It was inevitable that our 5-year-old daughter, Kavya, would inherit our nerdy ways. My wife and I were those kids who escaped reality by sitting in the back of the school bus, huddled in a corner of the playground, hiding under the duvet with a flashlight way past bedtime…reading. Books. Magazines. Comics. Even the back of the cereal box was fair game. I relished the time I had all to myself to be transported to the worlds of American superheroes, oppressed aliens, Indian gods and goddesses, and stories set in mysterious British castles, where little children ate delicacies like crumpets and jam-tarts.
I was totally unprepared for my daughter to become a hybrid form of nerd: the outgoing, communal kind, who loves dressing up and being the center of attention without any concern about what other people think. Kavya sees no problem with wading through crowds, waiting in lines, and—worst of all—talking to people. On purpose. When she was about 8 months old, her first word was hi, and she would use it everywhere, particularly on the New York City subway, where nobody likes talking. I hated being drawn into conversations with perfectly lovely people, who would start googleee-moogleeing with my daughter and then, out of courtesy, engage in a totally unnecessary conversation with me.
At 5 years old, though, my daughter isn’t as fearless about talking to random people as she once was, and part of it is probably the fact that she understands social cues and the don’t-talk-to-me vibes people give off. I also think it’s me. She is a wonderful blend of introverted and extroverted, and I am constantly second-guessing whether I am forcing my introverted ways onto my ambivert daughter.
To support my daughter’s outgoing side, I found myself in the last place I thought I would ever be seen: Comic-Con. In cosplay. (Cosplay is short for costume play; dressing up as a character is a popular way to attend Comic-Con.) I became that Papa who took his daughter out of school “due to Comic-Con” (in hindsight, I probably could have used a more creative excuse when calling my daughter’s school).
A year before Comic-Con, I actively encouraged cosplay even though we didn’t call it that. Last year, she became totally obsessed with the original Star Wars trilogy for months, in particular Princess Leia, who was completely unlike any of the other princesses she had seen. This one was funny and witty, brandished weapons, saved the boys, and had the best hairstyles.
Every Friday, I would pick Kavya up early. I’d dress up as Luke Skywalker, and she’d be Princess Leia because she liked the idea of me being her little brother and by definition knowing more than me. We’d use clothes we had around the house and complete our costumes with belts made from foil. I learned how to make my own version of the iconic buns with colorful Punjabi hair accessories called parandis, and she would sit riveted for hours watching a story she initially didn’t fully understand. Then it was X-Men, especially weather-controlling Storm, and then it was Katara from The Last Airbender. Dressing up and exploring these stories together became our thing. And it was totally cool because we were in the comfort of our home, in the quiet.
Ever since we brought home stacks of comics during Free Comic Book Day in New York a year ago, she has been in love with the medium. So, New York Comic-Con was a logical place for her to want to go. And she immediately loved the idea of cosplay, which I found terrifying: going out in public, navigating through crowds, dressed up in some dopey outfit. (The outfit that in the solitude of your home is fantastic immediately gets transformed to dopey when exposed to public view.) I might be able to bust out a sewing needle to re-attach a button, but a costume worthy of Comic-Con? No way. I’m not the Papa who flawlessly chisels entire costumes out of metal. I’m the Papa who goes to the dollar store and hopes for the best. But it wasn’t about the convention, or the comics, or the characters, or even the cosplay: she saw it as something we could do together. A Papa-Daughter thing.
I tried to get her to change her mind but immediately felt guilty about it. It’s not that difficult to break a child by discouraging her from expressing herself. It’s not like she was asking for much—she just wanted to hang out with her Papa doing what we usually do. The public aspect of it didn’t register on her radar the way it did on mine. So, to embrace being Kavya’s Papa, I decided to embrace the idea of public cosplay.
One trip to the dollar store and four outfits later, she couldn’t have been more thrilled: for the first two days, she was Princess Leia with me as her sidekick, Luke Skywalker (because in Kavya’s world, Luke Skywalker is no more than a sidekick to Princess Leia). The second and third days, she was waterbending Katara from The Last Airbender with me as a pre-scar firebending Zuko (the eye makeup didn’t go very well).
I’d like to say that a major reason things went pretty smoothly during our Comic-Con adventure is because I planned them out. But the truth is I prolonged getting to the venue because I was petrified of the images I saw on the Internet of huge lines outside Comic-Con before the doors even opened. I’m pretty sure this is what the scene looks like just before the bulls start trampling people in Spain. We took a leisurely approach to getting there, taking in a big lunch in nearby Koreatown and showing up in the middle of the afternoon when—according to common sense—lines were shorter and crowds smaller.
We did a lot of roaming around, particularly in less crowded areas, and I gave her a budget of $10 a day—that’s a lot of one-dollar comic books! She loved seeing various interpretations of characters and followed one woman dressed as Princess Leia all the way down an aisle so she could see her R2D2 umbrella. My ambivert nerdy daughter was in her element. All of the cosplayers were very impressed with her outfit (less so with mine), and Kavya felt totally at ease.
I still hated the crowds, waiting in lines, and talking to people, but I enjoyed watching my daughter beaming when she animatedly told people her Papa made her Princess Leia buns, declaring, and I quote, “He is a professional. He can make yours next time.” She swapped tips with professional cosplayers and asked to pose for tons of photos with some of her beloved characters.
I stepped out of my comfort zone for my daughter, but cosplay and comic books are still our little world. Her interests are still developing, and it was wonderful to have been a part of encouraging them. While she did graciously allow me to attend a few panels on diversity in comics and on characters we both like, she thankfully didn’t have any interest in the super popular panels with lines that made me feel like there was a limited amount of air supply. We already have plans to attend next year.
When I asked her on the subway ride home what her favorite part of Comic-Con was, I expected her to talk about the two training certificates she got from the Jedi Knight Training classes, or the workshop she took in designing her own superhero, or watching the Advanced Screening of Supergirl. Instead, her response was, “The best part was walking around and eating popcorn with my Papa.” The heart swells, and the nerd in me suddenly feels the need to stand in a line with his daughter. Just not outside before the place opens.