My dad turned 98 years old today. Just to look at him – smaller now than I am, frail and a little bent, trundling slowly with his walker down the hall – you might not guess that he is a super-hero. But he is. He has super-powers, and he has used them all his life for truth and justice and protection of those in need. Beyond the Orange Birthday Candle, you can celebrate with us.

My dad’s first super-power was his X-ray vision that could recognize injustice that was invisible to most white guys born in 1916. He was still in high school when his only black classmate was treated shabbily, in the standard fashion of the times, on a class trip to Washington, DC. My dad saw this and was indignant and resolved to Take Steps. I’m not at liberty yet to reveal the details, but Senator Huey Long came out the loser in this adventure.

My dad must have been faster than a speeding bullet to manage all the part-time jobs he held to get through college in the Depression. He did accounting for the basketball team, took shorthand notes during the Lindberg kidnapping trial, worked summers at DuPont, and played piano in a jazz band. He never used his hard work as a bludgeon to disrespect anyone else. He was very grateful that the GI Bill allowed him to finish his doctorate after WWII, and he wanted everyone else to have the opportunities made possible by lower tuition and scholarships.

My dad knew that most people don’t leap tall buildings, or break glass ceilings, at a single bound. His X-ray vision showed him early on that women and people of color faced a lot of extra obstacles to climb the stairs. He gave that extra help. He arranged for women and minority colleagues to be featured speakers and to get state and national leadership positions. When his best student got married and pregnant back in the 1950’s and was going to drop out of college, he helped her find childcare and financial aid and stay in school. She went on to get a masters degree and had a very successful career.

My dad was not just a hero to his students and colleagues. He was a hero at home, too. My mom went to college in the 1950’s, long before it became trendy for women with small children to go to school. My dad worked just as hard for her success as he had for his own; he cooked and shopped and helped with homework, and he made sure that we were as proud of her outstanding record as he was. My dad taught me all about the challenges of an academic career but he never doubted for one minute that I would succeed. He gave me the confidence to go into a male-dominated field back when women weren’t even admitted to some universities.

My dad is old now. Until three years ago, he claimed he was just in late middle age, but even Super-Dad couldn’t fight off indefinitely the Kryptonite of aging. But he still has that X-ray vision for injustice. He went to the management to insist (successfully) that an undeserved black mark be expunged from the record of a nursing assistant. He is still an advocate for the young students who work at the retirement center part time; he introduces them to me and instructs me to make sure they get extra help! He’s no longer faster than a speeding bullet, but he walks slowly twice a day to visit my mom in dementia care and brings her fruit and chocolates.

We celebrated his birthday with Italian take-out, raspberry cake, and ballet dancing by his 4-year-old great granddaughter. And he used his X-ray vision to detect sexism in an article about Hillary Clinton. Happy Birthday, Super Dad! I love you!

UPDATE: Thank you for the community happy birthday to my dad! I added a photo of him with me when I was a baby.

Originally posted to Laurel in CA on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 10:25 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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