Parent to Parent: Embracing Your Inner Geek

The local and winding road to self-acceptance.

Nearly seven years ago, my wife, Cyd, and I went to see U2 in concert at Aloha Stadium. As we found our seats, the warm-up act was finishing its set. Nodding in approval, I turned to Cyd and said, “That lead singer is pretty good. I think he and his band have potential!”

Cyd slowly shook her head, pursed her lips into a crooked smile and gave me her, “Oh, Dave” look. What she and the 30,000 other fans in the stadium knew—and I didn’t—was that the up-and-coming singer was Eddie Vedder and the potential-filled band that he fronted was Pearl Jam.

The next morning, Cyd didn’t ask for a divorce nor did she even tease me. Instead, she gave me one of her Pearl Jam CDs, which I listened to the rest of the day. 

I’m tragic-ally uncool, have been for most of my life. But I’m old now, so I’m supposed to be backward and out of touch. However, my son, Kennedy, recently turned 11, which means that I will soon be entering a new, higher level of uncoolness. Frequently, Kennedy and his friends will have animated discussions during their near-nightly Skype sessions in which they communicate in an alien adolescent language. They tell each other stories that don’t seem to have a conclusion or make observations that don’t seem to have a point. Sometimes they spontaneously break out into song or burst into uncontrolled laughter.

There is a part of me that wants to join in on all the excitement, but then I remember my Eddie Vedder prediction and I back out of video camera and microphone range. Mostly, I listen in when I can, because it’s not too often that you can witness honest and unfettered expression. Basically, Kennedy and his friends act like goofballs and they don’t care what anyone else thinks—as they shouldn’t.

Wouldn’t it be great if adults could communicate with each other like 11-year-olds, without shame or pretense? But, then again, even kids don’t experience such freedom of expression for long. Take high school for example. It’s a period of their lives in which they’ll spend half their time fending off others’ attempts to unfairly and inaccurately label them.

I hope Kennedy and his friends continue to express their inner freakiness and geekiness for as long as possible, because we spend much of our adolescence and early adulthood trying to fit in and be like everyone else. Then, as adults, we obsess over ways in which we can separate ourselves from the pack. I try to explain this irony to Kennedy when he tells me about some of his travails in school. But ironies learned over a half a lifetime are hard if not impossible to explain. Instead, maybe I can show him that while his out-of-touch, Pearl Jam-loving old man is uncool, he’s cool with his uncoolness. And his funky and fashionable mom is cool with it, too.