Bridging the gap with my children's interests: Why one geeky dad is learning to love cartwheels

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Mark Freeman
Mark in costume on the set of The Green Knight.
I'm beginning to have an understanding of what my father felt when he came home after working all day, grabbed our baseball mitts, and stepped into my room to ask if I wanted to play catch. He would usually find me on the floor of my room, in the midst of a galactic battle between good and evil, Empire and Rebellion. Action figures would range from the floor to my brother and my bunk beds, along book shelves and flying through the air with X-Wings dog-fighting Tie-Fighters.

He'd invite me out for catch, and I'd accept, putting the battles on Hoth or the forest moon of Endor on hold until coming back. We'd then spend the next while chasing balls up and down Sixth Street. I'd throw it over his head or far wide, and duck out of the way of his that were dead center at my chest. I'm sure it was a fairly frustrating experience for him. It wasn't that I wasn't trying, or that I didn't care. I think like most young sons, I desperately wanted his approval, and I liked playing baseball. Still do. However, the mitt, bat, and ball didn't call to me like Jedis, superheroes, or wizards did. Or, still do.

Unfortunately, these things were as alien to my father as, well, aliens. He couldn't have conceived or even imagined how vast his son's imagination was, let alone an interest in such trivial things.

And, now that I'm a father, I find myself with two young daughters who have the same view of their father as their grandfather once held. It is inconceivable (the use of that word alone, and the enjoyment I take from using it, is proof alone of my geekiness) to them why I'm drawn to such — in their eyes — silly things, and more so why I desire to expose them to such nonsense.

My daughters are much more practical than I am or ever have been. They love horses. Tangible beasts you can ride, groom, and nurture. They love gymnastics and music. Physical and visceral things they can feel and which exercises their bodies as well as their minds. They love art and camping, bike riding and board games. They don't see the attraction of droids or Wookiees, kryptonite or power lanterns, and most certainly not shape-shifting snow leopards or telepathic magical dogs.

They are the pragmatic yin to my idealistic and romantic yang.

And I love them for that. Immeasurably so. The way only a man-boy who still believes in magic, extraterrestrials, and the all-encompassing power of goodness can.

But… it does give me a bit of insight into how my Dad must have felt all those years ago when he'd chased his last errant ball down our street and fished it out from beneath a neighbor's car. When he'd finally acquiesce and say we're all done playing catch, and watch me run straight to my room and immerse myself into the vast world of my imagination once more. I imagine, as only a product of an overactive imagination can, the sense of melancholy he felt at my lack of passion for the game he loves to this day.

It didn't make him love me any less, but I'm sure he wished for a bit more for us to connect on. And as my girls grow up much too quickly for my liking, I too find myself grasping for shared interests and passions.

This is why I find myself doing cartwheels across our lawn or letting them braid my hair. Or playing boards games long past bed time, when all I want to do is buy them bags of dice and graph paper. And as long as their passion for ponies and riding continues, there will never be too much manure for me to shovel or stalls to muck.

However, I don't know if I'll ever stop longing for them to get the geeky references I utter, or ask me if I could have any super power in the world what would I choose, or maybe just once look me in the eye and say, "May the Force be with you."

I guess my only solace is in if I ever have grand kids, that maybe being a geek is a recessive condition, and I'll have some young Padawans to teach these un-pragmatic ways to.

But, then again, I'm not in any rush to venture down that path just yet.

  1. Oh this made me smile πŸ™‚ My very athletic and musical mom encouraged me to try a variety of sports and instruments, and none of them took (except cross-country- the one sport she never did). I have no sense of rhythm or tone, and total lack of coordination. However, we both loved to read and she always encouraged my love of art and drama. We still don't get each other very often, and she still loves to buy NFL gear for my toddler son. Who knows, maybe my kiddo will surprise my geeky husband and I and take after his grandparents. In the meantime, way to be a wonderful dad πŸ™‚

  2. Mark, Thank you for this post. My husband and I are both geeks in our own way, and although we hope that our kids will be interested in our hobbies we know that it may be unlikely. I look at having children as a learning experience all around, and maybe they will teach me that I like more and different things than I know.

    P.S. If your daughters braided your hair in the photo they did a wonderful job. πŸ™‚

  3. We're expecting our first little guy in February, and I've thought a lot about this sort of thing. Both my husband and I are really into certain things (him programming and building, me art and animals), and we wonder if our son will be drawn to any of those things, or if he'll find joy in something completely different.

    It's nice to know that it's fine when your kids take a very different hobby-path from the one you'd choose. You can miss having that extra thing in common, but still enjoy letting them broaden your own horizons.

    (Also, I have to figure, my husband and I have different interests a lot of the time, and we do great!)

    • Thanks for reading and posting! It is funny how different even our two daughters' interests can varry even between each other as well as ours. It does tend to stretch all our interests while providing good opportunities for the girls to build their own confidence and independence!

  4. LOVE THIS! I'm sending it to my husband right now. He started researching RPGs to play with little girls the moment we found out we were having one. At just 18 months old, we don't know quite yet what she'll be "into" but we are both excited to see and to share in it any way we can. However, I tried to point her in the right direction with a pink and purple space-themed nursery. πŸ™‚

    As a daughter of a geeky dad myself, let me just tell you, they are probably absorbing more than you think. Some of the best memories I have with my dad are finding constellations together and cuddling on the couch watching TNG – my dad and Captain Picard are irrecoverably linked in my mind.

    Even though I was way more Theatre Geek (something my shy dad was never into) than sci-fi Nerd, when I got to high school & college, all those weird sci-fi/fantasy/Monty Python references filed away in the back of my brain got me in good with the sweetest, smartest geeks around and I was so surrounded by adoring nerds, I never even considered dating those jerky jocks. And thank God for that! πŸ˜›

    • Thanks, Katie! I really appreciate you reading and posting a reply! I hope your husband enjoys it just as much.

      I painted our daughters' nursery as an enchanted forest, and both girls love the outdoors and animals, so maybe the spaced-themed nursery will work! I knew I should have gone with a Firefly class cargo ship!

      I hope you're right about them leaning geeky as they get older. It would assuage my concerns quite a bit if I knew they would run in the nerdy crowd as opposed to the alternative.

      Oh, and please – if he doesn't mind – have your husband send me any RPG info your husband dug up! πŸ˜€

      • This makes me think of the geeky parenting panel at the first GeekGirlCon, when Belle Holder (teenage daughter of Nancy Holder, GeekMom of all time) pointed out that, although she hated all geek stuff because she was forced to be immersed in it as a young child, eventually something clicks and you find yourself right back in it.

        For her it was seeing an episode of Firefly. For me (major trek-mom) it was reading The Never-Ending Story. For my little sister it was dating a british guy who turned her on to Dr. Who. Geekery doesn't have to be genetic, but that kind of passion is fulfilling, and kids see that.

    • Katie, I loved your comment about dating nerds! I used to date the "hot jocks", but I always liked the nerdy guys better. Then I met my husband who is a super athletic geek! Win!

  5. I am blessed that my sons like superheroes and Star Wars. But, I too have had to learn all about a new hobby. Jack loves to perform and is drawn to all things involving acting. I am currently in my fifth community theater show with him. Before he was born, I was in a grand total of zero plays. Good for you, Mark, for learning to love your children's passion. It is very rewarding.

  6. This made me happy, I love to read things from dads! And it took me a long time to grow into geekery, it wasn't until high school that I started to like RPGs and sci-fi (When I was 8 I thought Star Wars was the lamest thing ever!), and didn't start playing nerdy table games until college. You might be surprised how their interests change as they grow up, but it is awesome you are trying to do things they enjoy now πŸ™‚

    • I definitely did not grow into my hereditary geekery until my 20s. My brother was the geeky one, and until we both got old enough to get along well, I completely rebelled from anything he liked, which was all things geeky.

      So there's still hope for geekiness yet!

      In the meantime, interests like horses and gymnastics aren't so bad. Maybe they could be translated into some awesome fantasy character who rides a horse through the woods and is also kind of like a ninja. =)

  7. This made me nostalgic for all the things my sporty and social father tried to do with me when I was just as happy inventing stories, reading books, drawing and painting. He did his best to find connection points, like soccer and music, and was always game for dressing up and creating fantastical Halloween costumes. I hope that my husband and I will have a kid who shares our interests but I also hope that if that is not the case, we will try as hard to find interests we can share and do our best to be understanding and interested in the things that are not even remotely our areas.

    • Thanks, LRL! It s fun finding mutual interests that all 4 of us enjoy. It allows us the space to have our own hobbies and interests, but then activities and interests that we can come back to as a family.

  8. Fantastically written. I can't wait to see what crazy things my kids enjoy. One of the reasons to have kids, in my opinion, is to open up to new things along with them.

  9. Ian and I have discussed this possibility for years. As he so aptly puts it: "they could grow up to be Young Republicans!"

  10. I love this post! Having a child with different interests than me was a little harder than I expected. I would suggest something or make a joke and she would just look at me, or more recently just move on like I hadn't said anything πŸ™

    She likes to draw a lot, like me, but she prefers superheros and monsters. She has seen me draw a lot of human forms though, and one day added pubes to a person she was drawing. It made me so proud and excited to see a little of my influence in her πŸ™‚

    Maybe that's the feeling your dad had with you, just being able to see a little of himself in you even though you had different interests.

  11. Well said my red headed brother from another mother! I tried real hard to raise three nerds, I succeeded with two out of three, Hannah and Max.
    As you know Molly, middle child, took up Irish step- dancing, something that is light years away from anything geeky that I'm familiar with. But while she engaged in that dance I became the best damn Feis Dad I could be. BTW, Hannah is still waiting to play D&D with us and Max is always down for some serious video-gaming.
    If you you get tired of the geekery you can always go see a Rom Com with Molly, that's what I do when we have father daughter time together.

  12. Thanks, Tony! Yeah, but we know middle kids are weird, right? Sorry, Mollusk! πŸ™‚ Just kidding, of course!

    I guess that's one of the beauties of all our children being individuals, right? We can find common interests with all of them, allowing us to find a few special moments – even when they grow up – to spend time together connecting. Thanks, man!

  13. When I was growing up my mom desperately wanted me to be the kind of girl that climbed trees, tried to use the force, and roll 20 sided dice. I just wasn't.

    My son definitely inherited the recessive geek gene. He loves all the things I couldn't muster up enough care about as a kid. Now I'm finally memorizing each X power, I have seen the entire Star Wars 6 movie set in one sitting more than once, and I know the intricate difference between the Justice Leauge and the Avengers. Neither my son or my mom has to roll their eyes and give me a whine to correct which comic universe I'm trying to pull from.

    Thanks for this post. It put that in perspective for me, and made me smile this morning. It sounds like you are a super amazing dad who really cares about supporting your children's interest and talents. Go you!! At some point you may have a small family member come running up to you on a bright sunny day and ask for your help building a lego Ewok village.

    May the force be with you.

  14. So, uh, did you subsume my husband? You sound so much like him, especially in your eloquent lamentations of geekery lost in the mire of a new generation. Our son is still pretty teensy, but he has a stuffed Cthulhu and a snowy owl instead of teddy bears, and we are hoping that at least a little of the geekiness rubs off. I am far closer to the mainstream (my husband makes me cheat sheets for complicated D&D characters), but I know how much sharing that part of himself with our son will mean to him. Finding a balance between Ewoks and Dr. Seuss, Legos and fingerpaints, and Renaissance Fairs and Farmers' Markets will be a perpetual challenge, but I feel like having self-awareness like yours will keep us both focused on the ultimate goal: happy kids and a happy family. Thanks for writing!

    • Oh. My. God! A stuffed Cthulhu! I think I know what I'm getting my daughters for the Holidays now! Ha!

      Thanks, Sarah! It's good to know I have a cyber-support-person in your husband! πŸ˜€

  15. This must be how my Dad felt as I grew up. He couldn't wrap his head around the nerdy things I loved and was dismayed that I didn't launch myself into law school prep at age 4. The good news is that we're bonding now- I'm learning to remember band names and why rock today is "terrible". He's sending me articles from the Mary Sue and playing Wii. As an adult I think I'm far more able to appreciate his interests and engage him with the respect they deserve. Chances are your girls will grow up to be thoughtful and more willing to interact too.

    Thank you for sharing this, it's reminded me that I'm lucky Pops and I found our middle ground!

    • Thanks, Claire! I do hope that my relationship with my girls stays close and we can carry on that relationship into adulthood like you and your "Pops". Thanks again!

  16. Love this! I was also a source of constant confusion to my mother as a child. She would enroll me in every sport imaginable, cart me off to dance classes against my will, and could never understand why I wanted to just sit in my room writing stories, drawing dragons, or (even more bizarre) online roleplaying.

    My husband is also a huge nerd, and we're hoping to pass on our geekiness to our future offspring… but I've joked with him before that, if I birth a jock or a mathematician, I'm going to be at a complete and utter loss.

  17. That was a great, thoughtful post that struck me right in the heart. I'm with you on the imagination aspect, being a geek and all. I'm hoping to introduce my daughter to some of these things that I love, like Star Wars and Harry Potter and Neil Gaiman, etc. At this point, she's still to young to show a preference(16 months old) but I do worry a bit that she won't have an interest in the things that I enjoy. I suppose in the long run it is all about adaptation, and moving with the shifting sands. She will be the person she is, and I will learn how to be interested in what she is interested in. That's just part of our job as parents, eh?

    In addition, the geek gene may be recessive (gg). I just lucked out to have to semi-geeky parents. Good luck to you!

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