According to my Mother, my dad was a humorous nerdy guy in his youth. Anytime she’d point that out in conversation I’d ask to see the receipts because I never saw a glimpse of that growing up. I knew my father as a man that immersed himself in black history (much like Arthur Schomburg) as well as various religions. There was a moment in college that made him realize the impact that black people had upon history in various fields (science, math, medicine) that wasn’t brought to his attention in his youth. The rest of his life was basically dedicated to finding out anything he possible could about what most textbooks/books through out history left out regarding Africans/African Americans as well as other people of color.
What this meant for me growing up is that while most kids were playing sports with their dads (we tried basketball, I was horrible at it, still am) I was hearing him talk about who the father of modern medicine was considered (Imhotep), Egyptian medical tools with better precision then the ones we use today, where the cesarean birth procedure originated from, etc, etc. This was good, but here’s the thing… I was like 7 years old at the time. This was literally all my father would talk about with me. This is all academic black nerd material I’m being bombarded with while I’m still in Superman draws. Dad was making me pause Street Fighter II to read passages from the Quran, stating how man was created from smooth black mud.
I didn’t initiate conversations with him when we use to live together cause I knew it would somehow lead into a lesson/fact/story/passage we’d go over later. It wasn’t until I was in my father’s old file cabinet that I saw hundreds upon hundreds of torn old papers. I saw there were characters on it and realized these were comic books. This was me discovering Iram of the Pillars (The Atlantis of the Sands if you will) or rather my father’s bat cave. I brought this to his attention and they were little more than an after thought to him, “Oh I had those when I was younger. This is Thor. This is Namor. This is the Black Panther.” This is what I wanted to learn more about, but my father wasn’t that big into comics aside from those three names I listed.
This was the turning point in my life I realized. This was something my father had interest in but didn’t have the same depth of knowledge for when compared to history. My father and I had absolutely nothing in common up until this point. NOTHING! I couldn’t even make this guy laugh and I am fucking hilarious (ASK ABOUT ME). These comics were a thin thread of something we both liked, but he couldn’t elaborate on that. From that point on I threw myself into comics and characters then began to study them inside out, as well as their writers and past story lines. He was an expert in POC history and this would be what I wanted to be an expert in. My mom was more than annoyed at this as I got older but I’d note that I’m reading works that were winning awards and the writers were on NY Best Sellers, soooo what we talkin ’bout?
Now whenever my dad would talk about black history, I’d talk about comics. We’d just stare at each other like “alright… I guess this is a stand off,” then go about our business. The overlap came during the time Marvel created the black Captain America (Truth: Red White and Black) Isaiah Bradley as the one the first initial test subjects for the Super Soldier Serum then the survivor. This was based upon story of the Tuskegee experiments. I realized I knew the background of the real life experiments due to my father having discussed this years prior. I remember in high school correcting my teacher on the pronunciation of Tuskegee as well.
This became another turning point. My father had taught me about black history and more and more I started seeing things appear in this genre I was reading that was either taking from what he had shown me or in some cases may have gotten it wrong. Currently my father and I don’t have the best route of talking to each other. My mother was the fun parent I could relate to about anything and when she died it felt like she tossed my father the baton on the way out saying, “Your turn, I’m out. Don’t break him”. We’ve now found this common ground through comic books and black history to a point where we can now have a form of communication. Although that form is now basically a nerd off.
Me: Name your favorite inventor or scientist.
Dad: You know who I’m going to say.
Me: Imhotep? That doesn’t– wait, no you’re right he counts.
Oh-oh that reminds me, Marvel made him the one that started the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. The symbol is derived from the eagle that was on his shield as he fought off the brood with En Sabah Nur and the Moon Knight of that time.
Dad: *nods* It’s hard for me to read comics now. I miss the older art work, the pages feel weird to me.
Me:… *Mocking noise I make* *Euwuw-hwwwwh* the pages are too glossy I miss the old days when it was on papyrus or in stone.
Dad: I don’t sound like that.
When T’Challa merked Namor, I had to make sure Dad was sitting down as I told him over the phone. He was beside himself… before then, contemplating the correct pronunciation of Namor (he says Nah-More as opposed to Nay-More) in typical nerd/father fashion. I realize a lot of the way in which I view popular culture and fiction stem from what my father taught me. I talk about this site, diversity, and representation in comics to him and he recounts to me how he grew up in a segregated school system and on a trip to Pittsburgh he was looking out the window and saw black and white students walking home together and talking.
“I ran and pulled my father to the window pointing at them because this was unheard of to me, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. which is when he explained how things were different here then from where we lived.”
One of the most chilling things he said to me following that statement was, “If I knew as much as you did when I was your age… I’d have been dead”. I’m sure he wasn’t speaking on the side of my knowledge of comics (or how Cyclops’ mutant ability also lies in trigonometry) but that which he taught me growing up. I realized the methods to his madness and the point he was trying to get across for all these years. I hated his initial approach but my dad was a good teacher. I’m nowhere near ready for children, but I find myself planning out how I would improve upon the approach he used to teach me (I paused mad games to listen to this dude and it cost me a perfect, 23.9% of the time) with my own personality. I’m not sure how to incorporate the history aspect yet when I have kids of my own, but I’ve still got time.
I do however know how to build upon what someone is interested in as I’ve been a pretty alright surrogate… older brother? Sensei? to a friend of mine’s (Big Mike) kid (Diggler) who is in love with comics. He’d have his dad call me so I could clarify questions about Green Lantern. So hopefully I’ll get there when the time is right, but for now I’m good helping being a tour guide for a kid that’s exploring the Atlantis of his own experience with comics. I’m not too worried about messing up since he ain’t even my kid so there’s a plus.