Do you remember us racing every Sunday to get to the Blockbuster? You used to say that whoever got there first could choose the movies we were watching for the week. You never let me win. However, among the films we use to rent you always slipped in The Iron Giant (1999). I did not know how influential Brad Bird’s film was going to be in life, and you did not either. You did not rent the movie out for me because of its intellectual value. You were not thinking about the playful fluidity of the animation, the layered implications of militarization and accelerationism; you were trying your best to be a dad. It took me a long time to realize that every Sunday you rented The Iron Giant the next day you were gone. A faint smiley face drawn on my fogged-up window and a sticky green VHS box on my bedside table was all I used to see when I woke up on Monday.
It took me even longer to realize that it was not just you giving me a pastime (which developed into my whole career.) You knew what the film was about. Fatherless Hogarth Hughes is at the transitional place in his life where he is no longer a child but is far from being a grown-up too. In his plight to find a partner and supporting figure in his life, he ends up finding refuge with a big clunky good-intentioned robotic giant. Oversimplifying the plot makes it obvious that distance was hard for you as a parent. You could not fight the unabating passage of time and deter my growth. Every time you came back, I was a little bit taller, a little bit more mature, and you were missing out on the process.
Your way of raising me from a distance was through The Iron Giant. I learned all you wanted me to learn from it. Treat others kindly, stand up for what you believe in, and violence is not the solution for anything. All the small lessons other kids would learn in a soccer game or a fishing trip, I would learn through the infinitely rewinded VHS tape that you lovingly rented out for me. But, the most interesting aspect of Bird’s film is not that Hogarth found a paternal figure in the gentle giant, but that this is the giant’s coming-of-age story. Hogarth is the one teaching and the giant is the one growing.
That’s the beauty of growing up, and that is what you taught me. It does not matter the time nor the age. It is a question of willingness, openness to accept, listen, and understand that growth comes in various shapes and forms. When I was watching the film as a little kid, missing you by my side, I could not wait to grow up, to travel or have the freedom you did. Now, decades later I see that there is no rush to jump into adulthood. I cherish the childish innocence Hogarth stands for because just like him, the burden of emotional responsibilities was instilled upon me from a young age.
This is more than just a love letter to a movie that remains one of the most important artifacts in my life and memory. This is also a way of me telling you that I am thankful for what you did, that I understand and forgive your absence. I could not have wished for a better role model and father because when it mattered, during my coming-of-age, you did your best.
You’re my “superman.”
With love, your son, Juan.