Father knows best … or so we’ve been told.
Pop culture is littered with fatherly role models, from Charles Ingalls — who could build a home by hand and still have the time to take the kids fishing in the creek — to Clark W. Griswold.
But the dads of make-believe can provide more than comic relief, according to Valya Dudycz Lupescu and Stephen H. Segal, authors of the new book "Geek Parenting: What Joffrey, Jor-El, Maleficent and the McFlys Teach Us about Raising a Family."
"So many of the important lessons we teach our children are taught by example," said Lupescu. "Our children watch us and learn from how we interact with the world, how we treat others, how we regard animals and the environment, how we stand up against injustice.
"The people we are, the parents we have become, are shaped by our experiences, including the things we read and watch. Learning about kindness from Fred Rogers, authenticity from Morticia Addams, conviction from ‘Bewitched’s’ Endora, thoughtfulness from Spock — these are lessons that shaped many of us as children, and they are stories that we can now share with our kids."
In honor of Father’s Day, the two authors recently talked with The Star about what it means to be a geek and a parent.
First of all, what exactly is a "geek"?
Segal: In the most inclusive sense, a geek is a brainy enthusiast, particularly one who’s especially eager to share their passion for the imaginative side of pop culture: science fiction, fantasy, etc.
Lupescu: Words are one of my passions, from poetry to etymology, and so I was curious about the origins of the word "geek." It seems to be derived from a 16th-century German word for fool, "geck."
Centuries later, that word evolved into meaning someone who was unusual and awkward.
This year, 2016, is actually the unofficial Geek Centennial, since most sources cite 1916 as the year when the word first became associated with sideshow and carnival performers, referring to those individuals who stood very much apart from society.
Geeks were people who stood out. In the 1970s, "geek" still referred to sensational performers, but by the 1990s it had changed to have the technological and brainy overtones of the current meaning. It was still very much a disparaging name.
However, like the words "queer" and "witch," the word "geek" has been reclaimed so that it is no longer an insult, but a celebration of those things which set us apart.
It seems like fathers get a bad rap on TV sitcoms, especially on Disney and Nickelodeon, where the dads are little more than buffoons. Why don’t dads get more credit?
S: I think the real answer is a little dark, actually. It seems to me that human history’s long endorsement of male aggression means we’ve all got a "scary father" image lurking in our psyche somewhere.
Heck, that’s basically the whole reason Darth Vader became such an instantly iconic villain in the first place. With his deep voice and authoritarian severity, he was the very idea of "don’t cross Dad" brought to life, even before we knew he literally was Luke’s father!
So I think most mainstream, family-centric, sitcom culture goes out of its way to depict father characters in as thoroughly nonthreatening a way as possible, in an attempt to refrain from triggering any unpleasant feelings people might associate with the uglier aspects of masculine power.
It’s sad, because it’s hugely important to show our kids that male kindness is a strength, not a weakness.
In the book, you sing the praises of Ben Sisko from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" for having the strongest father-son relationship in perhaps all of TV. Are there other examples of good fathers in pop culture?
S: We love Ben Sisko, because as not just a dad, but a single dad — a widower to boot — he’s always working hard to balance his professional responsibilities as a Starfleet commander with his parenting responsibility to raise his teenaged son Jake healthy and safe.
And yes, there are certainly more good fathers in pop culture! Just recently, Marvel Studios has given us Daredevil’s tough, blue-collar boxer dad, Battlin’ Jack Murdock, who sacrifices everything to help his son achieve his potential, and Black Panther’s father T’Chaka, the strong but peacemaking king of Wakanda, who teaches his son the preciousness of human life.
Of course, since those two are both comic book superhero parents, they don’t stay in the story very long.
L: One of my favorite television fathers was Pa Ingalls ("Little House on the Prairie"). I loved Laura Ingalls Wilders’ books, even more than the show. But for me, Michael Landon’s character of Pa was the quintessential father: strong and sensitive, supportive and affectionate. Pa Ingalls was the first on-screen father-figure I remember seeing who was both strong and vulnerable, who wasn’t afraid to express emotions or stand up for what he believed in.
What are some of the lessons dads can take away from the geek things they love?
S: Geeky stories tend to be highly imaginative, and that can be a particularly helpful starting point for dads, for men, to think about whether they’re taking what it means to be a dad for granted — or whether they’re using their powers of imagination to visualize and craft the best possible future for their families.
L: We live in a time when people are beginning to support each other in living their lives with more freedom to be their individual selves, rather than trying to fit themselves into boxes of what they think men or women should be. That’s encouraging, because it will hopefully mean that we can all find more wholeness, healing and balance as a society.
Several of the lessons in "Geek Parenting" have to do with that kind of balance: tempering strength with reason, power with compassion. These kinds of lessons are important for everyone, but especially for men and for anyone raising boys.
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.