Dads are making a comeback in today’s pop culture.
It isn’t as though they ever really left, but it seems like they’re being thrust back into the spotlight as of late. Not always literal dads, father figures too- Luke Skywalker had some big moments last winter and Tony Stark has really come into his own as the patriarch of the MCU. Major plot beats in Deadpool 2, Infinity War and Black Panther deal with the main characters wrestling with notions of fatherhood and how they feel about it. We still live in a male-dominated society; for every Wonder Woman there are five or six male-led superhero movies. I think that’s something that needs to change, though that isn’t the focus of what I wanted to write about today.
My dad passed away unexpectedly last November. Subacute endocarditis. An infection of the heart valves that if unnoticed basically shuts down the body’s systems one after another.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on our relationship and what we meant to each other and that’s been very healing and helpful. I journal regularly and try to be introspective. And then all this dad stuff started showing up in pop culture. I’m not mad about it but it definitely stands out to me.
I simply wanted to comment on a couple things that I noticed that affected me in the months since I lost my dad. Not really any deep analysis, just some passing commentary.
The Ancestral Plane Scenes in Black Panther
I’ve only seen Black Panther once since it was released. I thought it was great and felt like it was breaking the mold of what Marvel movies had done so far- there a million thinkpieces that discuss the movie and it’s cultural impact. For me there were two scenes that were especially poignant: the visits to the ancestral plane by T’Challa and Killmonger.
It can be extremely difficult to articulate what I feel about the loss of my father on a day-to-day basis. There are days where I don’t want to talk to anyone whatsoever, and have to anyway. There are days when I just want to curl up with my fiancée and sleep for hours. There are days when I don’t think about it much and then it hits me with a jolt as I’m trying to go to bed. I thought the treatment of the Ancestral Plane was exactly right- I wish I could go and ask him advice, just one last piece of advice before he goes to rest. There isn’t a place like that and it hurts to think that the last time I saw him was really the last time. Those scenes in the movie stood out to me and elevated the rest of the film; I really think anyone dealing with loss couldn’t help but be moved.
The Last Chunk of Boss Fight Books’ Super Mario Bros. 3 by Alyse Knorr
I earned a BA in Literature when I finished college, and have a habit of reading a few books a month. Classics, graphic novels, nonfiction, news; I’ll read just about anything. Several months ago a dear friend pointed me towards Boss Fight Books and I reached out to the editor-in-chief, and now I do some work for them. I had been making my way through the catalogue pretty religiously when I finally read through Super Mario Bros. 3. It wasn’t at the top of my list of books to read because SMB3 was never really one of my games growing up. The first Super Mario Bros., sure. Even SMB2. But for some reason or other I never played the third one until I snagged an NES classic in 2016.
Finally reading the book about it was an amazing experience, and it’s probably my favorite Boss Fight book to date. The author, Alyse Knorr, doesn’t just talk about the making of the game, though of course that’s there too; she brings her own personal experiences with the game into the book, talking about her college friends, her brother and, most impactfully, her dad.
I know I mentioned pop culture and that an obscure book about an old Mario game isn’t exactly cutting edge, but reading this book when I did really affected me. The author articulates the frustration and excitement about connecting with your parents over something like a video game and the relationship the two share is beautiful. There’s a section towards the end of the book (spoilers?) where Alyse and her dad play SMB3 on an emulator, and it’s his first time playing in decades and she basically has to re-teach him how to play, like he taught her how to play when she was a kid. It’s beautiful and touching and just what I needed to read about while I was missing my own dad.
Pretty Much the Entirety of God of War
Again, it’s been said in a million thinkpieces by better writers than myself, but the new God of War is a very good video game that grapples with some good meaty dad stuff. I was lucky enough to play the game before it was released to the general public (the perks of my freelance job) and I was struck by how the game handles fatherhood in a pretty emotional way.
Yes, Kratos is stoic and has trouble accessing his feelings- but an empathetic player can still feel the turmoil of how to reach out to someone who feels far away from you. There were lots of times with my dad where we just sat in silence, struggling to communicate. There were also many times where he would just tell me a story, no agenda or anything, like when Kratos and Atreus are rowing around the Lake of the Nine. Seeing how the gruff and bearded Kratos cares for his family touched me in ways I didn’t expect.
And yeah, my dad wore an awesome beard almost his whole life. So that helped me identify more with the story, brought me in. I wouldn’t say I was a wreck the whole time I was playing God of War, but I was definitely sensitive and raw in a way that I wouldn’t have been a year ago.
It’s not much, but those are a just a few things that have been on my mind lately. More to come.