There is a Superman statue on my desk. I’ve had it for years. It always sits beside my computer, staring at me intently as I write mediocre columns.
The statue is 14 inches tall and expertly painted. Superman’s abs look like a No. 9 washboard. He has arms bigger than my thighs. Supes is striking a mighty-man pose. Fists clenched. Stern expression on his face. Eyes like narrow slits. “I got this,” Superman is saying.
I’ve had this statue since I was 11 years old. I look at it every single day of my life.
At age 11, my father was freshly dead from suicide. I was a wayward kid.
One afternoon, I went to the mall with my mother to buy school clothes. And I really hated buying clothes because I was a fat kid.
For many years I have called my childhood self “chubby” because this sounds so much better than “fat.” But the doctor actually called me fat when I went in for my physical.
The doc said, “For heavensake, this boy is fat.” Then he paused, and lit another unfiltered Camel.
So anyway, one day my mother and I were going to the Sears to buy specially designed fat-kid pants for an 11-year-old chub. Sears was the only place you could buy such special jeans.
These uniquely tailored trousers were called “Husky” pants. And these pants are responsible for most male psychological problems in this country.
On the way into Sears that day, my mother told me to wait on a bench while she went to get high on scented Yankee candles. And I spotted a comic book store.
I wandered into the store. And that’s where I found this Superman statue. I stood before the figurine, staring at it, caught in a kind of transfixed wonder.
Superman. He was unbreakable. Unstoppable. Unbendable. And all the other un-words you can think of. Everything I wanted to be.
Supes got his power from the “photonucleic effect.” He was a Kryptonian, his DNA was designed for the red sun of Krypton.
But when he came to earth the light of the yellow sun caused his body to undergo extreme cellular changes. Every electron in his being, every carbon or electron atom in every molecule of his body got stronger on the quantum level.
He developed heat vision, X-ray vision, superhuman speed, uncharacteristic strength, the ability to fly, and super breath due to increased lung capacity, which made him capable of freezing objects just by blowing on them.
I stood staring at the Man of Steel for at least 15 minutes. And I envied him. Why couldn’t I be strong like him? Why couldn’t I be unbreakable? Why was I a porky little boy without anyone to love him? Why was I a freak?
“That’s a nice statue,” said a voice behind me.
It was my mother. She stood behind me, looking over my shoulder.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Do you like it?” she said.
I shrugged. “Yeah.”
My mother said nothing else. She simply plucked the statue off the shelf and took it to the register. The clerk said it was $40.
Forty dollars? A ridiculous price. I didn’t own anything that was $40. But my mother bought it just the same. No questions asked. She counted out four crisp Alexander Hamiltons, and the figurine was mine. It sat in my bedroom for years.
The statue had a place of honor beside my bed. Sometimes I’d wake up with bad dreams in the middle of the night and I’d look at this inert piece of porcelain.
And I often wondered about Clark Kent. I’ll bet he got scared sometimes, just like me. I’ll bet he felt like a circus freak, too. Just like I did.
After all, Clark Kent was an outsider. He was strange. He was unusual. But somehow, through a twist of fate, Clark Kent turned all his problems into gifts. And these freakish traits made him into a hero.
I’ve thought about it a lot. Clark didn’t HAVE to help people. He didn’t have to save anyone from burning buildings, or trainwrecks, or mill explosions, or flaming zeppelins.
Nobody forced Clark Joseph Kent to wear red-and-blue pajamas and go around looking for folks who needed help. Nobody put a gun to his head and compelled him to rescue kitty cats from trees.
He just did all these things because he wanted to. He did it because only circus freaks know what it feels like to be a freak.
Sometimes, even at my current age, I still gaze at this Superman figurine, sitting on my desk, and I still feel like a little, plump boy all over again. I feel like the world’s biggest fool.
But Superman just continues to strike his strongman pose, like he’s been doing for four decades. He looks at me and says, “You’re much stronger than you think you are, kid. Trust me.”
And in the same breath he reminds me:
“No matter how bad life gets, son, you’ll never have to wear Husky pants again.”
Patricia - November 11, 2022 6:26 am
The girl’s version of those pants were called “chubettes”. No damage there.
Summer Carrington - November 11, 2022 9:10 am
Oh my goodness, I am with you brother . I was a chubby girl back in the 80’s. Sears was the only place we could go school shopping . They had a line called “ Pretty Plus”. It was anything but . Looking back now , I guess we’re lucky Sears catered to us Little Debbie lovin chubs or we’d be nekkid. 🙂
stephenpe - November 11, 2022 11:01 am
Good one today, Sean. We all loved Sears. The catalog. The Christmas section. And the comic books. My guy was Spiderman but I read them all. When they finally made the Superman movie with Christopher Reeve I thought, “He is Clark Kent and Superman” And when movie technology brought Spiderman to life I was thrilled. Im still waiting for them to do the REAL Tarzan from the ERB books. I wish I could have shared my dad with you, Sean. He would have loved you and with your mind our fishen trips would have been even better. My nephew is named Sean. So you are like family anyway. Thanks for being part of my mornings each day.
Ann - November 11, 2022 11:09 am
….and you Mother knew “everything was gonna be all right”.
Cathie Fowler - November 11, 2022 11:38 am
Loved your superhero column today. I didn’t have any tragic event in my childhood, but for girls, it was Chubettes. When culottes came out, I was a Ladies size 12 at about 10 years old. I’m not quite 5’1” now, and my husband still teases me about being in Chubettes. I’ve weighed 104 for a long while, but sometimes that fat girl is still inside. I was a fitness instructor for many years, and the joy of helping women have fun getting healthy and more fit was so rewarding. Now I’m 71, still active, and my husband always laughs when I ask him if something makes me look fat…old habits! Wish I’d had a Superman then, but peer pressure in HS helped too. So blessed that life is good now, and I’ll bet you feel the same way. God bless you!
Jen - November 11, 2022 11:43 am
Sean, just Clark Kent, you are a mere human man. But God has given you super powers of compassion, humor and humility delivered through the written word. These may not seem like super powers to you, but with them you make a difference in the lives of others, more than you may ever understand or realize. Just like Superman, you don’t have to, but we are all darn sure grateful you choose to.
Cheryl Karpen - November 11, 2022 12:50 pm
Beautiful and true.
dmgtomlin - November 11, 2022 3:51 pm
I agree wholeheartedly, Jen. You make a difference in your readers’ lives e dry day!
Vince - November 11, 2022 4:45 pm
Jen took the words right off my keyboard!
Nancy - November 11, 2022 12:04 pm
A great story to share with my third graders today as a lead in about Veteran’s Day and what real heroes did for our country. To all the Veterans,, thank you, I remember, and I appreciate all you sacrificed.
Trudy - November 11, 2022 12:05 pm
Sean, you are no Superman, because he is not real. You are a Super Hero to many. You help get us going in the mornings. You make us laugh and you make us cry. You are not a mediocre writer. You are a great writer. Don’t you ever feel like a fool. You are a kind, compassionate, dog loving man. Your mother raised a wonderful person. She sounds like an exceptional woman. I love when you write something about your momma. Would love to read more about her. Have a great day, Sean and thanks for your column.
MR - November 11, 2022 12:36 pm
Sean, in your own way, every day, you save people from burning buildings, or trainwrecks, or mill explosions, or flaming zeppelins. You are Superman to so many, whether you believe it or not.
Dave - November 11, 2022 1:18 pm
I quit smoking 8 years ago and have put on 30 lbs. Maybe I’ll purchase a Superman statue instead of starting smoking again.
Anne Arthur - November 11, 2022 1:32 pm
Your super powers are expressed every single day, in every person you meet, and in every line you write. Sometimes, mothers see their kid’s potential long before they do. Your mom was wise. Keep writing Super-Sean.
Belinda - November 11, 2022 1:46 pm
Ohhhhh Sean, this one was sweet,,,,,,, sweet in the way that it touched on parts of all of our lives. I felt like a kid again, feeling my insecurities and saying the words to myself so that I would tackle another day. I love that you care so much for others and reach out. We can all change the world ….one kind act at a time.
Debbie Skinner - November 11, 2022 1:55 pm
Such a wonderful gift of making words touch our hearts and open our minds to the positive side of life.
David - November 11, 2022 2:13 pm
I was “cursed” with being small. At the “opposite” end of the spectrum, I guess. Smallest kid in grade school. Second smallest in junior high. Always pushed around; last to get picked; etc. Finally had a growth spurt sometime between 16 and 17 that made me average in height. I wonder if every child has some (visible or invisible) burden to bear.
Betsey - November 11, 2022 2:39 pm
Your columns are far from mediocre! I shopped at Sears for Husky pants with my son who turned 50 this year! He turned out very well, too!
WayneGina Yount - November 11, 2022 2:48 pm
Your columns are never mediocre! And always lift my spirit! ❤️
sjhl7 - November 11, 2022 3:17 pm
Thank you, Sean, for sharing your Superman statue and your wisdom with us. Just what I needed this morning.
Stacey Wallace - November 11, 2022 3:19 pm
Sean, I am a “Pooh-sized” woman. I have been overweight or obese since second grade, so I understand how you felt wearing those husky jeans. Congratulations on losing that weight; I have lost almost 70 pounds but still have a ways to go. Please know that you aren’t a freak; you never were. You are a kind, compassionate man and a very talented writer. I am so excited that you are coming to Auburn in January to speak. I hope to meet you and get you to sign one of your books. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.
Joseph George - November 11, 2022 3:41 pm
Great story; Been a Superman fan for a long time.
Lily - November 11, 2022 3:53 pm
From God’s lips to your ears via Supey. God uses all things to reach us, right?
Brad - November 11, 2022 3:56 pm
…and Clark became a writer…
Karen - November 11, 2022 3:58 pm
I’m new to your fan club. My introduction was “Sleepless in New York.” Love your heart and how you share it. I’ll be in the audience in Bowling Green and I’ve already requested our library invite you to Paducah. While here, you can visit Superman’s hometown. Metropolis, IL, is right across the river. How’s that for an offer you can’t refuse?
David - November 11, 2022 4:25 pm
I definitely remember huskies! Hated the name with a passion. They are the reason I remained overweight all my life! At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. LOL. Still loving your blog every day. Thank you Sean!
Lulu - November 11, 2022 4:29 pm
Sean, I met one of the Superman – Christopher Reeve prior to his accident. He and his brother sat beside me on a shuttle bus in Colorado. He was the nicest Superman and he has stayed in my memory ever since. He did so much to help others even when paralyzed. Love your column! You’re a hero yourself!
pattymack43 - November 11, 2022 4:57 pm
Emmagene Day - November 11, 2022 5:02 pm
As a female “Husky” size wearer I sympathize. I thinned out in high school, then had 2 kids in 5 years, and have battled my weight off and on for years.
Thank you sharing what must sometimes be painful memories.
Your words do not go unread or unforgotten.
davidpbfeder - November 11, 2022 5:56 pm
“It always sits beside my computer, staring at me intently as I write mediocre columns.”
Yeah, one of these days you might want to publish one of those mediocre columns. I’d be interested in seeing them since you have a habit of only publishing outstanding, excellent, well-written, emotionally moving and inspiring columns.
Jim Douglas - November 11, 2022 6:42 pm
Your story today about Superman really stirred feelings for me. When I was 6 yrs old I fell off of a junglejim and had a simple break of my arm . Turned out it wasn’t so simple . I ended up having 80% muscle destruction in my hand and my arm , 5 surgeries and limited use of that hand and arm . My arm was very thin and small… trying to dribble a basketball with one hand , swinging a baseball bat with one arm, trying to serve a tennis ball when I couldn’t throw the ball up high enough, trying to hold on to a 7th grade girl’s hand while dancing in cotillion class…. On it goes . I was ashamed and embarrassed…. Then I discovered that I could ride a horse holding on to the reigns with one hand , cantering through fields with the wind in my face….yep that was my Superman !
You are a good man…keep writing! Love you brother!
Linda Moon - November 11, 2022 6:47 pm
My parents’ divorce. My Daddy’s death. Suicide of my grandsons’ father. Cancers. I’ve trusted my Inner Superwoman for a long time, Sean, and you can trust what your Superman told you. So trust me…..your columns are not mediocre!
dinah - November 11, 2022 6:49 pm
Texas Oma - November 11, 2022 6:59 pm
Well, Sean. You’ve done it again. I don’t know how you do it. But the reader just starts nibbling at your words like a mouse on a tiny piece of cheese that broke off from the block, and then he starts following that string of crumbly little bits, word by word, until he IS that little boy, and he KNOWS why that little boy is staring at that statue. Then along comes Mom, and somehow SHE knows, too, and suddenly we all know how that Superman statue has kept you going through all those fat years until now.
You should be teaching writing! I have taught writing for decades, but I’m retired now. If I were teaching a course, I would use your columns as the textbook. Maybe you should compile them and get a retired English teacher to flesh out the mechanics of teaching it.
Joe - November 11, 2022 6:59 pm
Superman stares at you when you write mediocre works. What does he do when you write the wonderful ones that make me laugh or cry?
Rich Hines - November 11, 2022 7:51 pm
Love your writing and it’s not mediocre! I don’t have a Superman figurine but I read a lot of comics in my day. I watched Superman on TV too. I secretly wanted to be him- be strong, help people, and be someone special even if I was the only one who knew. Not likely I could pull that off without bragging about how great I was in the red and blue PJ’s. I was skinny and my pants were called ‘Nuthin Butt’. Not sure which is worse Husky or Nuthin Butt! Both say you’re special in a crummy way. As I suspect, you’ve slimmed down some and I’ve added some pounds- both of us probably like ourselves better now as adults too.
It’s hard growing up and I’m glad your Mom spent a small fortune on that inspiration and that you still have it. Good memory and something positive in a rough time of your life.
Joyce Bacon - November 12, 2022 1:08 am
There is something worse than being a young boy forced to wear “husky” pants. Being a young girl forced to wear “chubettes” is a fate worse than death. I can’t even imagine who came up with that name and why.
MAM - November 12, 2022 2:35 am
Sean, being humble is one thing, but calling yourself mediocre is simply NOT correct. Your writing brings tears and smiles to your readers; your words bring hope to many; and your words always entertain. Your columns surge way, way above any sense of mediocrity. Accept your gift and please keep sharing it with all of us.
J Hitzeroth - November 12, 2022 2:38 pm
Those pants are now called “relaxed fit” for aging boomers.
Anne Godwin - November 13, 2022 3:09 am
Just as no one forces you to observe and chat with people and write a daily column. I’m thankful you found your super power.
Keep on, little brother.