I Want My Sons to Be Obsessed With What I Loved As a Kid

One of the great joys of being a dad: getting the chance to reexperience the passions of my youth through my kids' eyes.

illustration of dad reading to sons
Photo: Illustration by Anne Bentley

When I was younger, I lived with obsession. I didn't just like something; I had to embrace it completely, turning it over again and again until it started to lose meaning and I moved on to the next thing. It was calming, even hypnotic, to fall so deeply into these fixations that the real world didn't exist. And once I became a father, it felt completely natural to introduce them to my boys.

Of course, you want your children to love what you love. I let my older son, Griff, now 12, look through my boxes of comic books, play with my old Star Wars action figures, and watch episodes of The Simpsons with me. It was such an easy way to feel close to him, to see him react in the same way that I had when I was his age.

And there was something equally exciting about not showing my younger son, Patch, now 7, the same things but giving him other things I loved. When he was 5, I showed him a collection of Marvel comic covers that pay homage to classic rap album covers. He looked at characters like Iron Man and Luke Cage, and asked me to name each album the cover was copying. Then he wanted to see the album covers and hear the songs. He loved the cover for Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and I shared one line that seemed harmless: "Cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M., get the money, dollar dollar bill y'all." For weeks, he repeated that everywhere he went. Then he asked to listen to DMX, who's pretty hardcore.

"I don't think it's appropriate," I said.

"One song," Patch pleaded.

"One song." I replied, cueing up the chorus—and only the chorus—to "Ruff Ryders' Anthem."

"This is good," he said. "This is really, really good." And that made me so happy.

My boys are also curious about my current obsessions. I let Griff watch a few episodes of the comedy show I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson, and he got hooked. We watched them over and over (his favorite was about a game-show host who screams at the show's furry mascot), and he asked to see others. I said, "They're really not appropriate," which made him want to watch even more. OK, fine. He loved them and recited them for his friends, who were rather confused by the jokes.

I realize that underneath my desire to share what I love with my sons is my fear that they won't need me anymore once they find their own obsessions, that I'll no longer have anything to interest them. I guess it's the fear that they'll outgrow me, become their own people, even though I know that's how life works.

So now I'm trying to do what my own parents did. When I pursued things that were probably beyond me, like reading John Cheever's gritty Falconer when I was 12, they never tried to stop me. I'd sit in my closet, telling myself stories. They gave me space, and wherever I ended up, I knew how to get back to them.

The boys have already found things that they love on their own, and it has been wonderful to hear that initial vibration in their voices as they explain a new book they've read or a band they've discovered. I know now that I don't need them to become mirror images of me. But there are times I think I'll never be enough to deserve them, and I want to stay right beside them, keeping them close.

Kevin Wilson's most recent best-selling novel is Nothing to See Here.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's June 2020 issue as "I Want My Sons to Be Obsessed Too."

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