Like the good geek that I am, I spent this last weekend with my dad celebrating Father's Day. My dad's a bit of a geek too; while our respective areas of geekery have never been quite on the same wavelength, Dad always made it a point to encourage my budding geekiness even if he didn't always approve of where it was going.
This year's Father's Day gave me the chance to reflect upon how crucial my dad was to one of the most precocious, demanding times of my life: my obsessive-compulsive infatuation with Star Wars during the late 70s and early 80s. Sure, my folks spent tons of money to placate my addiction to all things from a certain galaxy far, far away, but my dad when the extra mile by putting together a few Star Wars model kits that my impatient and unskilled pre-pubescent personality couldn't assemble but coveted nevertheless. Read on for more about my dad's heroic feats of modeling glue manipulation and modeling paint application that he performed to keep his oddball offspring satiated.
As any normal person knows, toys and model kits are not the same thing. Toys are usually designed with durability in mind so that they can withstand the rigors of play, while model kits are much more fragile and are intended for hobbyists to use their skills to bring out scale-accurate details in miniature versions of much larger objects, objects such as cars, airplanes, boats and so on. This difference was lost on me back after Star Wars was released, because I noticed how the Kenner Star Wars toys were lacking details that the MPC Star Wars model kits had in spades. The fact that I couldn't play with the model kits meant nothing to me; all I knew is that the kits had something that the toys didn't, so naturally I HAD TO HAVE THEM.
My father, bless his heart, could've told me to be happy with the Kenner toys as they were--he certainly spend enough of his hard-earned money on them for me. Yet he was willing to put up with my kid-sized demands (and probably at the behest of my grandmother) and he put together some of the Star Wars models for me, starting with C-3PO and R2-D2 in 1977.
Back then, I couldn't understand was how the Kenner action figures of the droids were missing such important movie-accurate features, such as C-3PO's exposed wired mid-section and R2-D2's third leg and retractable utility arms--even the large-sized figures that Kenner produced lacked these details. I also couldn't understand how Kenner could produce regular TIE fighter toys and put Darth Vader in them in the toy ads, when everybody knew that Darth Vader had his own special TIE fighter. So, when MPC released a Darth Vader TIE fighter model kit in 1978, Dad put that kit together for me too.
(Kenner did release Darth Vader TIE fighter toys in 1979--one for the action figures and one as a smaller, die-cast metal replica--but both of those lacked the elongated rear deck that was in the movie version. How dare they!)
You'd think that after my dad put together three models that I would finally get the hint that models weren't toys and that I would stop pestering Dad to put this stuff together for me, but no. Much to my dad's chagrin, I just couldn't make the connection. So, after Empire Strikes Back hit the theaters in 1980 and to assuage my disappointment over the birthday gift I received that was Kenner's cheapjack Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Set (which included a small, bisected cardboard AT-AT walker mounted to a 2D cardboard background), Dad broke down and put together the Battle of Hoth Action Scene diorama (which included two complete AT-ATs and one AT-AT that was "battle damaged").
Wouldn't you know it, Kenner released a complete AT-AT vehicle for the action figures in 1981. My parents gave me that toy too, although I'm still surprised to this day that my dad didn't tell me to be satisfied with the AT-ATs from the diorama, that maybe I should have the action figures ride them like ponies to get my money's worth.
There was a fifth Star Wars model for which I didn't ask but a relative got for me anyway and my dad tried to assemble: the Darth Vader Action Model. This model was a bust of Vader that included parts that were supposed to make the eyes glow and a plastic tube with a bristled disk that was supposed to re-create Vader's "rasping breathing sound". Dad couldn't get the extra stuff to work, but the Vader bust itself came together very well.
The kits listed above weren't the only models from my early years; there would be more Star Wars models later on, as well as some Robotech models during the mid-80s. In those cases, my dad in his wisdom left me to my own devices for those kits, so I could learn on my own what model making really involves and how poorly I'm suited for that particular hobby.
I still don't know how Dad maintained the patience to put the Star Wars models together for me, but I'm impressed with how he pulled it off and that he did it more than once. For that, I salute my dad's devotion to my geek quirks, and I extend that salute to all of the fathers out there who made the extra effort to gratify their children's budding interests in robots, monsters, spaceships, superheroes, and all other things geeky.
Can you spot the error on this blister card?