In brainstorming my first post for GeekDad, I found myself contemplating what exactly it means to be a geek. “Dad” has a well-understood biological and cultural meaning. But “geek” is a term applied to a wide variety of interests and behaviors. Most obviously, there are tech geeks, sci-fi geeks, fantasy geeks, and comic geeks, with a fairly high rate of cross-pollination between them. But I’ve also heard the term applied to activities you probably won’t see written about on this website. I’ve known people that called themselves band geeks, policy geeks, law geeks, and even grammar geeks. Could someone be a football geek? Does the word “geek” mean nothing more than someone that is unusually interested in any field of human endeavor? I think not. “Geek” is a subculture that embraces a set of ideas and a way of looking at life that is subtly but profoundly different from the outlook of majority culture.
The word “geek” has a rather unpropitious origin. It probably derives from the Low German word “geck,” meaning fool. In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century the word became associated with circus performers that engaged in strange or bizarre acts like biting the heads off of chickens. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the term became widely associated with social outcasts knowledgeable about new technology. Because tech geeks tended to also be interested in science fiction, fantasy, comics etc., the meaning of the word quickly expanded to include anyone that shared those enthusiasms. “Geek” was initially a term of derision, a variant of “weirdo” used to belittle people whose interests did not match those of their mainstream peers. But like many pejoratives, it was eventually adopted by the targeted group as a badge of pride.
But what does geek mean today, now that we’ve co-opted the term? It means something near and dear to every geek dad, something that has to do with our children. A “geek” is someone that never loses their childlike sense of wonder in the new, the unexplored, and the different. A geek is someone that rejects the incessant cultural programming to “grow up” and continues to dream about the stars. A geek is someone that imagines other worlds, be they worlds that never were or worlds that might yet be. Some geeks work at making those imagined worlds a reality. Others work at stretching the bounds of imagination itself. Still others appreciate and evangelize. But the thing we all share is the notion that it is okay for a grown man and woman to hold onto that boundless sense of possibility that children are blessed with.
So in the end the word “geek” is much more than a list of interests. It is a way of looking at life. It is a culture that embraces the wonder of childhood into adulthood rather than telling us to leave childish interests behind. And that is why I hope my own son grows up to be a geek. I don’t want him to grow up in a world that forces him to give up everything he loved as a child. I don’t want him to be beaten down by the practical, or changed by what others tell him he ought to care about. There is a reason almost every child likes dinosaurs and space ships. Those things represent big dreams. I never want my son to stop dreaming, and I intend to teach him by example. I am a geek, and proud of it.