggested that age 7 was the “inflection point” for childhood amnesia.
While that in itself is not groundbreaking or new information, the recent study is reportedly the first to demonstrate the finding using the recollections of the children.
The study also found that those children who remembered more details of the events discussed at three years old had mothers who had encouraged the child to elaborate on the memories as well as let the child steer the course of the conversation. The researchers say that encourages the child to participate in the give-and-take of the conversation as well as fill their recollection of the memory with their own content.
The MinnPost article goes on to point out that the study revealed the paradox that children between 5 and 7 recalled 65-72 percent of the events they talked about with their mothers at the age of three, but those children who ere 8-9 years old could recall only 35 percent of the events.
And while the older children remembered less of the events, what they did remember was in more detail. The researchers also say those older children were able to take perspective on the events by giving more evaluative information about them.
What the researchers believe this all suggests is that narrative abilities play a role in what is remembered. After seven years old, the language skills of a child have become stronger, which allows them to create a more elaborate narrative for each memory. That then helps the memory become more firmly established in their minds. Whereas at the younger ages, they don’t have much knowledge of the why, what, where and when that goes along with those memories, leaving many of them to be forgotten.
One of the finest Christmas presents I’ve ever received in my adult life was a few years ago when my wife gave me my very own shaving kit that she assembled.
There were no cheap, disposable razors in here. No, no. In the set was a nice, chrome stand that held a badger-hair shaving brush (as hog hair, which are used in most of the shave brushes you find in general stores these days, is a bit too harsh), some shaving soaps to create a lather with the brush, and the piece de resistance – a safety razor.
Never has shaving felt like a finer ritual than with these tools at the ready on our bathroom sink.
I once read someone say something akin to “you haven’t shaved if you haven’t done so like your grandpa did back in the day” and boy, were they right.
I don’t shave every day as my current job doesn’t require me to like the last one did (and even then, I admit occasionally cheating at the office with an electric one at the last minute). I now shave when I feel that the stubble is getting a bit uncomfortable (usually twice a week or so) and when I do, it’s a great experience all thanks to this nice little, thoughtful and very timeless gift.
Some hot water to the face gets the bristles ready and it’s really something to see the lather appear as you spin the brush around the bowl over the shaving soap. There’s all sorts of soaps out there, but my wife went the extra mile and found homemade shave soaps online made from natural materials as opposed to chemicals, which I truly appreciate. Lather it on with the brush generously, then keep that hot water flowing to run the razor under.
I really can’t say enough of just how zen a feeling it can be to stand in front of the mirror, gliding the hot blade of the safety razor across my cheek, wiping away that shave soap lather and the hair along with it.
Put some music on while you do so and you really have a ritual.
I will add, merely as a side note, that when I began shaving this way, it was with a blade made in Germany, versus the blade I’m currently using which was made in Japan. It could just happen to be this particular blade I’m using now, but I find myself getting a few nicks with this one. With the original blade made in Germany, I never got a single nick.
One day I’ll have to teach my little guy how to shave and when we do, I hope we’ll be doing so with these very same tools. There’s something timeless about them, as is knowing that you’re carrying on a method and tradition that has been around for generations prior.
Some people may scoff at the idea of a comic book making a profound emotional connection with someone. But, since you’re at a blog called “The Dorky Daddy,” I’m hoping you either know what you’re in for or are open to the possibility.
Feeling a craving for a bit of nostalgia from my teen years, I recently decided to re-read one of my all-time favorite comic book series, Starman.
Published from 1994 to 2001, it now sits on my shelf in the form of a nice, six-volume hardcover collection. It was a wonderful comic book series that felt like no other at the time and honestly, since. It can always be tough to go back and re-read something you had so much affection for at a different stage in your life, so I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to hold up.
What I ended up discovering, though, is this epic saga not only held up, but there were layers upon layers of themes and emotions within that there was no way the teenage and college student version of me could have ever grasped or felt during its initial release the way I do now.
The thing that changed my entire perspective between reading it then and reading it now was becoming a father.
I remember really enjoying this series during its original run because of its keen writing and its bent on nostalgia. It was littered with references to old comics and characters and history-laden stories of the 1940s, 50s and 60s and was a delight for a fan of older comics like myself. Another theme of the series, perhaps – an appreciation for the past and the beauty in previous eras and the things, people, and cultures that came before us.
There were things then, though, that I had no way of appreciating. It was not until now that I feel such resonance for what it is at its core – it is a saga about fathers and sons.
You have Ted Knight, a scientist who used his brains and sense of good during a more naive age of America, becoming a costumed crime fighter. Out of costume, he worked on the atomic bomb during WWII, something that haunted him for the rest of his life and cost him several years in an institution. Now, (now as in, the 90s, when these stories were printed), Ted is old, gray and devoting his remaining years to science.
You have David, the eldest son who wants to make his father proud by putting on the silly costume and taking up the superhero mantle, despite his brother, Jack, mocking it the entire time. David fails at being a hero. More on that in a moment, but his failure leads us to…
Jack Knight, youngest brother, collector, stubborn, and disinterested in the silly costumes of his father and brother.
The gist of the series is that Jack, an antique dealer, reluctantly inherits the mantle of “Starman” – the superhero identity of his father’s from the 1940s. Jack doesn’t want to do it, but after his brother tries to and fails, fatally, Jack has no choice but to use his dad’s inventions (but not his gaudy costume) to save his father, friends and city from old and new evils.
Jack goes on an incredible journey over the course of those 80+ issues, collected in these volumes. He doesn’t want to be a hero. In fact, he thinks his dad was pretty ridiculous to be dressed in a gaudy costume and flying around using his scientific inventions to stop thieves and mad scientists, even for the 1940s and 1950s.
When the tales begin, eldest son David, as mentioned, is trying to make his father proud, while Jack points out just how silly super heroics and costumed crime fighters are. Like many families, they fight. They fight over stupid things.
And when David dies in that silly costume by the bullet of a sniper, Jack does not think, in some cliche way, ‘I must avenge my brother’s death’ or ‘I must carry on my father’s tradition.’
Heck, no. Jack thinks he’s gotta get outta dodge.
However, it turns out it was no random act that his brother died, but old villains from yesteryear, now old themselves, taking out revenge on Jack’s dad and the family for years of those bygone ‘good vs evil battles’ when good always triumphed.
Jack picks up the mantle reluctantly, out of protection for his father more than anything else, but in doing so, inadvertently begins his own path down the road to hero. There’s no secret identity here. Jack makes no bones that it was him when people see a man taking to the skies again with his father’s inventions. But he doesn’t relish it either. No, Jack tells his dad he’ll do it for a little while, then be done. He just wants his normal life with his antique store.
How many of us say we’ll do something ‘just for a bit’ only to find ourselves doing it for years?
In time, Jack’s relationship with his father not only heals from the constantly-fighting father and son they began as, but grows into a man who starts to appreciate all his father had done with his life, and all he did for his family.
It develops into a relationship that can only come as one ages, one matures, and one sees through his own eyes what a father must do for his son(s). It’s in no way cliched and moves organically, naturally, a progression of maturity and spirit in the character of Jack that you feel along with him through each subsequent chapter.
Jack even learns of the mistakes his father made along the way (an affair with the attractive super heroine Black Canary, for one). What this does for Jack is paint his father out to be more than an old man, more than the foil of his angst-ridden years. He learns his father is a human being, like he.
In time, Jack, a man who once went through relationships fast and loose, becomes so smitten in love with a woman that he is willing to head off into space (a scary prospect to think about realistically) for her in an attempt to find her long-lost brother, a forgotten super-hero from the 1980s.
At one point in his hero’s journey he is captured, drugged, and raped by the daughter of one of his dad’s old enemies.
A year later, Jack receives a letter from her telling him her intention was to become pregnant, and it worked, adding that she has borne a son and will raise him to hate his father and want to kill him.
As Jack’s eyes swelled with tears reading the letter and telling his father the news, my heart broke for him in ways it never could have when I read this as a teen.
In a medium like comic books, when you picture people like Batman battling the Joker or Superman engaging in a battle of wits with Lex Luthor, this type of villainous plan – getting pregnant and raising the child to hate the father – is quite possibly the most diabolical.
Wow. Just wow. Talk about what an emotional punch to the gut that is for a man to think about.
By the saga’s end, the villainess is no more and Jack finally gets to see and hold his own son. Unfortunately, though, it is not before losing his own father. Ted, the former superhero, now old and dying, gives up his own life to save the city and people he had protected for decades, even paying his old arch-enemy, a man who hated him for decades and orchestrated a bomb that’s about to go off beneath them, a little bit of respect.
It’s soon afterward that Jack finds the love of his life has gone, and without his love, his brother, or his father, he is truly alone in the world to raise his young son.
Following Jack from beginning to end on this journey from snarky punk to savior, son and father – you’ll want to weep right there with him as he falls onto the floor of his antique store, everything in his world gone, wailing alongside his infant child. I did.
A funeral for his father is touching, with old men and women who were once young, popular heroes of comic adventures during World War II giving eulogies about the man who shed his red and green super hero costume but still became a hero to the world.
Not long after the funeral, Jack decides that being a father is the most important thing in the world to him and super-heroics just doesn’t have a place in that life. So, handing over the inventions of his father to a young heroine acquaintance, Jack sets out to start a new life, as a former hero to many, but primarily a hero to his son, not as a man fighting crime or super-villains, but by simply being there and being a father.
What a ride and what a read.
Teenage me sort of got the ‘father and sons’ angle, but it was on the surface. My younger self could never have connected to and grasped the type of emotions touched upon here. As time went on, as I aged, as my parents aged, as I became a parent myself, all of this has given me a new-found set of eyes as I read through these pages once more.
I often find myself growing tired of comics the older I get, at least the new ones. I either pick up something new that in its own way has the feel of something older, or I just return to my bookshelf and the books I’ve enjoyed enough to keep in a collected edition in the hopes of reading and getting those old feelings of excitement again.
Starman is one of those books in spades. Writer James Robinson has woven a masterpiece of epic proportions across multiple fronts – superhero, nostalgia, and most of all, family. It is one of those books that I know I can always pull off the shelf when I want something to read that’s adventurous, funny, and best of all, full of heart.