In retrospect, I realize I was being kind of petty. Not on purpose, but being a stickler for contrived rules can make you petty, it turns out. Hell, I don’t even like it when I see my kids wearing Adidas shoes with Nike sweatshirts or sweatpants. It happens, and nobody is in the wrong, but I do let them know that mixing-and-matching labels is frowned upon. Again, contrived rules and pettiness. I get it. I’m working on me. I just want my self-introspection out there from the beginning.
I’ve wandered; my goal here was to tell you a story about my kid and his hopes and dreams and how I may have unintentionally, albeit briefly, dashed them.
My kids like to take baths with their entire collection of toys. This includes some monster trucks, a random assortment of shit I just haven’t thrown away yet because I only remember it exists when they take a bath, and a rotating collection of superhero action figures, though the main rotation consists of Spider-Man, Flash and Batman. Largely they spend bath time drowning these superheroes but I figure they’re superheroes (except for Batman), they’ll be okay.
Lately, my kids have taken to wanting to watch Black Panther every day. Literally, every day. They call it Bakanda, but I always know what they’re referring to. They’re big fans of the Jabari tribe and take turns being Mbaku. But they’re pretty much all in on Wakanda as a place. I have to admit, this is my ace-in-the-parenting hole. If you ask my kids what their favorite movies are, they will undoubtedly say Bakanda (Black Panther) and Spider-Man with Miles Morales (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), which I think makes me a Tier 1 parent. I’m not entirely sure what the parameters are but that has to be the big league. We are all black everything around here.
Well one fine morning while my kids were playing in the bathtub because it really is just a tiny swimming pool, my youngest looks at me and says, “Daddy, can Batman go to Bakanda with Black Panther?”
Now this is one of those teachable moments as a parent. The simple and right (but wrong) answer to this 3-year-old is “yes, he sure can.” I mean, hell Batman could probably use some damn vibranium (and he could afford it) so in truth, my son is a connector and champion of nation-building. Plus, Black Panther and Batman have a shit-ton in common: they could probably spend hours venting about the rigors of being rich, brilliant, technology-advanced superheroes who happened to get their asses kicked a lot. They’re a genre if you think about it.
Anyway, as my kid looked up to me with genuine excitement about taking Batman to Bakanda, I told him that “no, Batman can’t go to Bakanda because in Batman’s world, I don’t think Bakanda exists. They’re from entirely different universes really, and their paths would never actually cross. In fact, Batman and Iron-Man, who you’re drowning together, don’t know each other outside of this bathtub most likely. You see, they are characters created in comic books and they come from two different comic book universes that try to bring them together on occasion but generally, Batman stays with his homies and Black Panther stays with his much more profitable homies. So, no. Understand?”
He looked up at me. Processed what I was saying—though I don’t think he processed it at all, I think he only heard, “no”—and said, with tears in his eyes, “he can’t come with me?? I want him to come with me? I’m going to Bakanda and I want Batman to come? Please, Daddy.” The tears got bigger. He was still in the bathtub at this point, conducting a mutual superhero monster truck rally.
It was at that moment I realized that since I was barring Batman from Wakanda because he would never really go, I was going to have to THEN explain to my son that Wakanda wasn’t a real place, contrary to how the black community likes to treat it and yeah, he’s 3. I can’t go from motherfucking parent savant to the worst dad on the planet by telling my kid that he can’t go to a place that he now loves that I wish was a real place by being a stickler for technicalities.
So I caved. I let him know that he could take anybody to Bakanda that he wanted to take with him except Aquaman because Wakanda is landlocked and doesn’t seem to have a ton of lakes or anything. Also, to this point, he’d never heard of Aquaman.
And then...tearfully… “Akaman can’t come with me to Bakanda??”
Parenting. Outside needs to open up soon, y’all.