Word of Adam West’s death came pinging to my cell phone in the form of Breaking News from the Seattle Times Saturday morning, which seemed odd compared to other breaking news of my week: the House vote to repeal Dodd-Frank bank and lending safeguards, former FBI Director Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the daily texts, calls, and emails from my husband reporting on his hospitalized mother who, plagued with congestive heart failure and a severe infection, has skirted back from the brink of death once again.
I wondered if somehow the Seattle Times knew about my childhood infatuation with Adam West. I was barely in elementary school when Batman ran on network television from 1966-68, and as he zipped around in the Batmobile making Gotham safe from the likes of The Joker, The Riddler, and Catwoman, my father drove a patrol car through South Central Los Angeles through the night.
My father was a deputy with a badge and gun, tall, strong, and even more handsome than Batman; but it was Adam West, the man behind the mask, who I wanted to rescue me.
He might still be wearing his Batman costume, or might just be dressed like Bruce Wayne—either way he’d slow at the sight of my pink stucco house with its bougainvillea covered roof, and see me there, a skinny seven-year-old with swimming-pool-bleached hair, cinnamon candy in my mouth, and wave. At his signal, I would leap from the porch, hop into his convertible, and we’d be off down Pacific Coast Highway headed for the Batcave.
My fantasy never went so far as marriage to Adam West, Bruce Wayne, or Batman, and I never dreamed of booting Robin to become a sidekick. It was enough simply to speed away from home.
Though there were a dozen kids in my neighborhood and we invented nearly as many group games, I performed my Adam West ritual solo. No one but me seemed interested in being saved.
At six my life was calm and happy. The bougainvillea that damaged our roof and wept through our ceiling with each rain had yet to be chopped down to an ugly stump. My father had yet to leave our family. And I had yet to become a latchkey kid left alone too many nights, afraid and bickering with my little sister.
But maybe trouble was already lurking and maybe I was going to need help when it finally came into view. I hadn’t been to church enough to know there was a well-known savior I could call on, so I turned to pop culture. I could’ve wished for Batman himself, or even Bruce Wayne, who could drive into the Batcave a rich do-gooder and come out a superhero.
Instead, I wished for an actor in a company car.
My grappling hooks have never been flung around anything larger than emotional crises (often of my own making), and my archenemies, once I’ve unmasked them, have never been more dangerous than my own fears and doubts, so it seems to me now, fifty years later, that maybe I was onto something, waiting for an actor to cruise by.
For all his fame, Adam West was an ordinary and flawed man, a man who in 1966, I would learn from Wikipedia, was between a short-lived second marriage and a third that would last the rest of his life, just like my father, who rose to the top rank in law enforcement before retiring, and has been married now for 40 years. He and my stepmother have battled half-a-dozen cancers between them, each episode diminishing their bodies but strengthening their love and commitment.
“Beloved father, husband, grandfather, and great-grandfather,” the West family wrote without mention of Mr. West’s Batman role in their announcement of his death. “There are no words to describe how much we’ll miss him…. Hug your loved ones today.”
My husband, a former high-tech exec, has kept vigil in his mother’s hospital room for over a week now, holding her hand, easing her panic when breath eludes, checking on her throughout the night, prodding the doctors and nurses for better care until her recovery, for now, seems assured.
Another riddle solved, another crisis averted.
I haven’t always valued doing and fixing, especially when it felt as though my feelings were trampled in the process. But I’ve come to understand the necessity of these gifts of action, and their place alongside—rather than instead of—the gifts of contemplation.
And as Father’s Day approaches, I embrace those energetic get-it-done gifts, and their givers:
Adam West, my father, my husband.
Each of these men has taught me something about choosing fluidity over static identity in the course of a lifetime, about how the essential self exists apart from circumstances, career, or accomplishments. They’ve demonstrated doing what you love even in anonymity, remembering, but not longing for the days when the spotlight shone bright upon them. They’ve shown me the rightness of fighting for another’s dignity, even more than for your own desires, and about keeping your sense of humor when life turns out differently from the script you thought you were supposed to follow.
So let us love and laugh, learn and grow, fail and succeed together. When we're in trouble, let's come to our own rescue when we can, and accept help from others when we can't, becoming, either way, real-life heroes in our own small stories.
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.