How the Nerd Life Taught Me to be a Dad

kubiak tn
The relationship between father and son has been at the center of many stories in the nerd and geek worlds. From Luke and Anakin Skywalker to Final Fantasy‘s Tidus and Jecht, that often-contentious relationship between the two has made for interesting and immersive stories that have often become favorites of fandoms across all genres. As I am about to celebrate Father’s Day for the first time since the birth of my son, this time has me thinking of my own contentious relationship with my father and how the nerd life was often an escape and even a fill-in for him. More importantly, I find myself reflecting on the potential relationships I will have with my children and how nerd culture has shaped how I will share my life lessons with them. In many ways, it has made me into the type of father I will be towards them.

Father’s Day was never a big deal to me. For many years, as a child, my father wasn’t around. I had male role models in my life, but, not to discount the men in my family or even my single working mother who tried to fill that role, it was never the same as growing up with a dad. It was especially noticeable when I would see my friends with their fathers and wish that I had what they had. I grew up idolizing Superman and Luke Skywalker. I was always enamored with the relationship between Jonathan and Clark Kent and related to the mystery that was Darth Vader to Luke. My father was in the military and, being divorced from my mother, was often stationed far away. When he did show up to visit, it always felt like Vader coming for Luke. That may have been a bit unfair to him, but as a child, I didn’t understand concepts like duty and service. I also wasn’t the easiest child. It was after a bout of trouble around the age of 13 that I decided to move with my father to Germany. It was not only an excellent chance in being able to experience another country, but also was a way to get to know the man that sired me. It didn’t take too long for both of us to realize it was not an ideal situation, and our relationship was always fraught with discord and animosity. By the time I turned 21, he had disowned me.

It took a long time to understand and reconcile the situation. Even though he was always working and showed more interest in his career than in his son, I can’t blame him for everything. He was extremely young when he had me and had to father a teenager at the same age that I am now. He was a soldier (and on top of that, a military police investigator) who had a son that showed a true penchant for going against any type of authority, which usually affected his career negatively. I can understand the situation being difficult for him. After many years, I think the real problem was that he never shared his story with me. Throughout all of the films, comics, and video-games that I have ever loved that also had a contentious father-son plot, it was always the son seeking out the story of his father. Luke is obvious in that matter. Superman, throughout his origin, is seeking out his biological father’s story while also listening to Jonathan Kent’s. A story is not just places where you are born or jobs that you have had, but is also the small things that make you who you are.

I know the when and where of his birth and the high school that he attended. I even know how he met my mother and how it didn’t work. I know that he had a penchant for reacting in anger, and that he was often frustrated with his life and me. However, I don’t know any of the “why’s.” He plays guitar and prefers the hair metal bands from the 1980’s, but that isn’t who he is as a person. That is what is needed for understanding. I can say honestly that, unfortunately, he didn’t understand me either. For whatever reason, whether it was my not being interested in him or vice versa, we never shared moments in even the things that we had in common. Because of this emotional distance, many of the experiences that a father should teach his son were filled in by things relating to my nerd life.

Danny Glover taught me how to shave in a scene from Lethal Weapon 3. I learned how to drive from a friend that I had met because of our mutual fondness for anime and video games. While he was teaching me how to drive with a manual transmission in his Geo Tracker, we talked about Berserk, Gundam and Final Fantasy X. Before my son was born, and even now, I wondered if I would commit “the sins of my father.” It is these questions that keep me up at night. Will I be my father? Will my children know me? Will they know the real me or will they be left to constantly be seeking answers? Will they know more than the who’s and the where’s, but also the why’s of my past? The hardest question to be left unanswered is always “why.” Knowing the why of someone is to know their motivations, their thoughts, and their emotions. As my youngest son sleeps in his bassinet, I wonder how I can ensure that he will know me.

I chase immortality. It’s something I have been telling myself and others about why I do all the things that I have done over the last few years. The reasoning used to be that I refused to not leave my mark on this world. I wanted to entertain people and give them a reprieve from their struggles. I wanted to open them up to new thoughts and conversations and to give them a different perspective born from my experience. When I look at the last few years now, I realize that this is all just a story that I am laying down for my children. It is a way for them to know who their father was. There is a record of my existence — of who I am and the things that I loved or believed. I will create for them the thing I never had. I don’t know what kind of father I will end up being. Maybe being aware of what I don’t want to be will be enough to make me a good father. It might be too late for me and my father. Maybe it’s just my pig-headedness that keeps us apart. That is all part of the story that I will one day share with my children. I will tell them so that they know me and understand why I care so much about them. I will tell them because I want them to grow up and be a better human than I could ever be. Father’s Day will always be a big deal for me now, because it is truly when I start to tell my story.

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