“Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, story-tellers, and singers of song.”
-Pamela Jane Barclay Brown
I always get sentimental when my wife has a baby.
Now that I’m a father², I’m thinking along the lines of getting wifey as much sleep as possible, providing for my family, looking to the future, and taking care of my older son. I consider parenting to be a noble cause and one which must be acted out with sincerity, purity, and wisdom. And children are worth it. Just wook at dis widdle face!~
In thinking about dadhood, though, I know I’m thinking about something that has long been dragged through the mud. Our society is very much concerned with rights of all kinds and with representation, equality, and tolerance. But at the same time, our society’s slander of masculinity, which has made “patriarchy” an ugly word, has by way of a symptom turned dads into the very image of incompetence. Dads are obsolete idiots too stupid to offer any valuable guidance to their offspring, in constant risk of blowing up their homes or causing sudden divorce, at least they’re so depicted. Is this equality, or do we need to drag dads down to be equal?
Think for a moment about the father figures in media and entertainment.
Which ones popped into your head first? Odds are they represent an array of laziness, indifference, gluttony and buffonery. They’re funny because they’re dad-clowns and man-children, and they should stay that way without dominating all perception of all dads, in a generalizing sense. Because, clearly, think of your own father. If he was at all a good one, or at least he tried to be, then you probably remember him well. I remember my own dad as fun-loving and strict, hardworking, a teacher who helped me see the wonder of the world. Was he occasionally awkward, inept or bumbling? Yes, sometimes. But was that how your own dad was all of the time?
Now in case this immediately begins to sound overtly political, or for lack of a much better term, SJW-ish about dadhood and you feel shanghaied into a post you didn’t want to read in the first place, don’t worry.
To be clear, I don’t need anyone to validate my existence, except for my family and friends who already love me anyway. I can deal with this negative perception and portrayal without getting the government involved, thank you very much. I’m not out to demand better representation for dads. I’m not planning on marching in any dad-protests (could you imagine what kind of hell would break loose?!), nor do I see myself as enacting any kind of social change beyond the way I raise my own kids as individuals and beyond the thoughtful readers who happen to see this post.
I also don’t mean to go so far as to portray dads as these perfectly righteous saints and martyrs. Obviously, dads can be good or bad, just as any person can be good or bad, regardless of their group identity (ugh, to use another term for lack of a better one). In some way, when we bring in the subject of video games, some of us do a better job of perpetuating the portrayal of the dad as brainless more than others. Dads who enjoy video games can be seen as man-children, adults who act like boys and are treated as boys. Deservedly so, even, perhaps.
That’s because we don’t learn a lot about how to be dads from video games. Maybe we didn’t learn how to be dads from our own dads. Maybe we didn’t actively seek out any father figures to fill that gap (that’s on us). Maybe we bought into the image of irresponsibility and frankly frailty that represents the dads of our era. Maybe we’ve known too many men who contribute to the deadbeat stereotype.
Gaming is largely a hobby about self. There, I said it. But think about it. If gaming is your hobby, then when you buy a game, you’re more often than not buying it for yourself, to play by yourself. If it’s multiplayer, then your primary purpose is still to work on your character, stats, league, guild, gear, ranking, and so on. Since the beginning of time (in video game terms), self has been at the center in terms of racking up points, earning a new record, and putting your initials down on that high score.
And this is why fatherhood and video games are in many ways antithetical. Being a parent is about self-sacrifice. Being a dad is about dying to yourself. Being a father is about becoming and learning to become selfless.
I assume the same is true about being a mother but since I was not born a woman I can’t tell you about that half of the bargain. Look I’ll cut to the quick: if there’s no difference between men and women, if we can’t point out what women do better than men and what men do better than women without being labeled sexist, then we can’t talk about the necessity of both a father and a mother in the home raising their children. Yet it isn’t difficult to see (and statistics would agree) that fatherless homes take the form of an epidemic in our modern society. No amount of social uproar, gender-redefinition, misrepresentation or downright misandry can detract from the experiential fact that there is nothing like a good dad and his effect upon his kids.
Ask yourself: is there any value to having a dad? Is there? If so, then a dad has something unique to offer. I think many of us have great answers to that question.
If you’re a dad, your children need you in a different way than they need education, finances, security, entertainment, family, and even their own mother. If you’re a dad, you’ve been called into a tremendous service not only to your progeny but to your society. If you’re a dad, you have a responsibility to raise your children to be better than you are, to sacrifice for them so they can be better off than you, not to leave them or scar them. If you’re a dad, you’re new motto is “selflessness”. Call yourselves to a higher standard than others might set for you. Be a man in the fullest sense of that anachronistic phrase. Manhood used to mean something, in a non-detracting way to either gender.
But can I still play video games…?
Short answer: yes! Here’s my philosophy with gaming, which has evolved over time. Maybe you share it with me. When I was a little boy, video games were as much playtime as going outside or swimming at the beach. When I was a teenager, video games took on an aspect of escapism that helped me cope with social dangers of entering adulthood. When I was an unmarried adult, video games were time-killers and sources of relaxation after work. After I became married, video games took on new life as I focused on titles that I could share with my spouse. Now that I’m a father, the perspective has changed yet again.
Yes, I write on video games and treat them as art, but I also find in them a way to experience the world with my child and someday children. Seeing the world as a child, with their exclusive wonder and awe, is something which frames my way of life. I love to see my first son experience a certain game which was important to me and have his own personal reaction to it, just like he reacts to the music, movies, and places that I share with him. The second one is still too young to do just about anything but eat and poop.
So these two things, fatherhood and video games, can indeed be reconciled. Will I veg out on a game now and then? Yeah, but it’s rarer now than it used to be that I’ll binge, because responsibility toward my beloved family comes first. The reason why I play video games has deepened. Time originally spent alone is now time I can spend with my kids. And you know? I’m okay with that.
More thoughts on fatherhood and video games to come. As always, thanks for reading! I more than welcome your thoughts, fellow fathers out there. There’s no instruction manual. We’re all learning together.
-The Well-Red Mage