I spoke to my dad before pitching this piece to Claire, Women Write About Comics’ Feature and Opinions Editor. I’m quite open with a lot of things on the internet and have written about a few personal issues before, usually under my real name. But, whenever it comes to discussing family, there is a hesitancy I don’t find with other topics.
All families have their own set of problems and that’s easy to forget when subconsciously comparing friends’ mums and dads to my own. When I write about something to do with them which has affected me in a less than positive way, it takes me out of the comfort zone of what I consider to be publishable. I love my family. I don’t say it often, but I do. I don’t want to criticise them for the past when I know they are good people, and care about me as much as I do them. Sometimes, though, having an outlet like writing is needed for me to come to terms with anything I struggle to voice. There’s only so much I can verbally say.
My dad was more than happy for me to write the essay when I spoke to him on the phone. I promised I wouldn’t make him out to be a monster (I have far too many floppy disks containing fictional stories where he plays that part). Since I started writing, he’s been supportive and always asks about it. Kind of like my number one fan, really. He encouraged me to write this piece which isn’t odd, now, but if you went back to a decade before, it would be.
I didn’t have a physically absent father growing up, at least at an age where I’d start to remember. He and my mum have been together for the majority of the time they’ve been married which is well over 20 years now. Most of my friend’s parents were divorced or had separated when I was younger. I, and about two other people I knew then, were an anomaly – our mums and dads were still married and together. I wasn’t fearful of the same thing happening to my mum and my dad. In fact, I wanted it to. Having a dad who lives in the same place as you doesn’t mean he is actually there. A lot of the people I knew when I was a kid, and now as an adult, never got an opportunity to experience a childhood where their dad was a presence in their lives – physically, emotionally, or both – and neither did I. He was an absent father in a lot of ways.
I wondered for a long time whether it was something I did to provoke him which triggered his distance. Or if he didn’t like me at all and wasn’t interested in getting to know me as a person, as his daughter? I know differently now, and can see how disappointed he is with himself that our relationship started off the way it did. Whatever emotional cycle he had to go through, I’m glad he did because he tried to change; to become less selfish. We became friends through something that still ties us together – comic books.
As a kid, I was a big comic reader. I regularly picked up The Simpsons’ comic spin-offs and loved Tintin among other series. I didn’t actually collect that much, or really have anything else that wasn’t picked up from Forbidden Planet on Free Comic Book Day, so the type of comics I read were limited. It was my dad who introduced me to the more ‘adult’ side of the medium. I can’t remember how the conversation went, or what was said for him to recommend that I try out Frank Miller’s Daredevil run, I just know when he did lend me his collection, I ploughed through them in a night’s sitting. I hadn’t experienced anything like it before. I was scared shitless of Bullseye, and (for a kid who grew up on films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween) it was hard for me to admit a comic book version of Odd Job freaked me out. I cried when Elektra died in issue 181, tears smudging the yellowed pages. I was an emotional mess.
The weirdest thing happened after that – Dad and I became friends. Finding a common interest opened up a floodgate of conversations about comics. For the first time ever, we weren’t just being civil for the sake of it.
The next couple of years or so saw us spending an uncharacteristically large amount of time together. We went to comic conventions, regularly took trips to Forbidden Planet and Gosh!, and talked everything and anything about comics.
I didn’t have many friends then and those I did have weren’t really interested in anything I enjoyed. So, I’d settled with my dad’s friendship and that confused me somewhat. I enjoyed having him around and spending time with him, but an emotional distance was still lingering in our relationship. We could be friends and discuss things we both liked, that was fine. Talking about anything else? That was a complete no-go. The trust just wasn’t there.
When I was about 12 I started to get into manga and anime. I ran home every evening from school to boot up my old computer to watch newly released episodes of Naruto on Crunchyroll. I wore my Naruto headband in Hinata’s style when I went to school. At 13/14 I started to get into Shoujo anime like Ouran High School Club, Lovely Complex and Peach Girl, able to watch most of them at the time of airing. Manga quickly followed and I was reading translated weekly released pages of Bleach (praise the internet) and other series.
As I was searching for new anime to watch, I came across a show called Nana. It was on some dodgy anime site I can’t remember, with a topline description of the show about two young women who meet on a train going to Tokyo, are both called Nana, and have crazy adventures together. I liked the art (there was only one still of Nana on the page) and decided to search for it online. I had no clue how much it would change how I thought about so many things and, most importantly, the effect it would have on the relationship I had with my dad.
I managed to catch it while it was still airing, in between the shows I was already watching. I instantly fell in love with everything about it. The characters, the art style, the humour – this was my show. I felt like it was made for me.
You know how I said I was an emotional mess reading Daredevil #181? It was nothing compared to watching Nana. By time the series hit a midway mark, every single episode that followed had me bawling my eyes out. I really wasn’t prepared for the devastation of the manga. And I felt alone in my love for it.
I met one of my best friends at the time via an MCM Expo forum where we arranged online to meet up at the next convention. She was also into Nana, and I remember us fighting over who got a £2 poster of Reira and Takumi and freaking out when we saw a Nana and Shin cosplay couple at our first expo together.
Though it was nice to finally be able to talk to someone about the series, at this point I was buying and reading the manga, too. I had become so engrossed in the world that writer and artist Ai Yazawa created, it became something more to me than ‘just a manga’ or ‘just a show’. I didn’t think I would share those feelings with anyone else.
One night my dad and I had compiled our favourite comic book lists, and I had Nana on mine. I told him a bit about it (he had bought a volume for me before), not expecting that he would actually enjoy it, let alone read it. He’d already had manga like Lone Wolf and Cub under his belt, but this was Nana which was a whole different beast; not something directed at middle-aged men. They couldn’t be anymore different. Up until this point, he had been the one to suggest things to me rather than the other way round. Nana was the first thing that I’d recommended to him, and his reaction made me anxious.
Did I expect him to read it? Not really. Our relationship barely bridged that of a father and daughter, no matter how much time we spent together. I was happy that we had something, but it was only a friendship. We were talking about comics because they were things he was interested in as well as I – not something that I liked or found.
I wanted him to validate my feelings about things I loved. I’d never gotten his approval about anything and I craved so much attention from him. That’s probably why I was content with spending time with him in whatever way. I may not have been close to him growing up, but I wanted a dad. Deep down, I know I did. Nana was what I’d gravitated towards to get that validation.
So, I lent him my collection like he had with his Daredevil issues years ago. I was nervous. Would he like it? Would it just be some ‘dumb’ thing that his daughter was into that he’d never understand? I had such a connection with Nana that if he didn’t like it, it would probably have felt like a personal attack.
After he finished reading some of the volumes, he asked to speak to me about it. This was our first ‘Nana chat’. He had no reason to bullshit when he said he liked it. I’d spend years seeing him feign interest in anything to do with me or my brother that it was easy enough for me to know when he was being genuine. He wasn’t aware of how much I loved the series either, which was a conscious decision on my part. We spent hours talking about Nana and Hachi’s friendship, how much we hated Takumi and the genius of Ai Yazawa. Because he spared no time for me when I was younger, I assumed then that he just didn’t care; that he wasn’t connected to anything emotionally. When he talked about Nana, I knew that wasn’t true. It showed me a different side to him than I’d seen before; a sensitive one. He got me, I got him.
What Nana did that Frank Miller’s Daredevil run and other comics couldn’t was what I really wanted – to have a relationship with my father, for him to be more of a dad than a friend. Conversations we had after that first one didn’t just revolve around things that he enjoyed. He wanted to learn more about me and what I was interested in. Off the back of the emotional ride of Nana, it urged him to be more open with his feelings, to understand how growing up without his love or attention felt. Though it is still a difficult topic to bring up, he knows where he fucked up and admits it. That’s all I can ask for.
From time to time I’ll bring Nana up, keeping him in the loop with Yazawa’s condition (back in 2009 she was taken to hospital and hasn’t continued the manga since). We’ll both speak about it affectionately and, for me, it serves as a reminder of the start of something special.
The most important thing I got out of it? I found not just a friend, but a dad — my dad.