All this time I wanted to be a geek dad: techno savvy, a citizen of both marvel and DC multiverses, a collector of sports cards, an X-box athlete, a Jedi; but the geek dad passion felt contrived. Something else was calling me, a deeper passion has spoken. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it has called me away from the fathering style that is informed by science fiction.
It is a fathering style that is based on the father’s nostalgia, from days long gone; on heroes who have long needed to pass. (Geek fathering is, by the way, a commercial empire just the same as the commercial wedding industry, baby fashion industry and diet/health enterprises. It’s a business.)
Nostalgic fathering robs a child of finding their own heroes and their own reasons; it is the father always speaking—not listening. It usurps the child’s years of searching and forming their own genuine identity, imposing a substitute for the actual journey—a journey that is a timeless necessity for the child. A pre-meditated mythos limits a child’s ability to explore their world as they see it. It is the difference between a father listening to his child’s yearning and a father managing the yearning and curbing it. Providing a scifi mythos too early on creates a cartoon barrier between the child and reality, as if the battle between good and evil occurs between highly developed humans and purely evil creatures on a distant planet. It suggests the battle is out there and someone else, someone better than us, will fight it and win it. It is a poor mythos fraught with many pleasant distractions and comfortable moral denials.
My decision is not to deny scifi mythos, but to keep it in perspective. I think it is normal and healthy for kids to interact playfully as superheroes. A father however, should take his son into the real world and make contact with real city life, with nature, living creatures, with ideas and current events, all without the use of television or the scifi mythos.
One of the traits of a geek dad, is a lifetime commitment to a particular movie-based, scifi mythos: Batman, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek. For some dads, the nostalgia includes such personae as John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Lee and James Bond. Geek fathering is not limited to a scifi mythos, and often includes classic rock and roll, major sports, automotive enthusiasm (from the classics to exotic sports models to monster trucks) and let’s not forget pro-wrestling. There is much to discern.
When does the fantasy end? Batman has been around since the 1940’s. James Bond has been around since the 1950’s. When will these personae exhaust their usefulness? For geek dads, a child is, generally speaking, initiated into the family when they are immersed in the father’s nostalgic fantasy realm. When the child is introduced to the decade’s old scifi mythos, they have experienced a rite of passage that bonds the father and son. I have found this rite of passage to be hollow—entertaining, but hollow. This mythos becomes an interface of exchange between the father and child, as if there are three people interacting, instead of two. The myth becomes an invisible friend.
Is geek fathering born of a crisis of fathering? Is it a substitute for intimacy? Is the myth perpetuated because fathers have been absent in so many ways? Does the father pass on the nostalgia of Saturday morning cartoons because those memories are more pleasant than the memories of his own father? Is today’s father giving himself, or giving a caricature of the father he wanted?
This discussion is offensive because it calls in to question the values which constitute the American summum bonum of parental vision. The arc of the vision is laden with fictional characters and false conquests. The end is a well-rounded geek who interfaces with his father through nostalgia, and other geeks in geekdom. The purpose of the relationship seems to be to uphold the values of nostalgia, instead of nurturing an organic, life-long father/son adventure.
When myths and narratives are modified with substitutes for intimacy, the results will be an enforcement of the interface, because abandoning the myth destroys the holy image of the myth—to destroy one’s self; to destroy the father’s image in the child.
I still like Spiderman, but I much prefer the common heroics of Peter Parker. His humanity is real. He is a better man than Spiderman will ever be.