My father had two passions in his life besides his family: the law and the offerings of geek culture. A former prosecutor for the City of Philadelphia, he took solace in the cinematic stories of the geek canon when the workday was done. Thanks to my father, my sister Maren and I were raised on a healthy diet of geek-tacular movies and TV shows, from the original “Star Trek” to the “Star Wars” trilogy, from “The Twilight Zone” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” from “The Black Adder” to “Young Frankenstein.”
Though my father passed away several years ago, I think he would have been thrilled to know that a book was written for people like him — parents who saw important life lessons in geeky movies and TV shows and strived to impart those lessons to their children. “Geek Parenting,” the latest from former Philly Weekly editor Stephen H. Segal and Chicago-area writer Valya Dudycz Lupescu, is an exquisite volume that assembles the best parent-child pairings in geek culture and describes the lessons we mere mortals can learn from them. Segal contributes his perspective as the child of geek parents, while Lupescu writes from her experience raising “three delightfully geeky children.”
“Geek Parenting” is a treasure trove of wisdom drawn from beloved geek parent-child pairings across the pop culture universe, from Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker to Queen Hippolyta and Wonder Woman, from Cersei Lannister and Joffrey Baratheon to Maleficent and Princess Aurora.
It’s hard to choose the best adages from the book, which features nearly 100 life lessons from geek movies, TV shows, comics, and novels. For now, here’s a small sampling.
Lesson One: “Let them know you’ll still love them even if they reveal their secret identity.”
What do you do when you discover that your sweet, hard-working nephew is moonlighting as the mysterious Spider-Man? After getting over the initial shock of discovering her nephew’s secret identity, Aunt May, the loving caregiver of Peter Parker, realizes that whether he’s Peter or Spider-Man, he is still her nephew and she loves him.
It’s a lesson that is particularly poignant at a time when so many kids are struggling to come out to their parents as gay or transgender individuals in a nation where some states would rather keep them in the closet. No matter who they love, or which gender they are, it’s important to let your kids know you love and celebrate the wonderful person they are every chance you get.
Lesson Two: “If they’re creepy and they’re kooky, then you’re the one who’s lucky.”
We’ve all had those moments when we wanted to run and hide because our parents embarrassed us in front of our friends by (gasp!) being themselves. As we grow older, however, we realize that fitting in isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Just ask the Addams Family. Gomez and Morticia Addams teach their children Wednesday and Puglsey that you can be happy on your own terms, without looking, acting, or living like everyone else.
So the next time your dad drops a cheesy pun or your mom takes you to the next big superhero movie dressed as her favorite character, chuck your notions of being normal out the window and go with it. No one ever got to have a pet hand named Thing while they were being normal, did they?
Lesson Three: “Don’t try to force your kids to follow in your footsteps.”
I sympathize with Star Wars protagonist Luke Skywalker on this one. From the moment you’re born, your parents have epic dreams for your future — what sports/instruments you’ll play, where you’ll go to school, what you’ll do for a living when you grow up. Imagine Darth Vader’s surprise when Luke rejects his offer of ruling the galaxy together “as father and son,” opting instead for the simple life of a Jedi.
I was raised by a brilliant attorney and his wife, both of whom dreamt that I would use my gifts for research and spirited debate to become a lawyer like my father. It must have been a shock to my mother and cause for grave-spinning for my dearly departed father when I announced my intention to pursue a degree in filmmaking. Fortunately for Luke and I, our decisions brought us closer to our parents and exposed us to people and experiences that would have been lost to us had we ignored our desire to forge our own paths.
Lesson Four: “Learning that one’s parents used to be dorky kids is a powerful confidence boost — at least 1.21 gigawatts worth.”
Our character traits don’t emerge from thin air. Just ask Marty McFly, the time-traveling teenager of Back to the Future. When a chaotic turn of events lands Marty in the year 1955, he meets his father George, then an awkward teenager being relentlessly taunted by Biff, the high school bully.
Though he is initially taken aback by George’s dorky demeanor, Marty becomes friends with his father. Along the way, he discovers that, like him, his father has a creative mind that nobody recognizes, and no matter what decade it is, the choices you make as a teenager can change the course of your lifetime.
Marty and George McFly also teach us that child-rearing is supposed to be a two-way street. When you listen to your kids, you learn as much about life from them as they learn from you.
A bonus lesson from Ripley and Newt
As comprehensive as it is in its rundown of families and their lessons, Geek Parenting does omit one geek parent-child relationship that deserves its due here.
In the 1986 sequel Aliens, reluctant hero Ripley is forced to confront the gruesome alien species that wiped out her intergalactic crew in the previous film. During her quest, she meets an orphaned girl named Newt who adopts her as a mother figure. When Newt is carried off into the aliens’ lair just as the chance to flee presents itself, Ripley chooses a daring, dangerous rescue for the child she loves over an easy way out.
Ripley and Newt teach us that whether it’s a bad dream, a bad decision, or a big scary monster threatening her safety, it’s important to remind your child that you’ll always have her back. The world is filled with terrifying creatures (real and imagined), and no matter how much you teach her right from wrong, she will make mistakes to learn the lesson for herself. As long as she knows you’ll be there to console her after a nightmare, or that you’ll be ready with a hug and some comforting words when that jerk you tried to warn her about dumps her in high school, your little one will move through life knowing that you’ll always be there to help her get through the rough parts.
So the next time your son puts a dent in the family car two days after getting his license, or your daughter tells you she wants to pursue a career in the arts instead of becoming a lawyer like her father, pause for a moment and ask yourself: “What would a geek parent do?”