My son was about five-years-old when he told me that Green Lantern was better than Captain America. As a dad who is obsessed with all things comic books, I was happy to hear my child taking an interest in the characters and worlds I loved so much. As a guy who has been reading comics for two decades, I was furious. Green Lantern was not, and never will be, better than Captain America. How could my son – my own flesh and blood – say something so preposterous? Where had I gone wrong? Had I failed him as a parent?
This, of course, was an absurd line of thinking, but a part of me just wanted to pull him into my geekdom. I wanted tell him we had rules in this family, the least of which is a rich and true respect for Captain America. It was in this moment that I suddenly realized something about my own dad and why we never really connected the way either of us had hoped. We never really shared similar interests and never had that father-son bonding you always hear about. We got along just fine, but there was always a separation between his interests and mine, a chasm that divided us.
My dad is a sports guy. What you might call a man’s man. He watches just about every sport that is televised and has a deep affection for baseball in particular. I have memories of him going to Dodger games with his buddies, a sacred event that my brother and I were never invited to tag along to. He loves baseball as much as he loves anything and it means a lot to him. As a kid, I never noticed this love. I knew he liked baseball a whole lot, but I never really understood just how much it was a part of him.
My brother and I both never showed much interest in sports. My parents tried to get me involved in any sort of organized sports league they could, but something pulled me away from the world of physical competition. I didn’t hate it, but my love was reserved for things like Godzilla, Star Wars, Marvel comics, and punk rock music. My blood was spiked with the nerd gene, an unholy obsession with pop culture. My dad tried to understand this stuff, he’d listen to me ramble on about Han Solo or SpaceGodzilla, but it never connected with him.
I remember vividly the moment when I asked my dad why he liked the Dodgers so much if they rarely ever seemed to be the best team in the league. Why not just like a better team? He stared at me and said “that’s a dumb question.” He was right, of course, but at the time it just made me feel an anger and distance from sports and, by association, him. I was mad that he never asked me to go to a game with him, mad that he would love something that made no sense to me. If you could pinpoint an exact moment where it became abundantly clear that our interests would never align, this was probably it.
Thinking of that moment made me realize that the conversation I was having with my five-year-old was more important than it seemed. My love of comic books was not his love of comic books and I should not expect it to be. He was growing up in a time of superhero movies – although the fact that he would find Green Lantern superior to Captain America based on movies is insane, right? – and he is going to form his own opinions about the characters that I adore.
That’s the trick when it comes to being a parent, I think. We have this overwhelming urge to share the things we love with our children, to indoctrinate them with the culture that we hold so dear. “This is Godzilla; I love Godzilla, therefore you, my son, will love Godzilla.” Of course, it doesn’t work like that. We can lead them to the water, but we can’t force them to drink. It’s hard, believe me, but you have to let them love what they want to love, even if that includes stupid Green Lantern.
Now, my kids have fallen hard for lots the things I had hoped they would. We watch a Godzilla movie together every Sunday – except for my wife, who supports but doesn’t understand my obsession with the King of all Monsters – and we have monthly viewings of the original Star Wars trilogy. They love comic books, although they lean more towards things like Sonic the Hedgehog, My Little Pony, and Plants Vs. Zombies. My oldest has a mild interest in superheroes, but nothing close to the level of his dear old dad and that’s okay. I’m learning to accept that, even if it breaks my heart a little when he says my Avengers comics are “kinda boring.”
I’ve also learned that I have to take an interest in the things they love, even if they aren’t something I myself take much interest in. I can name most of the Pokemon and I know the names of all the My Little Pony characters. I even, and here’s the kicker, watched a few baseball games with my son. He likes watching baseball, so I’m learning to like watching baseball. It’s tough for me, because I’d rather be watching Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla or reading Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, but I do it because he loves it and I love him.
I know my dad feels the same way. I know that, even though we had a hard time connecting over things, he cares about me and tries to take an interest in the things I love. A few years ago, when Captain America was gunned down and killed on the steps of a courthouse in Captain America #25, I received a phone call from my dad. He’d seen a story on the news about Steve Rogers death and the first thing he did was call me. I answered the phone and he immediately mumbled out “I’m sorry for your loss.”