My oldest son is seven years old. When he was born, I named him a geeky middle name for one reason: To fulfill his destiny as a nerd.
Let's be honest. I am a nerd. Perhaps, you are a nerd, too. We could even been kindred nerd spirits or bitter nerd enemies nerd-raging at each other. In raising my son, I have three goals: He is polite and considerate, he works hard and he becomes a nerd. But why would I ever want to raise a nerd?
For me, I take nerd to mean someone who has in-depth knowledge on a topic. (I realize there are other connotations the word obviously has, but for me , this is my definition.) So there are video game nerds, sports nerds, anime nerds, history nerds and so on and so forth. What makes nerds so great is they are fountains of information, making some truly intriguing conversations possible — and better yet, some truly heated and even truly meaningless arguments.
But, in short, nerds care. They have fires in their bellies. They have passion.
You cannot fake that nerd passion. One either has it or not. All I can do is introduce things to him — age appropriate things. He might like them, and if he does, then he can learn more. If he hates something, then he is more than free to move on.
Parenting is hard. I do not claim to be a great parent. Or even a good parent. But from the time he was aware of the world around him, I began introducing nerddom to him bit-by-bit. What is one man's nerddom, might not be for others, and my definition of "nerd" is perhaps far too broad.
Give The Kid A Good Nerd Name:
Mini-Bash's middle name was given to him with the utmost seriousness. Legally, Japanese people cannot have middle names. The have first names, and they have last names. So the middle name appears only on his U.S. birth certificate and will one day disappear into the ether should he pick Japanese citizenship when he has to choose between Japan and U.S. when he becomes of age. His last name is "Ashcraft" and his first name is a normal Japanese name. (We thought a normal Japanese name would help cushion the blow of his bizarro foreign last name.)
But his middle name is from a character created by Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka is often compared to Walt Disney in scope and importance (ironically, Tezuka's Kimba the White Lion served as the basis for the Lion King). I love Walt Disney, but I'd take Tezuka over Disney any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Tezuka is from Osaka, so when Mini-Bash was younger, a visit to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum was penciled in and off we went. Leading up to the trip I told him how his middle name was from a Tezuka character. Of course, I then had to explain what a middle name was. What seemed to impress him the most was that Tezuka was some kid from Osaka who became so successful that a museum was created in his honor.
Every weekend, we go somewhere. Sometimes it's the park, sometimes it is hiking, sometimes it is to go milk cows and sometimes it is to arcades. Mini-Bash really loves going to arcades and once asked if we could sell all our home consoles so we could get an arcade cabinet. I immediately hugged the child. Positive reinforcement, I'd like to think.
Dress the Part:
A big part of geek culture is t-shirts. (Just ask Mike!) We've made sure Mini-Bash has a couple of choice game-related threads.
Have A Good Back Catalogue:
From a young age, Mini-Bash has always liked drawing. He's passively been interested in video gaming. But instead of actually playing a Nintendo DS, he'd rather draw one. Around the house there's a bunch of game consoles and portables. However, they are there. If he wants to play them, he can. If he wants to draw, he can. But, the games he has available are a box of old Famicom games and Super Famicom games Mrs. Bashcraft played with her brothers and sisters as a kid. 8-bit and 16-bit are fantastic for fueling young nerd imaginations — much more so photo real graphics. I'm happy to say the first Mario game Mini-Bash played was the first Super Mario Bros. Besides games, there is manga on the shelves, books, lots of books, good books, and stuff for him to leaf through, get lost in. He may not have read Haruki Murakami, but he knows that mommy and daddy like his books very much and that Murakami's prose sings.
One thing that has always disturbed me is when people say things like, "I can't play this old video game, because of the graphics." Or "I can't watch black and white movies." Or "I hate subtitles." I think it's important that the value of these "old" or "foreign" things is stressed early on.
Replenish the Supply:
It cannot be said enough: Library cards and trips to the library are truly a joy. Picking out a couple of books with your kid and browsing around is endlessly wonderful. Then heading back home and reading through said books. One promise my dad made with me when I was a kid: He'd take me to the library whenever I wanted and anytime we went to book store, he would buy one book. Not a magazine or a comic book, a book. I've made the same deal with Mini-Bash.
Find Stuff They Can Relate Too. Geeky Stuff:
When Mini-Bash saw the new Star Trek film, he could immediately relate to Spock. Spock is half-human, half-Vulcan. Mini-Bash is half-Japanese, half-American. He immediately connected with that character. And that movie led to conversations about black holes and space. And then conversations about how Star Trek and Star Wars are different, even though both have "Star" in the title. The logical conclusion that George Lucas should have never made the new Star Wars films and hopefully won't make any more. Oh, stay away from Indiana Jones, too.
A Family That Games Together, Stay Together:
Knock the Wii as you might (there's plenty to knock!), it's the go-to console when the Ashcraft family wants to play video games together. Mini-Bash isn't so good at video games! He's okay. But in the original Wii Sports, the Wii Remote is incredibly forgiving and allows him to just enjoy himself. We have a good time playing together, and it seems like a horribly embarrassing Wii ad. But who cares, it's fun. Family favorites include: Mario Kart and New Super Mario Bros.
But doesn't being a nerd mean that he'll be picked on? I don't think so. This isn't a piece on raising an anti-social child or a target for bullies. Instead, it's about attempting to foster an interest in the world around him. To be himself. To explore. To ask questions. To find something and learn more. If anything, it will *fingers crossed* make him more perceptive and aware.
It's odd, though. When my son arrived in this world, I was dead set on all the things I would teach him. This is Shigeru Miyamoto, he made Mario. This is Jasper Johns, he's amazing. This is Kurt Vonnegut, listen to him. But, with each passing year, I've been finding that it isn't me who is always doing the introducing or the teaching. It's him. And I'm learning about things that interest Mini-Bash — whether it be Italian sports car or soccer or monsters. And I'm reading up, I'm studying, I'm learning. His interest in cars meant a road trip from Osaka to Nagoya to check out the Toyota Museum. It has made me start noticing what automobiles are on the road so I can point out his favorites. His interest in soccer means going to watch Japanese league games.
And as much as we'd like our kids to be spitting images of ourselves, they're not. They're different. They have their own life experiences. All we can do is hope that whatever we expose them to as children has a positive impact on them as adults. No doubt, he's got the nerd passion. And that's all that really matters.