Saturday, March 20, 2010

Heroes and Influences

I have reached the point in my life where I find myself looking back at where I've been almost as often as I look forward to where I'm going. It's by no means a sad thing, as the journey has been a pleasant one and I have been more fortunate than I could have ever imagined. Here I am, aged 50-plus, married for 20 years to a truly wonderful and beautiful woman and living out my dreams in an island paradise. I've been thinking about how I got here and what and who led me along this most improbable path. All people have heroes and we can't help but to be influenced by them. While we may not consciously attempt to become these heroes, I think we do try to embody some of the qualities in them that we find admirable. This is a little retrospective of some of those influences.


I really loved comic books growing up! And, yes, I was certainly a fan of the major characters like Superman, Batman, Spiderman and so on. But of all the "lesser" comic book characters, it was Aquaman who caught my imagination the most. He was king of a fantastic, hidden world where he had not only the powers of a monarch but also power over nature. Despite all this, he was a truly nice guy. The Aquaman of my youth was stalwart, brave and true. He was not motivated by angst or vengeance but simply by a desire to do good. He had a family and just seemed well-adjusted by superhero standards.
The ability to control sealife was a major draw to me as well. At a young age, I was fascinated by three things, dinosaurs, airplanes and fish. I thought fish were really cool. A typical fish was streamlined and had fins much like a plane or spaceship. And fish had so many bizarre and fascinating adaptations...sword-like noses, wing-like fins, electrical weapons... it was all pretty thrilling to me.
I looked forward to Aquaman stories a great deal and also watched the Saturday-morning cartoons as well. As silly as it may seem to a lot of people, Aquaman had an early influence on my life.


The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was a staple in our household when I was growing up. As the youngest of four children, I'm certain that I didn't get to choose what was on TV. Nevertheless, I got to see this real-life sea king regularly on ABC-TV. To view actual footage of the amazing sea creatures that previously I'd only seen in books was like watching incredible science-fiction. To me, he embodied the essence of what an explorer/adventurer was supposed to be. He and his loyal crew traveled the world discovering new life, unearthing ancient civilizations, and dispelling old myths and misconceptions. A lot of his discoveries were truly by trial-and-error and he often took risks that bordered on being somewhat reckless. And yet, he presented himself eloquently, lyrically, and humbly. I think he was one of the last real explorers. Nowdays, people just don't set sail on an adventure for the sake of knowledge. Exploration these days is the provence of governments and major corporations and mavericks like Cousteau can't make much of an impact. Like all people, he was flawed and much of that has come out since his death. Nevertheless, he was very successful in guiding me to care for and love the ocean. I know he did the same for a great multitude of kids growing up in the 60's and 70's.


As I headed into puberty and all the upheavals that go with it, I found a friend in Mr. Spock. It goes without saying that , as a space-hero, he was wildly popular with many of the youth of the time. That aspect, of course, appealed to me. But more so, I identified with the conflicted nature of his half-human,half-Vulcan persona. As a nerdy, not-so-popular guy, I found a kinship with Spock that was almost painful. To me, we were both loners among people who couldn't possibly relate to or care for us. Spock's advantage was that he could stuff his feelings away with his logic and his discipline, whereas I was a mass of emotions and conflict that was always near the surface for all to see. While I wanted to be the cool, collected guy with all the answers, I never was and still am not. What I learned from Spock is to accept the duality of my spirit and accept the strengths and weaknesses that my "logical" and "emotional" sides have to offer.


The goofy kid is me and the guy with the Marlboros sticking out of his shirt pocket is my Dad, Charlie Fackler. My Dad had a list of shortcomings as long as your arm. He had skeletons in the family closet that seemed to truly haunt him. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade supposedly for knocking his gym teacher to the floor. He argued a lot and took everything in the National Enquirer as absolute gospel. Despite all this, he was a good Dad, not perfect, but good.

Dad worked hard at a string of jobs while supporting four kids in an economy not much better than today's. Primarily he was an aircraft mechanic for the government but was the victim of base closures more than once. He had 14 years of gov't service in...six years short of earning retirement benefits. I heard that often. He also worked as a car salesman, shoe salesman, security guard, gas station attendant and probably a couple of other things that I don't remember. He was definitely old-school and didn't want my Mom to work. Eventually, money got so tight that she had too.

When I was little, I remember going to an office with my parents every November and watching them fill out forms. It wasn't until I was older that I realized we were going to a finance company to take out a loan. Mom and Dad were borrowing money to make sure we kids had a nice Christmas.

Much of what I learned from Dad was what not to do. He often said "Don't do as I do, do as I say" and that was good advice. But he did have his good qualities: he worked hard: he sacrificed for others; he took on responsibilities he didn't have to; and he persevered.

We like our heroes to persevere and triumph. In real life, however, those who persevere often fail. My Dad may have fallen into the latter category. 

My Dad loved his kids and, I believe, did his very best by us. Sometimes I see hints of him in things I say or do and I react with a little horror and a little wistfulness. His efforts helped his kids to see a brighter day, and his grandkids all the more so.

My Dad loved the sea. In the photo above, I'm wearing a captain's hat and a tee-shirt from Long Beach Island, NJ. We lived well-inland in Central Pennsylvania, but we usually made at least one trip a year to the seashore at Long Beach Island. My Dad loved the beach, the boats, the lighthouses, fishing and crabbing, the sound of pounding surf and the seafood. He helped me decorate my room with nets and shells. He helped to lead me to Hawai'i and to the ocean that I now know and love so much. He was a hero, too.

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