During a gorgeous day in the middle of Emerald City Comic-Con, authors Stephen H. Segal and Valya Dudycz Lupescu sat down with me to talk about their new book, Geek Parenting, and the surprises they found as they surveyed the rich geek pop culture of books, comics, films, and television in order to find lessons for parents.
Amazon Book Review: Please tell me about Geek Parenting and what the book is about.
Stephen Segal (SS): Geek Parenting is not an activity book. These are ways to think about life with your children that we assimilated from geek culture stories about gods and aliens and monsters and epic quests. In Geek Parenting, there are lessons we take from relationships between fathers and daughters, and fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters, and mothers and sons"”and among families of different ethnic, gender, or cosmic species backgrounds.
As you were distilling geek culture into pieces of wisdom, did you have Aha! moments that surprised you?
Valya Dudycz Lupescu (VL): There were challenges in selecting the stories"”those were aha moments. It was important for us to be as diverse as we could. There were challenges in finding diversity in films and television. We had to turn to literary and comic book sources to really find the examples we wanted.
SS: We definitely saw the current Hollywood diversity debate reflected in what we saw. There are plenty of characters of color in fantasy and science fiction. But when you ask the question, "How many of them on-screen have rich, thought-out backgrounds and family elements to draw on?," you quickly find out that the answer is not very many. The first entry in our book is about Commander Sisko from Deep Space Nine. Here's an example of a single dad who is a starship captain, and the lesson is about making sure you're taking the time out of your career to spend meaningful time with your child. That's a straightforward truth. But I don't think there's another character in geek culture that embodies it better than Ben and Jake Sisko"”that's the core of their story. Unfortunately, that's also one of the few examples of an iconic on-screen Hollywood black science fiction character whose family is integral to the arc of the story.
VL: There were a lot of mini revelations. We looked at Firefly and asked ourselves why we liked it so much. It's because they are chosen family. It was fun to look at the stories with a fresh eye and look at the heart of the family relationship"”and find the little gem that we wanted to share.
Did you include lessons from classic stories as well in Geek Parenting?
VL: Yes, we talk about classics and why they still resonate today. For example, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If that was set in present day, the kids would have iPads or devices, and they wouldn't have explored because they'd be attached to their electronics. As a parent, I struggle with the balance of wanting your kids to be savvy with technology, but you also want them to have the space to be bored and come up with something creative and interesting. Had those children not had the time and space to do that, they would not have found the wardrobe. So some of the lessons involve looking at stories through a modern lens and thinking about what we can apply to life today.
SS: Remember the animated movie, The Secret of Nimh? The lesson is that when a timid mouse who is a mom needs to be a hero, she does it, because that's what moms do. We talk about that in Geek Parenting. Fantasy and science fiction stories are very applicable to talking to your children about the world. They tend to talk about the big questions regarding life and the universe. What is good, what is wrong? Why are we here? Who are we going to meet? What does success look like"”
VL: How do you stand up for yourself? How do you stand up for other people when you see that a wrong is being done? It's important to learn those stories.
As an adolescent, there are many opportunities to find role models in geek culture. But parents have far fewer resources of this type, even though they also go through a major life turning point when they reanalyze who they are.
SS: Yes, and we're trying to give parents fresh eyes with which to look at their old stories. When you read Dune the first time, you follow the story of Paul, because he's the protagonist? Going back and reading as an adult, Jessica's story means an awful lot more, because you realize that it's a tremendous tale of sacrifice. It's about that shift from putting her own desires and ambitions first, and there's a point at which it shifts, and she realizes that her life has centered about what her son needs to survive.
VL: Going back and looking at these stories from the parents' point of view, it's very rare that the parent is the protagonist. The parents are on the periphery. It was interesting to read or see them again and look more closely at the parents' role. Looking at Bewitched and focusing on Endora instead of Samantha, you see that Endora is a feminist. She's saying, "Don't pretend to be something you're not just to pacify your husband."
SS: As an adult, one reason why Terminator resonates so much is because Sarah Connor is one of those supermom heroes. Battlestar Galactica gets you in the heart because it's not just a story about politics"”it's really more like the family dinner where you're arguing politics. It's one of the stories where the parent is the hero. The reason why the story keeps punching you in the feels over and over again is that almost every story arc on Battlestar Galactica comes down to the question, "Is Dad going to forgive the kids?" And though sometimes it takes a very long time, the answer is always yes.
Game of Thrones has some, ah, interesting parental figures. In fact, the show is almost all about the parents' machinations.
SS: Yes, we do have some lessons about them in the book. We have Cersei and Joffrey. And we have the Starks, too, illustrating a very specific lesson"¦which is how important it is for kids to have pets. [laughs]
So do you watch pop culture now through this new parental lesson filter?
VL: Yes, I do. I don't watch as many films or TV shows just because of time. But I'm more aware of it now.
SS: When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, our response was, "Oh, Kylo Ren is the object lesson that we're trying to prevent with this book."
What are you looking forward to seeing or reading coming up?
SS: As a Marvel kid, of course I'm looking forward to seeing Captain America: Civil War. Not in a profound way, though. [laughs]
VL: American Gods, on television.
SS: I'm looking forward to the movie they're going to make based on Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation. And I'm looking forward to the next Doctor Who series, though it's very far away.