Editor's note: When he's not teaching the Internet how to fist-fight, why being weird is awesome or how to self-publish your own books, Joe Peacock tours the world, showing his extensive "Akira" art collection. He's searching the internet for the perfect gift for his dad.
I first saw the legendary animated film "Akira" when I was twelve years old.
The year was 1989, and it was released in the US very sporadically. There was a student-run screening at the University of Georgia that I found out about via a flyer at my local comic book shop. I asked - nay, begged - my father to take me. Despite the fact that it was on a school night and took place nearly two and a half hours away, he knew this was a big event for me. So he agreed.
He picked me up from school and drove me to Athens, Georgia. We had pizza and visited the local comic book shop to kill time until the screening at 8:00 PM. Normally, my father would be in bed around the time that the film would be half over, since he got up at 4:30 AM every single morning - but for that night, he toughed it out. The film ran two hours and nineteen minutes, and IT. WAS. BEAUTIFUL.
Life-changing, even. It didn't matter that the screening was from a ratty multiple-copied VHS tape a student at the University of Georgia's film club scored at a comic convention. It didn't even matter that the film wasn't subtitled or dubbed. I knew enough from the American edition of the "Akira" manga to derive the overall plot, and the static on the top and bottom edges of the screen was hardly noticeable.
We rode in silence for a short while on the way home. I was agog from what I'd just seen - my favorite manga brought to life in full color 24-frame-per-second fully hand-painted animation. The epic battle between Kaneda and Tetsuo in all its frenetic glory. Explosions. Motorcycle chases. Cataclysm.
I studied the fan-made, fold-over program cover to cover at least thirty times. I studied my insanely expensive, imported "Akira" shirt featuring Kaneda holding his laser rifle that I'd spent a month's worth of lawn mowing pay on.
I was in heaven.
It was about twenty miles into our journey that my father turned to me, cleared his throat, and asked, "Joe... what the HELL did we just watch?"
My father had absolutely no interest whatsoever in "Akira." Or animation in general. Or comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, conventions, or anything else associated with fandom. Yet he carted me to the comic book store every Saturday so I could pick up my weekly subscriptions. He drove me to the Atlanta Fantasy Fair (and later, DragonCon) every summer. He took me to see "Akira," "Batman" (the Tim Burton one), and even that God-awful Dolph Lungren "Punisher" movie in the theater.
We were fairly poor when I was growing up, and yet he pulled some strings to get me my first PC (which led to my finding the Internet and carving out a fairly decent career for myself, as well as my first and only online romance which revealed that my wife had a crush on me. ... It's a long story, but proof that everything is connected). He begged, borrowed and stole to pay for art supplies for the one and only art class I took during my six month career in college.
He got me when I was 10 years old. I was a mess. I was severely anxiety-ridden, hostile, obnoxious and overall a big pain in the ass. When he married my mother, he asked my sister and I how we felt about it. It was going to be a huge change in our lives, and our opinion on it mattered to him. After we moved in, he made it his mission to make a man out of me, and despite years of pain, struggle and outright defiance, he succeeded.
I played football and wrestled in high school because I knew it made him proud. Those were his sports during his high school tenure, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He told me the first year I signed up that it was my decision. I didn't have to play any sport or participate in any activity I didn't want to. But if I chose to do it, I was going to finish out that year.
"I will not let you be a quitter," he said.
It was hard - I never fit in with any of my teammates, and always felt alone and isolated. Yet year after year, I stuck with those sports. Every year he'd tell me, "You don't have to play, but if you do..." and I'd finish "I know, I know..." Eventually, I learned to love them. After all, when you're the size of a truck and everyone else in your school deserves to be run over, there are very few school-board-sanctioned activities where you get to do it legally (and win awards for it, too).
My success in sports made my father proud. But so did winning the one and only art contest I entered my senior year, and the store window I painted at the local Kroger for Christmas, and being selected as a featured writer in the school's literary magazine in eighth grade–even though he wasn't an artist or a writer. He didn't really care about the arts in general.
All he cared about was that I cared about them. And he was the first (and, in many ways, only) person in my life who unconditionally supported whatever it was I said I wanted to do, provided it was legal and at least marginally attached to reality. Even though graduating on to college with a scholarship made him proud, and he wanted more than anything for me to have the opportunity to go to college that he never did, he understood when I told him I was quitting. Admittedly, he understood at high volume and with many choice words. ... But he understood.
My family and "friends" at the time all told me that I was living in a dream world. "Home Depot is hiring sales clerks," one of them said. "Be realistic and go get a job there." But not my dad. When I told him that I was going immediately into a career building websites, he said: "I don't understand what you're doing or why you're doing it, but you've got to be your own man. If you can make a career of this, go for it."
I paid him back for the art supplies and did exactly that. And as hard as it was for him, he was still proud of me for going my own way.
My father was the farthest thing there is from a geek, and yet he fostered an environment that allowed me to be one. Sure, he taught me all about the things he loved - working on cars, fixing things around the house, football, wrestling. But he never once forced me to do anything beyond basic household chores and telling the truth. He never made his interests mine.
When I give my talks about "Akira," one of the points I always make is that we currently live in an age where an entire generation of geeks are procreating and bringing up children in an environment where loving art, animation, comics, crazy music, sci-fi and fantasy is not only okay, it's encouraged. Because we know what it was like when we were kids, we never want this new younger generation to experience it. We don't want them to be ridiculed for loving Star Wars, Spider-man and software development.
But just because we love those things doesn't mean they have to. And if I can give you geek dads out there one thing to ponder this Father's Day, it's that. Regardless of how big a geek you are, it's imperative that you let them be their own geek - even if it leads them to fashion, football and frat houses.
The very thought of giving you the advice of raising a future frat boy turns my stomach. But my adopted father allowing me to play with computers and draw poor renditions of Spawn and Batman turned my grandfather's stomach.
He did it anyway, and it made me the man I am today. A happy, strong individual who is unapologetic about loving the things he loves, whether they be "Akira," comic books, writing code, writing prose, lifting weights, playing football or playing Diablo 3. And that's what geekdom is all about.