Earlier this week, some of my students asked me what I got my wife for Valentine’s Day. They seemed to approve of my answer (tickets to a concert she wanted to go to) and then asked what Erin gave me. At that point, I paused for a moment, trying to decide how to answer the question. The answer was wonderful – my wife went on eBay and found the recently-released 3500th issue of Topolino, the Italian Disney comic book series, which came bundled with a figure of my favorite Disney character, Scrooge McDuck. The thing is, how do I explain this to a group of high school seniors without coming across as a gigantic nerd?
Then I got over myself, because…hell, just look around. On one bulletin board in my classroom is a collage of superhero and sci-fi images clipped from magazines and catalogs. There is a shelf of Superman-family Funko Pops, a set of Eaglemoss Enterprise models, several magnets from the LEGO Minifig of the Month Club, and a Star Trek: Lower Decks calendar on the wall. There is literally no denying my heritage as a geek. It is, in fact, something I have long since decided to embrace.
That’s part of what being a geek is, really. Sure, the dictionary may say something about biting the heads off chickens, but in the modern context I propose the following definition for the term. “Geek (noun): One who loves a particular fandom to the extent that it becomes an element of their personality.” You should note that this definition passes no judgment, nor does it specify the type of fandom. It can be a movie, a TV series, a comic book, or a video game. It can be music or sports or science or history. You can be a geek about pretty much anything you love, so long as you love it wholeheartedly. Nor does it imply exclusivity: one is fully capable of being a geek about multiple things. In truth, I think almost everyone is a geek about something. It’s just that those of us in genre fiction have chosen to fully embrace the term.
Geekery is contagious as well, spread through casual contact. It happens when you tell your friend how much you liked a movie, when you walk around in public wearing a T-shirt for your favorite band, when you get in someone’s car and they’re listening to a podcast, or when enough of your students are carrying around the same book that you finally break down and read it to find out what all the fuss is about. And like any germ or virus, the longer you are exposed to any particular strain of Geekery, the more likely you are to begin exhibiting symptoms yourself.
Which brings me to my five-year-old son, Eddie.
Any kid of mine would, by virtue of the fact that I’m there, have grown up in a house full of comics and books and movies, watching cartoons and seeing superhero T-shirts almost any time I’m not dressed for work. And when kids are very young, before they start exhibiting their own preferences and fandoms, we as parents have a tendency to dress them in our own. From the beginning, my kid had onesies and pajamas featuring superheroes and spaceships, his plates bore the likenesses of characters from the cartoons that we liked, and he had pacifiers featuring the logos of both the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers. And our friends and family just fed the monster – two of the gifts we received at Erin’s baby shower included a Batmobile walker from some of my aunts and uncles and a lovely toy chest handmade by our friends Jason and Andrea, decoupaged with panels from Superman comic books.
What I’m getting at is that Eddie never had a chance.
In my defense, though, it’s not just my geekery that he’s been exposed to. I may be the reason he jumps up and giggles at the sweeping vistas of outer space in the beginning of every Star Trek episode, but my wife is the reason that when he started learning to identify shapes he could pick out the circle, the square, the triangle, and the Millennium Falcon. Erin is a geek too, you see, and fortunately the Venn diagrams of our respective geekeries have a lot of overlap. We both love genre movies and TV shows, we both enjoy musicals, we both like sitcoms. That concert I got her Valentine’s tickets for? It’s the music of John Williams. We blend.
Even in those places where the overlap isn’t perfect, there’s enough that we enjoy what the other is bringing to the table. She’s a little more into horror movies than I am, I’m a little more into comic books than she is, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t each appreciate the other’s fandoms as well. We just, like any two individuals on the planet, lean a little more in certain directions than the other, and that is reflected in our parenting. When Eddie was a baby the joke was that you could tell who dressed him on any given day based on whether his clothing featured the Grateful Dead or Spider-Man.
Over time, he started to express his own love for our things in various ways. For example, when I turn on the FreeVee app, he begins to sing the theme to Night Court. He’ll walk into the comic book shop with me and immediately identify the logos for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Superman, Batman, etc. At only five years old he sings along to the opening themes for Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax, a feat that Albert Einstein himself never accomplished in his entire lifetime! And if you ask him what we watch on Saturday night, he will proudly exclaim “Svengoolie on MeTV!” (Actually, he pronounces it “Svengoofie,” a misarticulation I believe Rich Koz himself would greatly approve of.)
It’s not that we want to force our geekdoms on our child, it’s just an inescapable byproduct of having us as parents. Even once he got old enough to express his own preferences, ours tended to creep in. For instance, when he was two or three years old we learned that Eddie loved cars, and since then he has amassed a Hot Wheels collection that would make Jay Leno jealous. And although he is not picky about what cars he gets, with us as parents it is inevitable that assorted Batmobiles would work their way into the fleet, to say nothing of things like Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine, vans with Justice League murals on the side, and the occasional USS Enterprise (which is Hot Wheels brand even though it has no wheels. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I bought one for Eddie and one for myself.) If you go through his books (which he loves) you will see an extensive library dedicated to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Bluey, and trucks, but also a Little Golden Book starring the Universal Monsters and an alphabet book based on Jaws.
The job of a parent is to teach their child how to be a kind and functional adult, even for those of us whose own functionality is questionable at best. Part of that, I sincerely believe, is being able to choose those things that you love, and that you love them without fear. And sure, sometimes that may result in your kid latching on to something you don’t like. This is especially true when your child is very small and they discover something like Blippi. (For those of you fortunate enough to not know what I’m talking about, “Blippi” is a guy in orange suspenders who prances around indoor playgrounds in a manner that any reasonable judge would consider grounds for a restraining order, then puts videos of it it on YouTube. Blippi is the opposite of entertainment. He is like a bad Saturday Night Live parody of a children’s show host. His videos run on an unending loop in the darkest level of Hell. My son loves him and he is now a millionaire.)
But that’s okay. Because it’s his thing, so I suck it up and tolerate it and even read the stupid Blippi alphabet book when Eddie asks me to, because I know that once I’ve washed my hands of it he’ll come back later with something like his Ghostbusters Little Golden Book, and that makes it better.
The way I see it, if my son grows up able to demonstrate his love for a fandom in a healthy way (read: not on Reddit), I’ll have done my job.
And as long as he knows that Saturday night is for “Svengoofie,” so much the better.
Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. In addition to the Uncle Scrooge figure, his wife also gave him the idea that led to this week’s column. If it weren’t for her you may have just read 1500 words lamenting the Ultraverse or something. Thanks, Erin!