“The Art of War… with a Smile.”

By Brian Panowich

I call it Wayne Syndrome—as in Bruce Wayne.

The Batman rights wrongs—no matter what the cost. He’s heroic almost to a fault, and sometimes at the expense of whoever or whatever he’s trying to save. Justice no matter what. I used to think like that, too. When I was younger, I’d see what I considered to be an injustice in the world, and I’d dig my heels into the dirt and do exactly that. I’d use my swell of righteous indignation to try and change the world through sheer will power and brute force. I suffered from Wayne Syndrome. I’d see something wrong and fly into Batman mode. It rarely ended well. Over time and a lot of hard kicks in the teeth, I finally learned how to change up my game.

Two years ago, I went to war.

My oldest daughter carried a 3.9 GPA her first year of high school. She enrolled and excelled in every advanced placement class they offered. She had perfect attendance and gathered four letters of recommendation from her teachers that helped her to dual enroll at Augusta University. All this while having her writing published in Biltmore Magazine and her art to eventually published in the magazine you’re currently holding. The kid is going to graduate from high school with both her diploma AND an associate degree. So, when she also landed one of the lead roles in the one-act competition play for her drama class—as a sophomore—I told her she could have one ask.

Anything she wanted. The brass ring.

She has never asked me for anything. She didn’t have a cell phone, nor did she want one at the time. She shared a family computer with her siblings and preferred to buy her clothes from Goodwill rather than the mall, so I fully expected her to immediately ask me for something along those lines. But instead, she asked me if she could think about it. A day or two later, she finally decided on what she wanted her reward to be. She asked me if she could dye her hair blue.

Yup. That was it. That was her brass ring.

So, I obliged. And I took her, her sister and her best friend to a posh salon downtown to have it professionally done. We made a day of it. She looked amazing. We even went for ice cream at The Pink Dipper afterward. It was one of the best days ever.

That feeling of joy came to a screeching halt the very next morning once she showed up at school the following day. After her being there for less than an hour, I got a call from the assistant principal letting me know that her “extreme” hairstyle was against the code of conduct for the school district and that she would have to spend her time in detention until her hair was restored to its original brown color. He then backed up his decision with the tired argument that “If we do for one, we have to do for all.” As if rewarding kids based on merit and achievement wasn’t an option to even be considered.

I felt myself slipping into Batman mode. I was ready to don the cape, cowl and descend onto the school filled with hellfire and brimstone. But I did not.

Instead, I thanked him for calling, told him I was well aware of the rule in the handbook and that I’d be there to discuss it within the hour. But before I went, I performed a little recon. I looked up every teacher at the school who had a picture online and had clearly dyed or highlighted their own hair—and I made a list. Then I compared the archaic rule to the surrounding counties in Georgia. Lastly, I found out who the district superintendent for my newly blue-haired daughter’s high school was and gave that lovely woman a heads-up call about my kid’s achievements and why I felt like she deserved this reward. I ALSO reminded the county official that my daughter was exactly the kind of young person they wanted representing their school. She proceeded to thank me for my time and then added that she wished more parents were as active and passionate about their children’s high school experience. Forgive the pun, but the Batman in me got schooled that day.

By the time I got to the school’s office, my daughter was back in class. The attitude of her assistant principal, as well as the principal, was surprisingly gracious and I was informed that no action would be taken and that they were proud to count my daughter as one of their finest students. The cherry on top, is that this year, that outdated nonsensical rule was stricken from the handbook and since then I’ve seen several other kids expressing their own identities and following suit. I still receive warm greetings from the school’s staff every time I go there, mostly to see my kids receive high honors and various other awards. My daughter’s hair now is currently bleach blonde and hot pink.

I suppose the point of this story is that burning bridges can be pretty satisfying to the Batman in all of us—inside the moment—but learning how to build a better one that suits your needs and makes it easier for others. to cross moving forward is so much more rewarding. That’s my brass ring.

Illustration by Michael Rushbrook
“Batman© DC Comics”

Appears in the June/July 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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