Into the Father-Verse
On intergenerational geekery, and the pitfalls of milestones
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My eldest turns 3 in April, so he’s that age. If you’ve been there, you know the drill: learning to push the exteriors of their box of permission; testing what they can get away with, testing your patience, testing if you’re willing to roll up yet another few yards of toilet paper pulled through the house for the third time this week.
And if you’ve been there, there’s something else you know. This is where things start getting really fun. There comes a point, somewhere between two and three years old, where a monumental shift occurs inside the mind of a toddler. You can sense it in their mannerisms, see it in their eyes. They move from a bundle of raw emotion existing across a series of moments—feeds, family visits, the odd experience of falling asleep in a warm cafe and waking up confused under the bright lights of a supermarket— they won’t remember, on a timeline they’re intermittently tuned into. And then suddenly, almost overnight, a switch is flicked and they become a tiny human of constant presence, existing continuously on a single timelines, remembering all kinds of things that have happened, anticipating future events, and unable to resist sharing every single thought that appears in their brains.
Bodhi has suddenly become obsessed with superheroes. Where he picked it up, I have no idea. But at some point late last year Spider-Man entered our lives. From that moment it was all Spider-Man, all the time. He’d wake up shouting “SPIDER-MAN!” from his bed. He’d want to listen to the Spider-Man theme song whilst having his nappy changed, finally figuring out how to “Hey Google” it himself and even, on occasion, getting it to work (probably less the fault of his pronunciation, more a damning statement of how poorly these smart speakers continue to
”work” five years after we were promised they already did.)
From Spider-Man it only took a small HULK SMASH! until we arrived in the wider world of Marvel. And as someone who is comfortable (maybe a little too much) with the ins and outs of the MCU, it’s been fun to use what I had previously assumed was useless information.
“Who’s that?” has become a constant refrain in the house. He’ll point at a character in a book—one of a rotation of comics we picked up from library, or his older sister’s readalongs featuring various DC and Marvel heroes—and want to know exactly who it is, and whether they’re a GOODIE or BADDIE. I’m pretty comfortable with the first tier folks, and a good chunk of the supporting acts too. But it always seems to be when we’re winding down for bedtime that he’ll point out some minor character, five heroes deep into a 50 person group shot, when I’ll struggle a little:
“Yeah I think his name is …” whilst pondering what’s in the fridge and can be easily assembled for dinner “... Falafel. Yeah, his name is Falafel.”
“Anyway. Let’s keep reading. Peter Parker returned to his room ...” is all I can get out before being rudely interrupted with yet another question.
“Who’s Peter Parker?” he asks.
“Peter Parker is Spider-Man.”
“NO HE’S NOT! THAT’S NOT SPIDER-MAN. SPIDER-MAN WEARS THE RED PYJAMAS!”
Everything is pyjamas right now. When I walked into the room with a new jacket last week? “I love your new pyjamas.” When getting him ready for school this morning? “I don’t want those pyjamas they’re YUCKY.”
I attempt to defuse the Peter Parker situation (while still covering the necessary canonical backstory): “You know how daddy has two names? Daddy and Kevin?”
“Yes.” He laughs. He knows he can get an easy laugh at home anytime he calls me Kevin.
“Well Spider-Man has two names too. His name is Spider-Man when he is wearing his costume. And Peter Parker when he isn’t.”
My nerdy childhood boomerangs back, 30 years later, helping me get closer to my son. It’s unexpected, but delightful. Last year my daughter’s class became obsessed with Pokemon cards. I was surprised to see them still around—as a young kid, captivated by Nintendo and anything Japanese, of course I had fallen head-first into their world. First time around? I spent countless hours trying to catch all 150 of the furry little buggers.
Being into Pokemon back then was the last thing you’d advertise. But today, for my daughter, the fact that I know most of the OG Pokemon is a source of pride for her. That I can speak (in my admittedly terrible) Spanish to her friends and answer their questions about the possible evolutions of Eevie? They can’t believe it. All that time spent surgically attached to a GameBoy finally starts paying off.
It was all lellow too
The mispronunciations of a toddler are a source of constant glee. My niece pronounced the colour “lellow” incorrectly for over a year. We were truly devastated when she started getting it right. Bodhi’s language continues to leap forward, often in ways that fly over my head. I might mistake what he’s saying as mindless babbling, but he’ll be using a Catalan word he’s picked up at school, or a Castellano phrase he learned from his sister. “You don’t understand him!” she helpfully informed me, only last week. He’s swapping between three languages at ease—my English allows us to communicate, at least for now—along with a healthy base of Gujarati words we’ve been using since he was born. He’ll ask for milk in any language that gets him what he wants: milk, leche, dudu. If words don’t work, a minor meltdown will.
By any yardstick, he’s in a good place with his language. I mean, I think he is? These developmental milestones are drilled into us—rolling onto their front, standing on two legs, saying their first words—a few of the dozens that we’re told to look out for. You might have picked them up by reading books and websites yourself. Maybe they’ve been deciphered through conversations with your significant other, worried they’re not being met. We’re so eager for our babies to take the first step, then the next step, and then step up, with their progress a barometer of our own ability as a parent, our a way of gaining control over own fears and anxieties. When they move forward, we’re doing a good job. Until we realise what gets left behind.
As Bodhi has been wrestling with language(s), it has brought a constant smile to my face to hear him asking about “so manys” of everything for the last few weeks: “so manys porridge” for breakfast, “so manys lights” to be turned on, “so manys toothpaste” to brush his teeth with, “so manys water” forcibly ejected out of the bath onto the floor, and his parents, each evening.
While eating his dinner last week he told me he wanted “so much sweetcorn” on his plate. I wanted to grab him and commence the interrogation, channeling Christian Bale’s gruff Batman voice:
“WHO TAUGHT YOU THAT WORD? TELL ME! WHO TOLD YOU TO SAY IT LIKE THAT?”
It’s progress, for sure. But at what cost?
We’re so ready for them to hit the next milestone.
But there are “so manys things” we’ll miss when they do.
3 things to read this week
“The Internet Is Failing Moms-to-Be” by Non Jankowicz in Wired. Did you use any kind of an app when you were expecting? Did it help? Or did it do the opposite? A disinformation researcher investigates the current market of pregnancy apps, and finds them “capitaliz[ing] on the excitement and anxiety of moms-to-be, peddling unrealistic expectations and even outright disinformation to sell ads and keep users engaged.”
“The Couples Code” by Liz Krueger in The Cut. Do you know your partner’s passwords? Do they know yours? This essay explores the inherent issues in the world of partner password sharing, and how it pushes buttons around hot topics of trust, privacy and co-existence. Sadly only features female partners sharing their perspectives, but worth reading nonetheless!
“When a Major Life Change Upends Your Sense of Self” in Harvard Business Review. Is a major change happening to you or are you making it happen yourself? Turns out that—like in most situations—our mindset can be the most powerful tool in our arsenal. This article goes into the concept of “identity paralysis” with tips on how to overcome something that can easily “threaten both your career prospects and your mental health.”
These are great links this week. All killer, no filler. Thanks to Links I Would GChat You for most (maybe all?) of them, and for this new “3 Things” layout which I’ve also stolen. Thank you Caitlin!
The “my husband ...” edition
One thing to watch with the kids this week
Sick of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” yet? After four thousand plays in the house, I should be. But somehow, still I am not.
It’s the first Disney song to top the Billboard Hot 100 since Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” in 1993 (in your face “Let It Go”) and apparently the first Number 1 to be written by a lone songwriter in four years. Also? IT BANGS.
The music, the lyrics, the way this song somehow gets better the more you know about it. Take the above in-person choreographed reference video. It shows just how much work went into getting it right.
Let me know when I can buy tickets for the live show ...
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last week I got the 7:45am “I NEED a printed picture of our dog for school today” request. It prompted me to find out all about your pets, and how your kids are with them.
“The best advice we had was about that first introduction - while my wife & daughter were in hospital that first night, I took home to Dexter a hat that had my newborn daughters smell on it (a sock or any item of clothing they’ve worn or been next to would suffice). I introduced this to Dexter and he associated that smell/scent as safe from me. The following day my daughter came home & again, I introduced my daughter in the car seat to Dexter. On day 1 we found him sleeping under the Moses basket to protect her & we knew they’d both be just fine! Good luck.” Mike
“I was never allowed to have a dog as a kid. My parents were hip the fact that they would be taking care of "my" dog. But, we were allowed to have hamsters. Stinky little things, but cute. After I got married, I finally got my first dog, a 6-year old brown English lab. She died when my daughter was 1. Worst experience of my life, as painful as losing my own mom. We got an 8-week old black English lab about a year later. He's now 3, and my two kids love him. They've never known not having a dog. I'm firmly a dog person, and will be my whole life. Except, I'm with Ron Swanson: any dog under 50 pounds is a cat.” Neil
“I had dogs as a kid and definitely did not want any pets as an adult. I know that sounds heartless probably. I love animals, just in their natural habitat, not my living room. I have a dog and a cat now. The cat is for my wife, the dog is for my kids. They begged and begged for a dog. But apparently not this dog. They want a different dog. Or a rabbit. Or a bird. Or a hedgehog. I tell them they can have all the animals they want...when they have their own place.” Troy
“They begged and begged for a dog. But apparently not this dog” … the fear of every parent who doesn’t want a dog but buys one for their kids. There were also some beautiful heartfelt comments from other dads that I can’t do justice to in an excerpt. Go read them. Thanks for joining the discussion, see you again on Friday.
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