Parenting Superpowers

03/10/2008 By Shawn Burns

When I used to think about being a father, and think hard about the dangers my children would have to face, I would have imaginary battles with the forces of evil: Superdad strikes down another drunken hockey-dad! Superdad leaps into the air to catch child falling from tree! Superdad bakes amazing pie!


In 2006, long before Erin was born, Emily and I were driving home on the 101 south out of San Francisco. It was late, and dark. I was driving in the number 2 (which is poo) lane, 2nd from the left, and we were just passing Daly City when I saw (No, I couldn’t be seeing that; that must be a trick of the curving of the road) headlights in the left lane up ahead.

(It must be headlights from the northbound side of the freeway.)
There was a car driving next to me in the left lane, a little ahead; going just a little bit faster than I was and I had been in his blind spot for a couple of seconds as I gently slowed to get out of it.
(Headlights growing brighter; no confusion now, it’s on our side of the freeway.)
I actually experienced time slowing down and freezing as the following mental sequence happened:
  1. I truly came to believe that there was a car going north in the southband fast lane.
  2. I realized that I was still in the blindspot of the car next to me.
  3. I knew I was going to be dangerously cut off, possibly with contact, possibly violently, if I stayed where I was.
  4. I knew I was possibly going to cut off, with contact, perhaps violently, any car in the lane to my right if I switched lanes
  5. I knew I was going to be rear-ended if I suddenly hit my brakes.

Time remained frozen and I was able, preturnaturally quickly, to look over my right shoulder and reassure myself that there was no car there to be cut off, turn my signal on anyway; and dart into the next lane over…

…just before the car in the fast lane noticed the oncoming vehicle and swerved into the space I had just vacated.


It was 2001, and Emily and I had just returned from IKEA with a new bed frame. It was one of those simple looking, beech-laminate frames with the wooden apron running all around so that the mattress was held in the frame rather than just sitting on it.


It was about one month ago and I was in bed, propped up on a pillow as I watched Emily play with Erin toward the foot of the bed. Erin had become quite the little crawler, and she was constantly in motion. She started crawling toward me, over my slightly-elevated knees, and then off to my right side where the comforter was bunched up in a down ridge. She rolled over onto her back and wiggled on the comforter a little.

And then launched her self from a supine position off the edge of the bed.

Time froze. I was able to hurl myself forward from my pillowy resting place just in time to reach out and snag her leg as her head and shoulders disappeared over the edge. Upon contact her body jacknifed like she had reached the end of a bungee cord.

Her trajectory had been toward the carpeted floor; suddenly her head and shoulders swung back and


It was one of the loudest sounds my heart had ever heard. Erin’s head had swung at the laminated particle-board apron on our IKEA bed like McGwire swinging at number 62.


Erin was, of course, fine. I was traumatized forever.

And I’ve learned, as so many before me who have discovered they have super-powers: Our great powers can be used for good or for evil, and it doesn’t always have anything to do with our intentions. We don’t automatically become heroes when we become parents. Being a hero requires work, focus, intention, and I think most of all: luck.

I’m going to try to use my powers for good. And maybe bake a pie.