The holidays are over. In the days since my sons and their wives have come and gone, I have been in a reflective mood.

Few people realize this, but I used to be Superman. I was also the Incredible Hulk, Batman and many other famous heroes. My boys and I had some of our most memorable moments when I portrayed an imaginary character that interacted with them. I wasn’t often the hero, but an ugly beast or evil troll. My sons, of course, had the superpowers to defeat the most menacing monsters imaginable. And even a 5-year-old child with a tea towel wrapped around his neck has the strength to defeat . . . the Daddynator.

It never took much to make either of my tiny warriors decide to exercise his powers. He would wrap his scrawny arms around my thighs and begin the death squeeze. Usually, that was enough to make any monster cry out in pain and beg for mercy. Next, I would see a smile on his face and hear a shout of glee. He knew he had found the Daddynator’s weakness and dared not let go. This miniature superhero clad in Underoos and tea towel redoubled his efforts as the Daddynator dragged him around the living room. Eventually, the best man won, and I tumbled down like the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Our small hero danced with joy and sat atop the defeated Daddynator, happy once again that his superpowers had triumphed.

Sometimes the beast tried to get back up, but the young warrior immediately put him down again. As I lay on the floor feigning death, I would hear a tiny voice: “Daddy, can we do it again?” Those few words always brought the biggest, deadest monster you have ever seen roaring back to life.

As our sons grew up, Daddy’s role changed as quickly as the seasons. The boys no longer pranced around our house wearing Batman underwear, tea towels or aluminum helmets to protect them from Martian X-ray mind control. No longer did they need Daddy to be an alien or a monster they could attack and conquer. Instead, they needed him to be . . . something else.

We Daddynator types are the ones who work a plastic stand as our children learn to play T-ball. We take them to a sports store to buy their first real leather baseball glove. We show them the difference between the brake and accelerator and before we know it, they take our place behind the wheel. No longer do they stand and watch us shave; instead, they have razors of their own. Eventually, we become the weekend dad when they came home from college. Mine were always glad to greet me and sit down for a real meal, but by then, they had places to go and people to see. My name changed, too. Instead of “Poppy” (the name they called me in their earliest days), I became “Daddy,” then “Dad,” and now they affectionately refer to me as the “old man.”

Truth be told, I don’t mind being called the “old man.” My sons show me tremendous respect. They seek my counsel on many aspects of their lives, and I am truly blessed by the relationship we share. But deep inside this “old man” lives the Daddynator, still searching for a young superhero to attack me. I haven’t set that part of my life aside because one day, some grandchildren will show up in our family. And when they do, they’d better watch out. The Daddynator will rise again.

Play is an integral part of the father-child relationship. It creates wonderful memories in children’s lives and lets them know that they are significant. One of the things I regret most is that my children sometimes felt everyone else in the world was more important to their dad than his sons. Play produces a bond between children and fathers. The birth process automatically binds a child more deeply to a mother, and the process of early nursing and nurture enhances that tie. Fathers must find different ways of bonding with their children, and play serves that function well.

Could it be that God the Father was the original Daddynator, and all He wanted was that His children come out to the Garden to play with Him? Father and children rejoiced in this relationship until sin entered and took it all away.

As I long for those Daddynator days once more, I wonder how much the heavenly Father longs for His children to throw off their burdens and join him in the Garden again. Won’t you come out to play? He’s waiting there . . . for you.

Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827.