I moved into my wife’s apartment shortly after we met. On the first day I brought a bottle of Knob Creek and my Xbox. I asked her where she kept the TV. She opened a closet door and rolled out an old Magnavox. The screen was covered in candle wax. The knobs – that’s right, “knobs” – were missing.
And it didn’t work.
The next day I brought a television and a toothbrush.
To understand my role as a father trying to raise children who appreciate comic books and video games, you need to understand my relationship with my wife. What she knows about popular culture could fit into a shot glass. When she was a kid the only TV in her house was a small, black and white model in her father’s study. It’s not that they couldn’t afford a decent TV; they just didn’t think TV was important.
As a child my wife read the books on which the TV shows and movies I grew up on were based. She spent time hiking every summer while I played video games and read comic books. She likes the outdoors. I like bars.
We’ve had a few snags in our relationship because of these differences. She’s grown to understand my love of comics and gaming, but she doesn’t always understand it. And I am happy when she gets me out of the house for a little hike or a bike ride.
We’re finding a balance.
But this gets tricky when it comes to the kids. I’m sure if it were up to my wife the kids would never play a video game in their lives. She appreciates the comic books only slightly more. She doesn’t judge me for my obsessions, but she worries about our kids inheriting them.
Some of you reading this are probably in a relationship with someone who shares your interests in comics and gaming. I assume it’s easier that way, but I’ll never know. For my wife and I, it can be incredibly difficult to find a balance.
Some things are crystal clear; some are fuzzy. I once had a coworker ask me if her 10-year-old son should play Call of Duty. My answer was a definitive “no.”
But what about letting my 5-year-old daughter play Super Mario Brothers? She may not be shooting those Goombas with a shotgun, but it’s pretty clear that they die when she dispatches them. Is that too much for a 5-year-old to handle? I don’t think so.
But what if I’m wrong?
Before I had kids I thought a parent’s presence in the room while a child watches violent or frightening content was enough to put it in perspective. I’ve since heard this argument from other parents.
“Sure, my 6-year-old watches the WWE. But it’s OK because I watch it with him and tell him it’s fake.”
That’s just not good enough. And I don’t think you have to be a hippy chick that grew up without a TV to understand that.
“Is that too much for a 5-year-old to handle?”I try to never pass judgment on other parents. Of course, I fail at this all the time. Everyone judges and I am no different. But unless you take an all or nothing approach, you need to look into the grey area that exists whenever you’re deciding if your child is old enough for something. Video games are one of the most obvious and baffling examples. I think my kids are pretty smart and mature for their age. No amount of scientific studies about kids and video games is going to take away my ability to make choices on my family’s behalf.
Having said that, here are some truths I believe are universal.
1. Violent video games are not for kids. Most FPS games are basically murder simulators. Think about that when your 8-year-old is screaming “HEADSHOT!”
2. There can be too much of a good thing. If your kid is so into gaming that she can’t be bothered to marvel at nature, you’ve got a problem.
3. You may adore your obsessions, but your partner may not. Don’t steamroll over them with the “I did those things when I was a kid and I turned out OK” argument. That’s like saying heroin must be healthy because Keith Richards is still alive (as of this writing, anyway).
I don’t know what kind of father I’d be if I had married a different woman. I do know that my wife’s healthful counterweight to my habits and obsessions has made me a better man and, hopefully, a decent father.
All the hard work and arguments will be worth it if we pass that balance to our children.