When parents and kids share pop-culture passions

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent
Clinton Reno and son Wyatt.

It was the year 2000, just after Lego began releasing Star Wars-themed sets. Visual artist and designer Clinton Reno was still a kid-less bachelor, but the nostalgic pull of Lego and Star Wars was irresistible, so he bought and assembled several sets. After marrying and moving, Reno boxed up the bricks and jettisoned them to the attic, where they collected dust for years.

Two years ago Reno's oldest son, Wyatt, then 4, began showing an interest in Legos, so Reno dug out the Star Wars sets and thus began the sharing of a Lego passion that shows no signs of waning.

"Now he has way more than I ever did," Reno said. "There are times when, for my birthday or Father's Day, he'll get me sets so we can put them together."

Kids are always looking for ways to fit in, said Kevin Arnold, a psychologist and director of the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy in Columbus. One way they do that is to model behavior, particularly from someone they identify with, such as a parent. Sharing a pop-culture interest is a natural way for children to connect with their parents, and vice versa.

"From the parent's perspective, it's bonding and, from the kid's perspective, it's attachment," Arnold said. "The content is really like a stage on which the attachment process - you could call it love - plays out. It rekindles the parent's old emotions and sense of excitement and then the kid identifies with that, and it feeds their sense of being connected to the parent in addition to being excited about the material itself."

Wyatt's explanation for why he enjoys building Lego sets with his dad is simple. "I just like playing up there with him," he said, sitting in the downstairs living room of his family's Harrison West home.

"We've got a big table [upstairs]," Reno said. "We'll just be up there - not necessarily building the same things, but we're up there playing Legos together. … I think at the heart of it, I enjoy being not much of an adult."

"It's important to remember a kid can't be like a grown-up, but the grown-up can go back and behave in ways they did as a kid," Arnold said. "It forms a real possibility for the kid and the parent to connect."

Once kids reach a certain age, television is another natural way for them to co-opt a parent's interest. Wendy Weyer, who recently moved from Clintonville, remembered watching reruns of Dr. Who with her father in the late '70s: "We would watch with him just to spend time together. I think that's part of the reason I like that genre. For me, it was a natural thing to experience it with my kids."

Dr. Who became a multigenerational interest about two years ago when Weyer's oldest son, Colin, then 9, sidled up next to his mom as she watched an episode of the revamped BBC series about a time-traveling humanoid alien from the planet Gallifrey.

"I thought it was interesting," Colin said. "It's awesome to see people taking reality and making it fiction. Like, if you were walking around in public, you see a police call box, but you would just think it's a call box. But in Dr. Who reality, it's the time machine."

For a while it was a weekly tradition for Weyer and Colin to DVR the episodes and watch together but, after the Weyers cut the cable cord, Colin jumped ahead of his mom, watching episodes through Netflix on his iPad. Now Colin is the one educating Mom about Dr. Who. He has a Dr. Who-themed shirt and other fan paraphernalia with phrases such as "Don't blink" - something only self-described "Whovians" would understand.

Recently, Weyer and Colin found a new show to obsess over together: Lost. Weyer has already watched the series, but Colin is just now diving in. They often make popcorn together before settling in to watch.

For an 11-year-old, Lost can get pretty intense and that intensity, Arnold said, "provides a connection point to the notion of providing safety and trust - that nothing bad is going to happen. You can talk about how it's not real."

"What I like about watching Lost with my mom is I just feel comfortable and safe," Colin said.

Ben French's stepson, Noah, went through an Arnold Schwarzenegger phase, which led to an obsession with the 1987 cult classic Predator. When he was 8, Noah dressed as the Predator for Halloween, and French scoured eBay to find action figures from the '80s. "He would claim to see Predator while we were camping," French said.

French and Noah, now 12, have also used figurines to make stop-action movies. But for Predator, French had a better idea: "Let's go make our own movie," he said.

So French and Noah's mom, Kitty McConnell, grabbed a camera and took Noah to Highbanks Metro Park, where they found an area devoid of passersby near the creek. Noah, decked out in camo fatigues, played Arnold's role, and French put on a Predator-like mask as they tromped through the woods. The resulting footage, which French intercut with scenes from the actual movie to make Noah vs. Predator, is priceless (check it out below).

"Well, I have no idea what this is, but it looks like I've seen it before," Noah said in the home movie, scanning the woods dramatically. "Looks like these things are dang tough."

Music is a constant in the home of Colin Gawel, singer and guitarist in longtime local rock band Watershed. When his son Owen was 3, Gawel was watching The Kids are Alright, a rock documentary about The Who and, at one point, he left the room. When he came back in, Owen was smashing his toy guitar on the ground a la Pete Townshend.

Now a fifth-grader, Owen is old enough to jam with his dad on drums and guitar, and they go to concerts together a few times a year. The most memorable show happened two years ago when Owen was 8. Through a friend of a friend and some genial crew members, Gawel and Owen got to go backstage at a Cheap Trick/Aerosmith show. They met Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen and watched Aerosmith perform from the side of the stage.

"One day, when you're really mad at me," Gawel told Owen, "I want you to remember this night."

For Owen's end-of-the-year project to close out fourth grade, he put together a huge poster-board display explaining the British invasion.

"He really knows it. He knows how music works," Gawel said. "He knows how Chuck Berry influenced the Beatles, how Kiss liked the Beatles. He's putting it together."