By Eric S. Elkins
Even before I was a father, I daydreamed about sharing the things I loved with my kids. I mean, what could be better than introducing your child to the joys of your life? I reveled in the idea of sharing amazing foods, books, music and other experiences with my offspring. And when Simone was barely a mass of cells, I’d sing to her mother’s belly whenever I had the opportunity — kid-friendly songs, ballads, and the Sh’ma; a prayer that Simone has known by heart her entire life.
I’ve written about the ways having my girl with me has enhanced my life, and if you’ve been paying attention, you probably noticed that one of my greatest joys is sharing experiences with her — watching and learning as she interacts with new things in her world. Sure, there’s the innate pleasure in watching her face as her brain processes new inputs, whether it’s foreign currency or duck fat fries — the moments when she first saw Big Ben and then the Eiffel Tower, her eyes wide, mouth open, iconic clichés suddenly real and wondrous, are treasured memories for me.
But the larger satisfaction that comes from sharing new things with Simone is in her appreciation of the things I love. I’ve never pressured her to like what I like, but she is the child of two geeky, sci-fi-loving, pop culture-addicted parents, so she’s kind of wired to appreciate the cerebral, the outlandish, the edgy.
Simone never asked to listen to Justin Bieber or Hannah Montana. But she will request some Arcade Fire, maybe a little Decemberists, and always They Might Be Giants. In our house, there’s plenty of Dave Brubeck, and at the age of three, Simone would ask to hear Ella Fitzgerald in the car. When she was six or seven, I took her to an off-the-radar Flogging Molly concert (another favorite, for both of us), and she danced with abandon backstage to their Irish-infused punk raucousness.
So when I bought two tickets to see U2 in Denver a full 18 months ago, I always knew Simone would be my preferred date at the stadium spectacle. We were disappointed early last summer when it looked like we’d need to sell off the tickets because of our trip to London, but then Bono threw out his back and the tour was postponed (sad for him, good for us). The rescheduled date is almost a year after the original one, but it’s coming up this weekend. Simone’s never seen an effects-heavy rock show. She has no idea what she’s in for. I feel so very lucky that I get to be there when the giant stage explodes with music and energy and she gets swept up in the majesty of it all.
I am starting to feel a little uneasy, though, about shaping Simone into an unabashed geek wonder.
See, sometime last year, I found out from a friend that the hoary old TV series SeaQuest DSV was available on Netflix Instant, and I thought it would be fun to watch with Simone. I had no idea that she’d be immediately enthralled, and would want to watch one episode after another. But the more we watched, the more I would laugh and say, “This is just Star Trek under the sea.”
Simone became very curious about this Star Trek of which I spoke, so we started out by checking out random episodes of the original series and The Next Generation (aka TNG) that I’d sweep up on the DVR. The old show was a bit too dark and cheesy for her tastes (though she did laugh through a few episodes), but, damn, she took to TNG right away, immediately loving the characters and story lines. That enthusiasm gave me the impetus to break into the DVD sets I’d been hoarding for years — when I used to write movie, book, and video game reviews, companies would send me tons of products. In that time, I managed to collect boxed sets of every season of the original show and its late ‘80s reboot. I’d been reluctant to break through the shrink wrap and desecrate what could be a small eBay fortune, but the thought of making our way through the mythology together season by season was much more exciting than maybe selling the set off for a few hundred bucks some years down the road.
For a time, Simone didn’t want to watch anything else except for the next episode of Star Trek. She abandoned Top Chef All-Stars, lost interest in reruns of Phineas & Ferb. It was Star Trek or…
…well…this is where I have started to feel a little guilty…
…because if we weren’t watching Star Trek on TV, Simone would beg for us to read J.R.R. Tolkien together. I know. I know.
Although Simone plows through massive novels on her own, we have a special ritual of reading together every night at bedtime. When I introduced her to “The Hobbit” (which her mother told her was boring) I wasn’t sure how she would take to it. But the story is so exciting, the writing so descriptive and rich, and the characters so lovable that Simone couldn’t get enough of the book. We didn’t even stop to breathe before we dove into the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, immersing ourselves into the warm glow of Middle Earth and embracing “Fellowship of the Ring,” reading it aloud together at every opportunity; less TV, more curling up on the couch or in a sunny patch on the carpet digging into chapter after chapter. I’d read, different voices and accents for different characters, until my voice was ragged.
And, oh, when we finally finished the first book and I decided she was ready for Peter Jackson’s epic film version, we were both giddy with excitement. For me, it was all about experiencing Simone’s wonder at the loving manifestation of the novels — to be with her when she saw Ian McKellen’s Gandalf for the first time, or the meticulous creation of The Shire, the home of her beloved hobbits. Or — and this was so incredible to see with her — the appearance of the fire-winged balrog in the depths of the Mines of Moria. By the time the credits were rolling, Simone was a sweaty bundle of exuberance. In the same breath, she said it was the best movie she’d ever seen and could we get reading the next book in the trilogy.
At school these days, she and her pals play “Lord of the Rings.” Simone walks through the world with a Frodo name tag, a homemade necklace with a yellow clay One Ring, and…um…a sword wrought of pipe cleaners.
Oh crap. What have I done?
Simone is her own person, and I would never want her to feel obligated to like something because I do. I want her to develop her own tastes and preferences. Did it break my heart when I realized she may never love roller-coasters? Sure, a little bit. But I’d rather she became a media-savvy consumer of art and culture — of the stuff that appeals to her at a cellular level — than a clone of her father. And I don’t want her to become so geeked out that she can’t communicate with the normals.
So her enthusiasm for Star Trek and Lord of the Rings gives me pause. In the midst of the deep satisfaction and pleasure I have when she asks me to re-read a beautifully crafted description in “The Two Towers,” I feel just the slightest pang of apprehension. I realize I need to give her the tools to feed her passions (as I’ve always done), but maybe to step back, too, a little more often now, as she navigates her tween years, and see what happens without my steady curating.
The good news is that, next school year, she’ll be surrounded by her tribe — creative, quirky students and teachers who will fill her receptive mind and heart with a diversity of perspectives. And music. And books. And movies. She’s headed into a fecund time of exploration, and I’m thrilled to see what new passions she brings home to share.
Who knows…maybe she’ll feel a surge of pride and excitement when she introduces me to some treasure for the first time, and I’m the one with a giant smile on my face.
Eric Elkins’ company WideFoc.us specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at DatingDad.com , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.