– C. S. Lewis
My daughter calls the little plastic soldiers I build, paint and collect “man dollies.”
It’s not unusual for me to hear something like: “Dad, if you leave your man dollies on the edge of the desk, Indy (her cat) is going to knock them off and you’re going to be mad.”
Or maybe: “Dad, Hudson (her 3-year-old cousin) is coming to visit this weekend, pick up your man dollies or he’s going to smash them.”
I’ve been collecting and war gaming with figures from Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 since the very, very, very early 1980’s. I shudder to think how many hours I’ve spent painting the little men and monsters and pushing them around gaming tables all around the South.
When my daughter was born, I decided it was time to be more grown up, and that I had no more time for toys, so I sold off a lot of my little men, whole armies worth of painted plastic and metal, to pay for things like doctor’s bills and diapers. I did the same thing with my armor and swords and shields I had gathered for just about as long as part of the reenactment group, The Society for Creative Anachronism.
Shedding this stuff seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It was the logical and practical decision to make. It was time to be a grown up.
The money was welcome and I figured I had outgrown such things. I was a dad now. No time for kids stuff, no matter how much I enjoyed it or how much it made me who I was and am. I was busy and stressed and I had this father stuff to figure out.
My wife had never expected me to get rid of my stuff or my hobbies. She knew full well she was getting a nerd when she said “I do.” She’s never tried to change me or unmake me. It wasn’t like she invited me to hang swords from the living room wall or anything, but she gets me.
I can still recall a Warhammer tournament I played in here in Fayetteville when Shan and I were still courting. There I was, pushing around an army of painstakingly painted Wood Elves in a room filled with at least 60 like-minded guys, you know, giant nerds long before there was any cache in the moniker.
In walks Shan and every eye turns toward her. She meanders over, hands me a milkshake, asks me how my games are going, smiles at all my fellow war-gaming companions, gives me a quick kiss and walks back out.
I don’t think any conversation restarted until she left the room. It was amazing. It was like a commercial for financial services, you know those old “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”? I could lose every game that day or until the oceans boiled. I was dating her. I had won. I was Leonard Hofstadter of Big Bang Theory fame and Shan was my Penny long before the idea was ever pitched over a Hollywood lunch.
So, you see, I was never pressured, but I opted to put that stuff aside. Fatherhood and being a husband were important duties. No time for elves, or knights or Space Marines, or Orks. I had to be serious and responsible.
To be honest, it didn’t last that long. By the time my daughter was toddling around I was restless.
When she was age 2 or 3 I had found SCA fencers in Fort Smith and I began to buy gear again and before we knew it we were going down on weekends so I could sword fight. Then, there was a shift back to armored fighting, so there were helms to be purchased and traded, armor to be researched and discarded for new gear. In between SCA lulls, I went back to role-playing games like Champions and Dungeons and Dragons. Of course, there was the inevitable return to the little plastic men, the man dollies of my daughter’s endless ribbing.
Would my daughter be in her room right now wearing her S.T.A.R. Labs t-shirt, working on her art with a cat snoozing at her feet? Would my wife and I share television shows like Arrow or The Walking Dead? Would I have reconnected with the son of one of my good friends after the young man showed an interest in Warhammer, pushing around a horde of Space Orks no less? Almost my entire circle of male friends that I met through gaming or the SCA — or both — would be nearly non-existent.
Granted, if you go into my bedroom closet right now you’ll see a lot of SCA armor collecting dust. I’ve not been in armor for well over a year. But you’ll also see a shining helm with a mail drape in a place of honor.
Even now, every once in a while, I think about selling it.
It’s just sitting there right? It’s really just an expensive, gleaming toy. What are the chances I’ll ever put it on again and sweat and struggle and swing a rattan sword like I did in the good old days?
Then I come to my senses. It’s not childish to love honor, courage, romance, or silly plastic toys and the odd hunks of metal that remind me such things still exist in this world.
I take the helm down and make sure there’ s no rust. I pull its weight down on my head and glare through the eye slots and I can hear the sound of shield walls colliding. I remember my daughter telling me the helmet’s bulbous nasal makes me look like Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants and grin.
I pull the helm off and place it back on the shelf and shift it so it faces just the right way. Then I go to find Shan. She always likes the way I look with helmet-hair.