In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
The Girl more or less ordered me to watch Frozen with her. She had seen it when it was released, and loved it, and decided that it was important that I see it, too.
When a nine-year-old who rarely asks much insists that you watch a movie that means a lot to her, you do. Those are the rules.
I don’t usually care about musicals, and the first twenty minutes or so didn’t inspire confidence. I have been known, on occasion, to fall asleep during boring movies. (I missed a good chunk of The Lorax.) It was touch-and-go for a little while there. But TG was counting on me, so I powered through.
I’m glad I did.
“Let it Go” was a legitimate showstopper; I finally saw what the fuss was about. But the movie as a whole won me over, too. The combination of strong female leads, relative indifference to romantic subplots, Olaf’s comic relief, and TG’s obvious enthusiasm for it all was hard to resist. It was refreshing to see a really well-made children’s movie in which the female characters were central and romance was not. (The heroine wins the cute boy in the end, but it’s very much an afterthought. He’s just there to ratify the happy ending.) TG got caught up in the adventure, and enjoyed watching the princess save the day.
Raising a daughter thoughtfully in this culture is hard. I want her to keep her confidence as she grows, and to not get sucked into the whole disney princess/cheerleader/lookist trap. But I also want her to be in the world, and to be able to have common ground with her friends. Finding the momentarily right balance between protection and letting go requires constant adjusting. And she’s watching her parents for cues. That means being very aware of not making offhand comments that send unhelpful messages.
Luckily for me, TG makes it easy. She has a remarkable sense of who she is, for her age, and an ability to tune out anything discordant.
Her peers notice that about her, too.
Last week, TG invited me to talk to her class on Career Day. I went a couple of years ago and tried to explain the day job; I didn’t get very far before yielding to the next speaker. This time I focused on writing, on the theory that it would be a little easier to picture.
If you haven’t spoken to a roomful of fourth graders lately, it’s worth trying. Actual moment:
Me: You know how you have to write sloppy copies before you turn something in? I do that, too, but I call them rough drafts.
(Girl raises hand)
Girl: TG is smart!
If you’re willing to embrace a certain non-linearity, the conversations can be great fun. One kid related everything we discussed to llamas; TG later explained that he has been obsessed with llamas for the past week. Another suggested that my next book should be about zombies. A girl who is friends with TG informed me that she’s writing a book of her own. I told her I’d be happy to read it when she’s done. TG just beamed.
Father’s Day is a chance to think about what it means to be a father. For me, it’s about enabling two smart, sweet kids to grow into strong, smart, sweet adults. If that means staying awake through a few musicals, then that’s what it means. Thanks, TG.
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts