This is a free edition of Humans Being, a newsletter that unearths deeper meanings in pop culture.
When I was younger, I didn’t want to have kids. As a teenager in the ’90s and early aughts, I was raised with a deep fear of teenage pregnancy. I remember teen-pregnancy-prevention campaigns and abstinence-only sex education. Being a teen parent was akin to other stigmas during the years of my youth, the ultimate signs of moral shortcoming and failure at life: being a high-school dropout, having an addiction, “flipping burgers.”
The fear of becoming a too-young parent carried into my 20s. When my brother got his girlfriend pregnant at 25, we discussed it in hushed tones, like it was a terrible secret. We didn’t exactly say that he’d messed up and ruined his life, but we didn’t have to. The message was in the pauses:
“Man …” I said.
“I know …” he said.
“Shit, man …”
I was so scared of becoming a too-young parent that it wasn’t until my early 30s that I realized I wasn’t “too young.” It sounds silly, but it was an epiphany to realize that I couldn’t be a teen parent anymore—that is, a disappointment and societal failure—and that there wouldn’t be a stigma around getting someone pregnant. There wouldn’t be a scary conversation with my parents or hushed, gossipy tones. I wouldn’t fail at life or “become a statistic.” It wouldn’t be too early for me to have kids; it would actually be … late? I was so terrified of having kids too young that I didn’t realize I actually wanted them. Now I realize that I want kids and would take pride in being a great dad.
Sometimes my mind spirals through the questions and doubts about waiting to become a parent. Will I be an “old” dad? Will I have kids at all? Can I afford adoption? Do I have to find a partner? Should I have stayed in that relationship? Should I adopt alone? I have conversations with friends in the same predicament, like these texts with a wonderful and successful friend of mine:
“I’ve just resigned myself to being a career person who lives alone,” she said. “I was hoping to [have kids]. It’s pretty much too late at this point.”
“Sometimes I’m just hoping for an accidental pregnancy and then I can just roll with it,” I said. “And hope that it’s not with someone I hate.”
“I've been hoping for that for years,” she said.
Our texts remind me of the intro of the 2006 movie Idiocracy, where an overly thoughtful couple waits and waits for the perfect time to have kids—until it’s too late. It’s a cliché, and I find it embarrassing, but I consider it common among some of my friends: Capable, loving people who want to have kids are so thoughtful that they convince themselves that it’s never the right time to be a parent.
On Wednesday, the video game God of War: Ragnarok came out. It’s all I want to talk about lately, partly because the God of War series is one of my favorite video-game franchises of all time, but also because it reintroduces my favorite fictional new parent. I was in college when the original God of War trilogy was released on PlayStation, and I spent countless hours playing as the demigod Kratos, battling his way through mythological legends. When the series came back in 2018, Kratos was an older, bearded curmudgeon and … a dad. An old dad. Like, 1,000-plus years old.
At its core, God of War is about Kratos’s evolution as a dad. He began as a calloused, emotionally distant father who only valued teaching strength and survival to his young whelp of a child, Atreus. At the beginning of the game, Atreus is weak and timid, and hardly seems like the heir to the God of War. Kratos is cold to his son, calling him “boy” instead of using his name. (Please enjoy this montage of each occurrence.) As Kratos continues his journey with Atreus, however, he softens, while Atreus hardens. As you can probably guess, Kratos eventually comes to call Atreus “son.”
And Atreus becomes incredible.
I don’t have the words to describe how awesome Atreus becomes or the fatherly pride that came with raising a fake son in a video game. The best I can offer is this clip from the final boss fight in God of War, where my favorite Twitch streamer and her husband root for Atreus as he helps his dad. I’ve watched it a thousand times. I’ve laughed at it. I’ve teared up.
“Come on, Atreus! Come on, come on, come on.”
“Oh my god, this fucking kid! This kid!”
It’s art, and it belongs in the Louvre.
The newly released sequel, God of War: Ragnarok, continues the story of a softer Kratos and an older, harder Atreus. Eventually—hopefully—the two will meet in the middle.
Watching Kratos as an old dad makes me less worried about waiting to have kids. And watching my brother grow into his role as a dad makes me wonder what all that fear was about in the first place. After my brother got his girlfriend pregnant, they got married, and 15 years later, they’re still my favorite couple. My brother wasn’t a failure, and he didn’t ruin his life. He became a great dad, and his twins are my favorite kids in the world. Those “kids” are somehow 15 years old now—old enough to make concerned jokes about when I might have kids myself.
“When are you having kids, uncle?” one of them asked when we were playing video games together.
“We just want you to be happy,” the other added. (If I didn’t want kids, I would have a speech ready about how people shouldn’t be defined by becoming parents … but I do want kids, so when they called me a “late bloomer,” I called them assholes.)
I don’t know if I’ll ever raise kids, or when. But I love my nephews, and I’m a pretty fun uncle. If Kratos is the closest I ever get to being a cool older dad, at least it’ll be one hell of an adventure raising my fake son.
This fucking kid. This kid.
Thank you to everyone who responded to my last Humans Being, about how it’s a rough time to be a new Marvel fan. My favorite response came from Zoe, who wrote:
I dabbled in the Marvel world in my teenage years, but as a girl sadly the interest was never fostered in my household. Now, as I near my 30s and with the pandemic exposing a heightened need to escape to meaningful, analogous worlds, I have been going deeper—and I agree that the comics are relatively inaccessible if you’re not willing to get “obsessed.” I’ve managed to pick up a few volumes from Ms. Marvel and Wakanda that have been somewhat confined and accessible, and I am on top of the MCU, which helps keep some threads together, but I certainly feel more like an outsider the deeper I go, realizing how few references I understand and how little I know.
Speaking of Wakanda, the Black Panther sequel Wakanda Forever is out this weekend, and I expect it to be amazing no matter how little someone might know about the MCU. I’ll take some comfort in that.
This week’s book giveaway is Wolverine: Old Man Logan, by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. Lately, I just want to be an old badass with a beard. Just send me an email telling me a time you felt super proud of a kid, and I’ll send the book to a random person who hits my inbox. And this one’s not for free, but if you want to read my memoir, Piccolo Is Black: A Memoir of Race, Religion, and Pop Culture, I’d love that too. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @JordanMCalhoun—but on second thought, maybe I should restart my Tumblr.