Pop on Pop: It's Geeky Dad vs. Girly-Girl in the battle of the pop-culture favorites
Let’s be totally honest and admit most moms and dads look forward to raising new and improved versions of themselves.
As a new parent, you love what you get, no matter what, but I think there’s a not-so-hidden part of us that longs to relive all the old joys of our own childhood and hopefully correcting any mistakes that were made along the way.
I was that way. When the OB-GYN passed his magic wand over my wife’s belly, revealing that we’d be having a little girl in 2009, my synapses were firing like a Fourth of July fireworks finale: A girl! Oh my God, a girl. I’m going to be the father of a little girl!!
With that ultrasound discovery, this nebulous concept of our first child took her first step toward identity. A girl. Now the question was: What kind of girl would she be? Though she would eventually decide for herself what she’d become, I told my wife that day I hoped she’d be the kind of girl with a big imagination, who loved aliens, and robots, and superheroes as much as princesses and fairies.
If we’d had a boy, I’d have said the same thing. I’d want him to love The Little Mermaid and Snow White as much as the Transformers and G.I. Joe. Good is good, and fun is fun. One of the many things I love about my wife is she’s the girliest-girl you can imagine, but is an absolutely authority on comic books – thanks to growing up with the world’s coolest big brother, who shared all the stuff he loved with his kid sis.
That’s all I wanted to do: introduce our little girl to all the things that made me happy and set my imagination firing – Star Wars, rubber dinosaurs, spaceships made out of big cardboard boxes, the shapeshifting vehicles of M.A.S.K., Superman and Batman, and raising a toy sword in the air He-Man style and declaring “I … have … the power!”
The thing I enjoy most about my job as a film writer at Entertainment Weekly is introducing people to new things, revealing First Look photos of some eagerly anticipated new movie, steering someone to a cool, little-known indie flick, or taking readers through the closed door for a tour behind the scenes. Naturally, I was looking forward to doing that as a Dad too. Early last summer, when Audrey was nearing the age of 2, I went away for a few days to visit the set of The Avengers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was several weeks before we started publishing our first stories, but I couldn’t wait to share what I’d saw with my wife and daughter.
Audrey was still pretty little, but she knew the characters from Marvel’s junior-friendly cartoon show Super Hero Squad and the many little kid comics that fill her bookshelves. We let bedtime slip by for a while as we spent a long evening on the back porch, making chalk drawings of Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America on the concrete. I’m not much of a name-dropper, but in this case I couldn’t resist. Seeing her face light up in wonder (“You met THOR?!”) was one of my proudest moments, mostly because I knew there’d come a day when she wouldn’t always think her old man was so cool. (She’ll be right about that, of course. Right now, I just have her fooled.)
I still have some old, early-‘80s Transformers toys on display under glass in a coffee table, but I never mind when she pulls it open and brings out the robots to dance around. I keep those toys not because I’m a dweeb (though I am) but because seeing them reminds me of very happy times when I was a kid – not just unwrapping them on birthdays or at Christmas, but whiling away hours in the backyard, making up stories with them as they fought for intergalactic righteousness in the dirt behind the bushes in our front yard. There’s nothing more awful than toys that stay forever mint in the box. Even if she breaks them sometimes, I like seeing them come alive in little hands again.
Fear not – she gets her fair share of girl stuff, too. My wife as introduced her to Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, Jem and her back-up band the Holograms, and She-Ra. It’s a regular I Love the ‘80s at our house. Audrey is obsessed with “pretty dresses.” What makes me particularly proud is that sometimes she wears them over her Spider-Man pajamas.
What I didn’t expect was that my little girl would introduce me to so much new pop culture in return. While I wait patiently for the day when she’s old enough to see and appreciate E.T., Star Wars, and The Avengers, she’s already schooling me in Fancy Nancy, Rapunzel (not just Disney’s Tangled, but any version of the Rapunzel story) and old-school Wonder Woman.
That last one came about when was clearing away old boxes and found an unopened DVD of the 1975 first season of the Lynda Carter TV series. Again, Wonder Woman was a character Audrey already knew from DC Comics’ kid-friendly storybooks – and it was also one of my wife’s favorites. As much as I love comic book characters, I don’t have much tolerance for camp. I tended to cook dinner while they watched. But gradually I got pulled in – particularly when Audrey started declaring “I’m spinning into Wonder Woman!” and would run around the living room, twirling until she was dizzy. Lately, she has begun singing the theme song in its entirety, though she says “waiting for her rights” instead of “fighting,” for some reason.
Wonder Woman might have a darker edge if she ever gets rebooted today, but that old show manages to maintain an innocence and wholesomeness that makes it perfectly kid-friendly, despite the va-va-voom costume. “That’s her bathing suit!” my little one explains.
While I was keen to share the things that made me happy as a little boy, I’m grateful to her for introducing me to the new little kid obsessions that would otherwise be off my radar. I taught her Robot Parade by They Might Be Giants, and she taught me to march to the song We Are the Dinosaurs by the Laurie Berkner Band. I showed her Where the Wild Things Are, and she introduced me to her own bad-little-kid storybook No, David!
As I went about trying to introduce her to heroes, she gave me a few new ones, too. One of them, I’m proud to say, is Pinkalicious – a storybook about a very sweet, but very impulsive little girl who loves everything to be her favorite color (guess which one) and tends to let her emotions and passions run away with her. I don’t enjoy everything my daughter wants me to like. I’m pretty sick of the song The Wheels on the Bus, which goes round, and round, and round, and never seems to end, but I’m down to read Pinkalicious for the ten-thousandth time. I could recite it from heart at this point.
In the first book, Pinkalicious actually turns bright pink after overdoing it on some cupcakes – which (and I adore this) is totally fine with her, though it alarms her parents, doctor, and the rest of the world. Only when she turns red does this become a problem that only green vegetables can cure. In the follow-up Purplelicious, our little heroine turns blue (metaphorically) when some mean girls at school tease her that pink is for babies. Goldilicious, the name of her imaginary unicorn, is a great story in which the character’s runaway passions fuel a pretty impressive day of make-believe.
Whenever Audrey pushes aside one of the 30-year-old Sesame Street Library books I bought for her in favor of one of a glossy new picture book about Tinker Bell and her pals in Pixie Hollow, I think of Pinkalicious, and how our obsessions can easily carry us away. As parents, we try to introduce our kids to what we know, and hope to make them better, happier versions of ourselves. But you can have too much of a good thing. We can be better, happier versions of ourselves too if we open up to the worlds they can show us.
I’m proud that my little girl’s favorite movies are Cinderella, Brave and The Iron Giant (which she calls “Robot and Boy Movie.”) That’s a nice mix. Those are some of my favorites now, too. As a Dad who spends his work-life immersed in pop culture, I believe sharing stories with our children is just another way we nourish and protect them.
My daughter is perfect just how she is, but I still want her to love the things that I love.
She’s one of them, after all.