The Art of Bonding Versus Letting Go

My daughter and I bond over incredibly nerdy things. She was 4 when we first went all over New York for Free Comic Book Day. Together, we started Capoeira, the African-Brazilian acrobatic martial art, and I unintentionally introduced her to cosplay when we would dress up while watching Star Wars or The Last Airbender television show.

By the time she was 5, she had interests that were from all over the nerddom. Some days, she wanted to dress up as Princess Leia as we sat down to watch Star Wars. Other days, during downtime at the park, we had deep conversations about the toxic relationship Zuko had with his terrible father.

The culmination of all this Papa-Daughter nerding soared to new heights last year when I took her out of school to attend all four days of Comic-Con in cosplay. The most exciting part was when we spent countless hours at the dollar store and came up with ideas for the execution of our outfits. Since I don’t have a sewing machine or metal-bending ability, our options were limited to using scissors and spray paint. Essentially, we bought several extra large t-shirts and tied belts around each to form various characters that were more or less recognizable.      

At 4 and 5, she was easy to impress because she had no reference points. Everything I was introducing her to was new, and she assumed her Papa could do anything. Once she asked me to draw Wonder Woman, so I drew her using circle and square shapes. My daughter’s face lit up, as she said, “Papa, you are the best circle drawer in the world.”

She is 6 ½ now, and at this age, even a half a year’s growth makes a difference. Most of our bonding activities are still exclusive Papa-Daughter things—even though she now realizes I’m not the expert and, in fact, largely making it all up with most things I do with her.

So, instead of waiting until October to figure out our cosplay for this year’s New York Comic-Con, she opted for a more professional approach: she enlisted the help of her Daadi-ma and Bhuee (her paternal grandmother and aunt) to make her Ms. Marvel outfit from old clothes, using a sewing machine. The result was spectacular: double-hemmed, with extra room for expansion, and even with a little bangle purse, sporting Ms. Marvel’s signature lightning bolt. This was clearly way out of my league since my barometer of success is “doesn’t look terrible.”

As wonderful as it was seeing her super excited about the outfit and chattering away with my mother and sister about the clothing design for Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel from Jersey City, I felt that slight sting of her drifting away. This is the start of her taking her own initiative. We still do plenty of things—just me and her—but I know that will change.

My approach of immersing us both in bonding activities certainly has its roots in me being an introverted parent, who enjoys one-on-one time with my loved ones. I have no clue where her interests will take her when she embraces more of her extroverted personality. I am envious of fathers or mothers who are sports fanatics because this passion becomes the thing that bonds them even when their kids grow up and become busy with their lives.

But there was a ray of light this year at Comic-Con. On the first day of the event, we sat on the floor at Javits Center, stuffing our faces with Korean food. She turned to me between heaping mouthfuls of bulgogi and rice and said, “Comic-Con is the best.” That was despite the fact that we didn’t go to a single panel and missed the Jedi Knight training scheduled that day. Nor had we seen any outlandish costumes. All we’d done at this point was wear our outfits on the train: she was Ms. Marvel and I was Bhangra Man, a British-Indian comedy show character not a single person would recognize.

I was curious, so I asked why she thought it was so great. “Because me and you get to walk around,” she said. I told her I thought it was the best too. She then casually said, “Do we have the big blue shirt from the dollar store?” I had assumed she would be Ms. Marvel all four days, but she still wanted to indulge in Papa-Daughter dollar store cosplay, which warmed my heart. Obviously, we went to the dollar store later that evening.

On the very last day of Comic-Con, as we exited the convention center for the last time until next year, she turned to me and said, “Papa, I’ll always want to go to Comic-Con with you. Even if I have friends who know how to make fancy outfits. Because we’ll need someone to hold our bags.”