August 22, 2013

Matthew, and the Bomb, Dropped

Last night, I met up with Todd, a friend of mine since High School.  As we parted, he gave me a box of old comic books that he was getting rid of, suggesting that Matthew (son, 11) might like them.  It was a bunch of old-school Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (wherein they were actually bad-ass, not the all goofy like the cartoons), X-Men, Ghost Rider and other miscellany. I had given Matthew some Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men books, but he hadn’t asked for any more once he was done reading them. I chalked that up to “too many distractions”.

But as we drove home, and I was telling him about Todd’s gift box of classics, I could see something unsettling in his face. 

“Daddy, I have to tell you something,” he began.  I pulled the car over. He rarely spoke frankly. After a heavy sigh, he continued.

“I lied to you before.  I didn’t read those comics you bought me. I only pretended to read them.”
“Ok, why would you pretend to read them?” 

His lip twisted in thought. “I… just don’t LIKE Marvel.” 

I had mentally prepared myself for something else entirely. And my face must have betrayed some of my surprise, because he quickly added, “I know that YOU like Marvel, X-Men and all that, but *I* just don’t like reading them.”

Deep breath. “Ok. That’s fine, kiddo. What kind of stuff do you like?”

He shrugged. “Simpsons comics, Calvin and Hobbes, stuff like that.”

“So, you like the funny comic books, but not the superhero stuff. Is that it?”

He nodded, sensing the disappointment in my voice. 

I put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “Look, kiddo, different people like different things. We had this discussion before, remember?”  He nodded again, solemnly.  “Some people like Chocolate ice cream… some people prefer vanilla. Others, like… both swirled together...
… and sprinkles are okay too...
...waffle cones or in a dish…”
I could feel the analogy quickly slipping away from me. “The point is, that’s perfectly FINE. All of them are good choices. Whatever makes you happy, your mother and I fully support your decision.“

Another thought struck me. “And maybe it’s not a conscious DECISION per se, some people are just born that way, that’s just how they are, and that’s OK. You can have Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and Chocolate Chip Cookies in a cookie jar… they’re made differently, but they’re all COOKIES, you know?”

Matthew squinted and shook his head. “ I don’t like Oatmeal cookies.”

“Snicker-doodles then. Doesn’t matter. Just… Cookies are cookies. People are people… “

Silence fell over the car, and given a few more moments to gather my thoughts, I added  “And don’t let kids make fun of you for being different!  So WHAT? It’s THEIR problem if they can’t be open minded enough to accept that. “

Until this conversation, I didn’t realize the kind of pressure I was placing on him. All the assumptions I unconsciously made, just because statistically you could count on  your boy liking superhero comics. I just expected a standard future for him, where we would go out together to comic book movies every summer like “Iron Man” or “Thor”.  I just wasn’t aware that I was perpetuating a stereotype.  Of COURSE he was free to love what he wanted, comics were just what I knew, so it was all I thought to pass on to him.  

I glanced over at him in the passenger seat, waving his hand outside the window on the breeze.
“You looking so much like I did at your age. Thankfully, minus the my bowl cut and buck teeth. Be thankful for that!” (slight smile) 

“Maybe that had something to do with why I unconsciously expected you to like all the same things I did, and I’m sorry for that. You are an individual, no doubt about it, and your mother and I love that about you. There is no shortage of unique things that set you apart from everyone else, and this is just one of the many. It’s just one of the qualities about you that we will treasure.”

At this. his face mirrored the relieved smile that I felt.  It was a rare moment, and I breathed it deep to cement its memory.

“Now look in the back of that box of comics. I believe that there’s a stack of ‘Groo the Wanderer’ comics that might be just what you are looking for…”

4 comments:

  1. Well done, Chris. Most of my brain is filled with comics and movies and I'm grateful that Tonya's kids get that. It's just what I know. I'm glad that Matthew was strong enough to tell you what he felt, and I'm glad that you thought it through enough to get where he is coming from.

    And honestly, who doesn't like Groo? Or Cerebus?

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  2. My sons ate Marvel for breakfast and know a great deal more about them then I do, but neither their father nor step-father were really into them. I was a big fan of Spiderman and Batman, mostly because I stole my brothers' comics whenever possible. My mom always bought me paper dolls, which SHE liked as a girl and I found totally lame. You said and did all the right things. Mathew is a smart, funny, awesome kid. Characteristics he shares with both his parents.

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  3. You did good, my friend. Not every father would realize the turn things were taking, but you have his trust and that made a huge difference.

    And you can draw a straight line from Sergio Aragones to the Simpsons so I'm hoping the Groo did the trick!

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  4. That is adorable....great job Chris really....Now I wonder how he would feel about Elfquest ;).

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