When I was four, my father packed me and my best friend up into the family truckster (a 1975 Ford Country Squire station wagon that was the colour of split-pea soup with fake wood paneling and had a 460 V-8 under the hood) and took us to see Star Wars at the drive-in theater just outside of Tallahassee, Florida. I don’t remember much about that specific movie experience, only that whenever something even remotely related to Star Wars came on TV or appeared in a store–like when Luke, Threepio and Artoo were on the Muppetts–I knew I wanted to see it and/or buy it.
Thus began the relationship between myself, my father and science-fiction/fantasy.
Over the subsequent years, my father introduced me to other incarnations of things-which-could-never-possibly-happen including the Star Wars sequels1, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers2, the Blues Brothers3, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.4
When I was old enough to read, my parents (and the Scholastic Book Fair at school) introduced me to all manner of books, including a set of juvenile science-fiction books that had abridged versions of War of the Worlds and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. To say I was hooked was an understatement. I have always been a voracious reader, and as I got older, I read anything I could get my hands on. By middle school, I started reading the Dragonlance books, Stephen R. Donaldson, anything by Heinlein and the budding Forgotten Realms series, all with the encouragement of my parents who were happy to see me doing something other than playing Mario Brothers on the NES.
When I was in fifth grade or so, one of my friends came to school with a role-playing game, Star Frontiers, which opened up whole new worlds for our imaginations. We quickly migrated on to Dungeons & Dragons, which was the only credible pen n’paper RPG in the early/mid 80s.5
My parents, being the concerned citizens they were, were worried about two things: 1) the possible satanic influences of D&D as popularised by the media of the time, and 2) the massive cost of buying every book in the D&D collection.6. My mother was more worried about the former, and my father the latter.
In fact, my parents insisted that they be able to look through the books before they bought them for their own piece of mind; as I remember, the only thing my dad said to me was something to the effect of, “So is this naked woman with bat wings good or evil?”7
Although Dad likes science-fiction and fantasy, I would characterise him as a casual fan. When he and I would talk about Star Trek, The Terminator or Star Wars, I did most of the talking and he just nodded along. Of course he knew generally what I was talking about, but I don’t think for a minute that he ever read all of the Tolkein, Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov et al books that I did. Nor does he see the charm of R. A. Salvatore, Terry Brooks, Stephen King or Orson Scott Card.8 Still, in retrospect, he seemed to make the effort to watch the same shows as I did, whether it was Airwolf, Seaquest DSV, the Misfits of Science or Voyagers!.
My dad and I have one of those strange father-son relationships. Our way of asking how the other is doing is to talk about football, politics, or now that I’m older, 401(k)s and the real estate market where I live. There was a period of time when we didn’t talk much and went out of our way to tick each other off at every turn. He would turn the radio in the car to NPR or actually show up to parent-teacher conferences; I got earrings and did all the things you’re not supposed to do when you’re fifteen.9
Still, Dad never once refused to take me to a movie I really wanted to see or buy books that had even the remotest redeeming social value, although if the movie was rated R or of questionable content, he went along with me and my friends (like the time he drove us all to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show when we were fourteen; yes, it was embarrassing, but he still let me go).10
I remember getting the X-Wing from Star Wars for my birthday and the Death Star playset, both of which were fully assembled with all of the stickers on them only after Dad spent the previous night trying to figure out where everything was supposed to go.11 We assembled a model of Darth Vader’s TIE fighter on the kitchen table together. He got me a handful of pewter starships to play the old Star Fleet Battles tabletop wargame, but smartly convinced me to avoid miniatures games like SFB, Warhammer and Mechwarrior because of their exorbitant cost, which I could not sustain while working at Little Casesars in high school when the minimum wage was $3.80 per hour.
When some kid choked on one of the missiles to his Colonial Viper (just like the one in my toy box) and killed both himself the original Battlestar Galactica toy line, Dad’s words were, “Don’t put your toys in your mouth”12 and that was the end of it. He even took me to see Aliens when I was 13, despite telling my mother that we were going to something else. For Halloween one year, he got me one of the first battery-operated lightsabers and blasters so I could be Luke Skywalker from Empire Strikes Back and then took us trick-or-treating.
Growing up, we weren’t rich by any means, but somehow Dad always found a way to get us all little treats and special gifts. Mine just usually involved action figures, video games or books.
Dad also took great pride in getting the family a Tandy PC for Christmas many moons ago, and then getting a bunch of 8-bit games for us to play.13 A few years later, he purchased a 486DX series PC, and out of the blue presented me with a succession of games that said Dungeons & Dragons on the cover for me just because he knew I’d like them.14 Little did he know that these computer games would lead to Baldur’s Gate, Middle-Earth and the galaxy far, far away.
My brother, who does not share my interest in science-fiction and fantasy, got to do other things with Dad like golf and fishing, activities which I have no interest in partaking, so the movies and TV shows and games became something that was just for Dad and me.
Like all parents, he’s never understood some of the choices I’ve made, and when I was about to do something really boneheaded, he was the first to ask the really hard questions (“Do you really want to get a degree in history? You know I’m not paying for graduate school, right?”). Yet, I can say without reservation, that once I made up my mind, Dad has always supported me. He has also been there when I’ve fallen (literally or figuratively) and has never gloated or said, “I told you so” even when he probably should have rightfully done so a couple of times.
Now, when I call and ask him to go to Toys R’ Us and pick up the Clone Wars-era Republic Gunship with the rancor-teeth paint job for me, or tell him I’m looking for a pair of calf-high black leather buckle boots to complete my Jedi Knight costume for Star Wars Celebration, he doesn’t bat an eye and only asks if I need one of the “expensive” lightsabers to go with it.
Even though he will never be able to explain the difference between Sauron of Barad Dur and Sauron of the Savage Land, he does know that a Cylon basestar, the starships Enterprise, and the Millenium Falcon all belong to different universes and continuities. He also knows that when he calls and asks how I like the new-for-me car I bought last December, I know that’s his way of saying, “I love you.”
And he knows that even though I’m going to talk to him on Sunday, in about two weeks when he finally checks the email I sent him this morning, clicks on a link which takes him to a website that he wouldn’t ordinarily frequent and sees his picture and an article I wrote about him, that’s my way of saying, “I love you, too.”
Check out my brother, me and my father from about 35 years ago. I think my parents used the same bowl for the both of us.
- They were always released around my brother’s birthday in May and never mine in August, something for which I blamed him for years ↩
- Which featured the first love of my young life, Erin Gray, in lycra. ↩
- Seriously, watch the Bluesmobile evade Henry Gibson and the Nazis; it has to be fantastical ↩
- Our mutual love of these latter two movies (plus Blazing Saddles) is so great that even today he and I can recite entire scenes from memory, much to the consternation of my stepmother. ↩
- We also later tried out Gamma World and GURPS, but ended up mostly playing in the Palladium RPG system, which turned out to have a lot of books and was very expensive. ↩
- This was when the entire AD&D line consisted of the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual, Fiend Folio and Deities and Demigods. Prices being relative, my first PH was something like $12 and the DMG was $15; highway robbery! ↩
- That would be the Succubus on page 18 of the Monster Manual. ↩
- Although he did read the Harry Potter books to my little sister when she was growing up. ↩
- I know what a jerk I was when from the time when I was 12 until I was 17 or so, and because of that, I have made some very conscious decisions in my life that resulted in me not having any children of my own. How my father didn’t strangle me when I was 15 is something only he knows because a couple of times, he probably could have done just that and there’s not a jury in the entire state of Florida that would have convicted him. ↩
- I take that back; when I was thirteen and in my interested-in-World-War-II phase, he wouldn’t let me get a book titled The Nazi Doctors about Joseph Mengele. On balance, he probably made the right choice, although that was when the War and Remembrance mini-series was on TV, which was very graphic (for TV in the 80s) and something that piqued my interest at the time. ↩
- When I went to college, my mother sold them at a garage sale for something like $5. I was hacked off. ↩
- Generally good advice for children of any age. Interpret that any way you want. ↩
- I could rock the hell out of Boulderdash! or Dig-Dug. ↩
- These were the SSI “Gold Box” games, starting with Pool of Radiance through Pools of Darkness. ↩