My name is Cameron Hays, and I’m a geek parent.
Just to be clear, I was a geek before I was a parent, so it’s not as if becoming a parent suddenly made me be interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror, video games, tabletop roleplaying games, or comics. It’s just that now that I’m a geek who is also a parent, I’ve found that my wife (who is also a geek) and I are having a slightly different child-rearing experience than others we know.
We seem to have given birth to a geek kid. Which is great, because now we’re a geek family, but also really interesting from a parenting perspective. After all, there isn’t a geek gene, which means that stuff we did as parents rubbed off on our little one and made her interested in Star Wars (despite never having seen it), super heroes (despite not knowing exactly what they do), castles (despite never having been to one), robots (despite never having seen one) and dragons (despite being kind of afraid of them).
So this blog is, among other things, a record of how we navigated (and continue to navigate) the disparate worlds of being a geek and being a parent, which sometimes overlap.
To give a little background, I spent a decade as a teacher in middle school and high schools. My first endorsement was in social studies for secondary education, although I’ve since gotten a second endorsement in K-12 gifted education. I did some work as a substitute teacher at the beginning of my career, mostly art, music, social studies and English, before falling into a job at one of the schools I had attended myself as a teenager.
While at this weird little alternative school in an antique building, I was given almost total freedom to design my own curriculum for social studies (world history, American history, and geography), and had many chances to branch out into other subjects like music journalism, rock and roll history, mythology, abnormal psychology, learning theory, research techniques, and victorian gothic literature. I even spent a few years doing double duty as the school’s music teacher.
Somewhere along the way, I picked up a masters degree in educational psychology (with an emphasis on human learning), and a few years ago I started on a PhD in curriculum & instruction. My research focus is “curiosity” and gifted education in particular. My dissertation is trying to establish if gifted students actually express higher levels of curiosity, and if so, if it could be used to find gifted students in previously underrepresented and under-served populations.
In the fall, I’ll begin work on an ED.S (Educational Specialist graduate degree) and accompanying Principal’s License. Because when you owe this much in student loans, you might as well see how far you can push it.
I played my first 21+ gig as a rock musician when I was 15. At that time I aspired to be the next electronic crossover artist, wedged somewhere between Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. I kept that up through college, eventually getting some club play for remixes I’d done for other artists; nothing really amazing, but something I could be proud of.
I’d played bass in my high school jazz band, but it wasn’t until college in Portland that I started playing bass with a band that collaboratively wrote their own material. We got one song on a compilation CD before breaking up (although I’m still friends with them) and I moved to Seattle. I was angry and despondent, so I joined a math metal band and rocked out with them for a while. When that collapsed, I played here and there in a variety of projects, including one with a number of guys that had made it big during the “grunge boom” and were still living on residuals.
When the dot.com bubble burst, I moved back to my home state of Colorado and fell in with a band that played what could most charitably described as art rock, but what in retrospect sounds like my songwriting style butting up against the lead singer’s songwriting style. We put out an album. The band I followed that up with was sort of a prog rock goth thing, with crunchy guitars, violin and cello. We won a Westword Music Showcase Award and put out an album that I’m still pretty fond of.
Shortly after the band went our separate ways, I found out that I have an extremely rare medical condition called Pressure Urticaria. My body responds to any extended pressure on my skin by breaking out in hives. Essentially, I’m allergic to the physical world, and playing bass (or any other instrument) became problematic since it turned my hands into mittens filled with angry bees.
There is no cure for this frankly weird medical condition, although in most cases it goes away on its own after 5-10 years. I’m on year 4 and keep hoping that I can play music again regularly. In the meantime, I’ve kept up with songwriting and composing, since those don’t require extended pressure on my hands. I’ve done some neat instrumental electronica pieces with my good friend Brad Smalling, and I’ve written a number of children’s songs for geek parents. Although my first attempt to crowdfund an album of these songs wasn’t successful, I still hope to release an album of them at some point.
I love science fiction and fantasy movies, even when they are stupid. I love horror movies, ESPECIALLY when they are stupid. I try to keep up-to-date on geeky tv shows and movies, ever since missing the initial run of Firefly completely and having to watch it after it was canceled.
I’m not as much of a voracious reader as I used to be, largely because of the sheer amount of research papers and academic journals I’ve gone through in the last few years in graduate school. That said, I try to at least be well-versed in the classics: Jules Verne, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Heinlein, Herbert, Bradbury, Dick. Recently, I’ve been really enjoying the work of John Scalzi, Greg Stolze, and Scott Lynch.
I’m not really a comic book guy, but I have good friends who are. They act as a sort of “comic book concierge” and provide me with stuff they know I’ll like. Therefore, despite my previous statement that I’m not really a comic book guy, I have a pretty large collection of graphic novels. My taste runs towards non-superhero stuff (crime, horror, fantasy, sci fi), but I have a definite fondness for the mythology surrounding Batman and Gotham City.
I’ve been hooked on tabletop roleplaying games since being introduced to the concept in 1st grade. I spent my childhood drawing pictures of dragons and dudes with swords, and I’m pleased to say that I never outgrew it.
I ran my first convention game right about the same time I was beginning to play music at bars (although I probably sucked at both, in retrospect), and played Vampire: The Masquerade every friday night while other high school students were out getting into trouble. When I didn’t click with the gamers I met in college, I drafted my non-gaming friends, and when I came home for the summer, I started a summer camp for kids that featured foam swords, silly voices, and what basically amounts to Live Action Role-Playing. The rules for that were collected in a book, which remains my only game-related publication.
I played roleplaying games fairly regularly throughout my 20s and 30s, and was lucky enough to meet a woman who was also a gamer and marry her. Not that I married her because she was a gamer, just that it was a nice perk that we had that in common.
There is nothing I love more than being a dad. My first job was working in an infant nursery, and I was a preschool art and music teacher for a while after college. Coupled with my graduate education in child development, and it should have been clear to anyone paying attention that I was really looking forward to having kids of my own. My two little munchkins haven’t disappointed.
Right now, my daughter is just over 2.5 years old and my son is just over 7 months old. In both cases, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring them with me to work a few times a week. With my daughter, I taught three classes a day with her strapped to my chest; with my son he spends once or twice a week being held or sleeping nearby as I fulfill my weird educator/social worker role.
My kids are a delight, and I am so very pleased that at least one of them is expressing interest in a lot of the same geeky things I enjoy. Which brings us full circle: this blog is about me, my wife, my kids, education, social justice, all things geek, and how they all fit together for us. We hope you’ll join us as we write about all of it.