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Father’s Day Gifts for Nerdy Dads
Last year I posted a list of Father’s Day gift ideas. Turns out most of the folks who found it were looking for gift ideas for nerdy dads. Well, folks, here’s a new list, targeted to your needs.
At one time or another, everyone thinks their dad is the least cool person they’ve ever known. This period generally lasts from about age ten to somewhere in the neighborhood of nineteen. But some dads are genuine nerds, and not just in the eyes of their easy-to-embarrass offspring. The general population will meet these well-meaning, generally nice guys and, after a few minutes of conversation, say, “Wow, what a nerd!” Note that the general population can’t tell by looking; nerdity is not defined by general appearance*. There are plenty of nerds who look like cool people on the outside. True nerdity is not superficial; it’s something that you either have or you don’t. As such, nerds can be difficult for non-nerds to understand, and it can be a bit challenging for non-nerds to find a gift that their favorite nerd will truly appreciate. As a public service, therefore, I, a self-confessed and unrepentant nerd, offer the following for your consideration: a series of gift suggestions for your favorite nerdy dad. Like a nerd, I’ve broken the list down into subcategories of nerdity, with further subdivisions according to type (material vs experiential). I thought about including other stats, like hit points or challenge rating, but even my nerdity has its limits.
*wardrobe choices notwithstanding
The Sci Fi Geek
Scifi geeks tend to subdivide into mini-nerd herds. For example, there’s the Star Wars fan, the Trekker, the Browncoat, and many many others. Here are some ideas for your favorite SciFi geek dad.
The Star Wars Fan
If your dad loves Star Wars, you’ll probably certainly know about it. One of the clues will be that he still has his old Star Wars action figures, trading cards, and other memorabilia from back in the day. Another of the clues might be that one of your earliest memories is watching A New Hope on VHS with the worn-tape-smear across the top of the screen, because Han shot first, dammit. The problem with the Star Wars fan dad is that he probably already has everything Star Wars-related that could possibly exist, right? Nope. There’s more.
Okay, Lightsabers. It’s a gimme, I know. Every Star Wars fan either wants or already has his own lightsaber. If your dad already has a lightsaber, though, it’s probably one of these:
If you want your lightsaber gift to have practical as well as aesthetic value, you might consider these for your Obi-Wannabe dad, especially if he also likes Chinese take-away.
If you want to get him something really special, something nobody else has, something that will be uniquely his, you need to either make it yourself, or hire a professional. You can create your own lightsaber with plumbing supplies and a bit of creativity. Many online tutorials are available if you want to go that route. Or you can get your supplies from the Custom Saber Shop. They’ve got every component you could possibly need, as well as suggestions and tutorials for getting you started. You could order the bits and build it for your dad, or you could just give him a box of bits and a print-out of one of the tutorials, if he’s the model building type.
If you’re not the DIY type, you’ll want to visit Parks Sabers. They do custom work; you need to do a sketch and send it to them for a quote. This is not going to be an inexpensive gift. Parks also sells kits and accessories, so if your dad already owns a lightsaber, you can get an authentic belt for him to hang it on.
If Dad already has a lightsaber, you might want something more unusual, like The Jedi Path: a Manual for Students of the Force (Vault Edition). It’s pretty expensive for a book, and a lot of the expense goes toward the ultra-cool vault that the book comes in. If I don’t get one this year, I may order it for myself….
For completeness sake, you could get Dad the blu-ray edition of the Star Wars Saga. Though depending on your dad's style, he may object to Greedo shooting first (and embarrassingly badly) in EpIV, the appearance of midichlorians and JarJar in EpI, and perhaps the very existence of the prequel trilogy. But the BluRay extras included in this ultimate (I hope) collector's edition will make up for the annoying junk. Give this to you dad, and the Force will be with you. Always.
If you’re more interested in Star Wars experiences than Star Wars stuff, you might like Star Wars in Concert. At the moment, though, it looks like the only dads who will be able to enjoy this will be those in the LA area. And it’ll be an early gift; the only concerts left this year seem to be on June 3rd and 4th, at the Hollywood Bowl.
If you’re on the other coast, you could sign your dad up for a few lessons with the New York Jedi. The founder is a martial artist and stage combat coordinator who saw the cool lightsaber battles and thought, “Hey, I bet people would like to learn how to do that!” After watching the movies over and over again in super-slo-mo, he figured out which moves real people could manage in the real world, and put together a training program.
Okay, you non-nerds out there will need to understand that there’s a universe of difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. Star Wars has the Empire and the Rebellion; Star Trek has the Federation and the Klingons (and later, the Borg, the Cardassians, the Q continuum, and so on). Star Wars has lightsabers and blasters; Star Trek has bat’leths and phasers. Star Wars has the Force; Star Trek has the Vulcan mind-meld. Big difference, but for some reason, the Star Wars movies come up when you do a search for Star Trek on Amazon. Go figure.
But if your dad’s a Trekker (apparently they don’t like to be called Trekkies anymore), he can be hard to shop for. He probably has a preference for the Original Series, or NextGen, or DS9, or Enterprise. He might like the red jackets of the Original Cast’s movies and not the NextGen jumpsuits (or vice versa). Take a look in his collection of books and videos (and toys, 'cos let’s face it, if he’s a nerd, he’s got some) to see what he already has and what part of Trek he prefers, and go from there.
If your dad is old-school, he'll want to have the Original Series version of the phaser and communicator. If he's more into NextGen or the reboot movie, replicas of the new versions are also available.
Star Trek has a history of predicting future technology, and Trekkers like hard science. Michio Kaku is a trekker and a physicist. This book and your Trekker dad? A match made in the heavens.
It is illogical for an adult to play with Action Figures, but who cares? You can get a Spock, an Old Spock, a NextGen Spock, an Older Spock, a reboot Spock, or whatever. The text of the link notwithstanding, I would not classify this figure as "original" Spock, but rather, "Old Spock." Original Spock would be Leonard Nimoy with dark hair in a blue pullover.
Alas, the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas has apparently closed down. But there is still Star Trek: The Exhibition, a travelling science exhibit that showcases the material culture of the Star Trek series in all of its incarnations from Kirk and Spock to, well, New Kirk and New Spock. Tickets are available online, but unless you’re going to be in Babelsberg, Germany between now and Halloween, 2011, this won’t do you much good. I include it here mostly for our Trekker freunden in Germany.
The lack of Star Trek themed restaurants and museum exhibits needn’t stop you from giving your nerdy dad a Star Trek experience. You can buy him a membership to a nearby Star Trek Convention. They’re all over the place, all the time. A really big one is happening this summer in Las Vegas. If you can’t find a Star Trek-specific one, just look for a nearby science fiction convention. There will be Trek stuff galore there.
Dad don’t care, he’s still free. You can’t take the sky from…him. Okay, it don’t rhyme, but it don’t gotta. Ain't much call for fancified word-smithin' out in the black. You sail on a firefly, it’ll get you where you’re going an’ then some. Long’s your compression coil don’t quit, that is.
Firefly fans are a small but passionate subgroup of Science Fiction fandom. Their defining characteristic seems to be a certain idealistic pragmatism, which sounds contradictory, but really, it’s not. Well, yeah, it kind of is. Best not think about it too much. Here’s some stuff that’ll make your old man smile.
This Browncoat insignia will let everyone know that while dad may have been on the losing side, he ain't convinced it was the wrong one.
This here'll help your browncoat dad find his way around the 'verse.
And when you're out in the black, with no Alliance t' speak of, ain't nothin' between a dad and them as'd do him harm besides his own self and his sidearm. This one looks a lot like Jayne Cobb's trusty shootin' iron, which in turn reminds a body of the LeMat revolver of Earth that Was.
The resin replica above is already tricked out for spacing, and is much less expensive than a working reproduction of a LeMat.
Here’s the test. Go over to your dad and ask him to complete the following: “Three rings for elven kings under the sky…” If he answers: “Seven for dwarf lords, in their halls of stone,” then he’s a fantasy nerd. He probably already owns the Lord of the Rings trilogy on both paper and DVD, and is making time to watch HBO’s Game of Thrones series.
“Look, everybody: the Dungeons and Dragons ride!”
Okay, the Dungeons and Dragons animated series isn’t what you’d call good TV. It’s really not. It’s fluffy Saturday morning fare with transparent, predictable storylines. But chances are, if your fantasy nerd dad is of a certain age, he watched it in his jammies when he was a kid. He’ll enjoy watching it with you while you both roll you eyes and make MST3K*-style jokes at the series’ expense.
*If you don't know what MST3K is, don't worry. Your dad will.
Here’s Ralph Bakshi’s movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings.
Many people are unaware of this film’s existence. It was pretty effectively overshadowed by another film franchise that hit the theaters at about the same time. (What was it called? Had something to do with laser swords and robots...) This is unfortunate. Ralph’s trademark animation style (which makes heavy use of rotoscoping) was pretty cutting-edge at the time, and can also be seen in his cult classic Wizards. Alas, Ralph seems to have run out of time or money or both, and had to end his film (very unsatisfyingly) just after the battle of Helm’s Deep. Dad will appreciate this obscure bit of Tolkien cinema.
Here's another hard-to-find Lord of the Rings animated feature:
The Rankin-Bass adaptation ofReturnoftheKingsuffers from the omission of Legolas and Gimli and the inclusion of a musical number in which Orcs sing and dance, but is (sort of) redeemed by the fact that it includes the entirety of Eowyn’s dialogue with the Witch King of Angmar (which the NewLine films reduce to the anticlimactic, “I am no man. Aaaaaa.”).
Fantasy nerds generally also like the feel of a good, solid, hardcover book. If said book tells the story of a Hobbit’s Holiday, so much the better.
The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began....
This edition of Lord of the Rings feels great in your hands when you read it aloud to your kids (this is experience talking). It is designed to look like the fabled Red Book of Westmarch, which your fantasy nerd dad will appreciate.
From "Concerning Hobbits" to "Well, I'm back," and beyond.
If your dad is more of a new-school LotR fan, and especially if he saw the movies before reading the books, he might appreciate something a little more physical and less sedentary. Viggo Mortensen of Aragorn fame learned swordsmanship for the films, and according to the films' swordmaster, was an apt student of the blade. If your dad is the sort of fellow who enjoys moving around, he might enjoy having something like this.
He can use it to learn to fight like Strider.
No, really: you can send your dad to learn to fight like Strider. Eastern martial art schools are a dime a dozen. No slam on the Eastern martial arts; they’re great, and I’ve studied a couple of them myself in my day. But teachers are astonishingly easy to find, and they don’t teach you to use a broadsword. There are, however, a few Western martial arts schools around, and if you want to be able to learn practical orc-slaying, this is where you need to go. The techniques they teach are practical, efficient, and deadly. This isn’t stage combat but a real martial art; it just uses a broadsword instead of a katana. In the Midwest of the United States, you can’t do much better than Aegis Consulting, where you can learn not only practical swordsmanship but also outdoorsmanship. Yes, Dad can learn to be Strider. You can get him a single class, a monthly membership, or a week at Sword Camp, depending on your budget.
Outside the Midwest, you might be able to find a practical medieval sword experience via ARMA.
Be warned, though: if you send your fantasy nerd dad to one of these experiences, he may morph into and slightly different and more specialized kind of nerd—a sword nerd. These guys are really hard to buy for.
Comic Book Nerd
There’s a lot of crossover between this sub-nerdery and fantasy, Star Wars, and Star Trek. There have been comic adaptations of pretty much everything that’s ever been popular enough to have a fan base. But for our purposes, I’m thinking about super-heroes. Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, that kind of thing.
Dad’s your hero, right? Super heroes need capes, right? Here you go.
Edna Mode insists that capes are a bad idea, but a spandex jumpsuit on most middle-aged men is a worse idea.
Or maybe you want to be a little more subtle. Fair enough; a superhero cape is pretty much a magnet for villainy. You could go with something a little more understated, like this utility belt.
Yes, back in the day Batman wore a bright yellow one, but the new, gritty Batman is a lot darker. Bright yellow isn't really his color; it stands out too much. This dull yellow utility belt is a lot more practical anyway.
Or maybe Batman isn't your dad's thing, and he appreciates something with a little bling. He'll enjoy rocking this bit of Green Lantern memorabilia.
Hal Jordan will turn...well, you know.
Of course, if your dad is more into the Marvel universe, he might appreciate the next two items a little more.
With this, a nice suit, and a lot of bluster, your dad can pass himself off as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative.
Add this patch to the shoulder of a blue windbreaker and Dad can fight the supervillains in style. Or if elegance is required, it might make a nice blazer badge, too.
All of the “Be a Super Hero” experiences I could find were geared toward kindergarteners. But there’s one thing that most comic book nerds have always wanted to do, but have never done: make their own comic book. You can sign your dad up for a drawing class with a focus on comic book art. Look in your local Adult Education catalog for a class with a title like “Comic Book Creation.” Chances are it will run for multiple weeks and cost somewhere between $50 and $100 including materials.
If your dad isn’t interested in learning to draw, he’ll certainly be interested in meeting the folks who draw his favorite characters. Get him a membership to the local comic book convention. You can find one near you here. If you share dad’s love of comic books, go with him. Even if you don’t, it can be a path to understanding the ol’ guy a little better.
Last but not Least: The Gamer Geek
The wonderful thing about being a gamer geek is that no matter what else you’re interested in, someone somewhere has created a set of roleplaying rules for it. Also, roleplaying books fall under both the Material and the Experiential categories, because roleplaying is a fun experience. (Well, it is for nerds, anyway.) Here are the most popular rulesets for the various nerderies mentioned above.
Star Wars the Roleplaying Game
This is hard to find. There are other rulesets, including d-20, but West End’s rules and companion sourcebooks were the best. I still have all of mine.
Star Trek Roleplaying
Yes, there's a set of rules for exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going to the refrigerator for Mountain Dew. You can create new adventures set at any time in the TrekVerse, from Enterprise to Voyager and beyond.
Using this ruleset, dad can find himself a ship, hire himself a crew, and keep flying. The rules aren't the finest, in my opinion, so I'd mainly use it as a sourcebook and use a different ruleset, like, say, Steve Jackson's GURPS or Alderac's Roll-and-Keep.
This set, designed specifically so that dad can roleplay in Tolkein's Middle Earth, is called MERP, or Middle Earth Role Playing. It's basically a scaled down version of Iron Crown Enterprises' Rolemaster system, which is notorious for being meticulously detailed, but excruciatingly slow and clunky. On the upside, the source material associated with MERP is some of the finest ever published, complete with beautifully drawn large scale maps and vivid descriptions of buildings and characters. Sadly, MERP and its companion books are out of print, and copies in good condition sell for a pretty penny.
Dad can be faster than a speeding bullet, agile as a spider, impervious to fire, anything and everything his comic book heroes are. Like Rolemaster, the Champions rules can be slow and clunky at first. But once the players know them, the game moves along pretty quickly.
The best thing about giving your dad a roleplaying game book for Father's Day is that once you're a certain age (or if you already are), roleplaying is something that the two of you can do together. I've roleplayed with my own kids, and let me tell you, it's an experience no geek dad would want to pass up.
Live long and prosper, may the Force be with you, westu hal, and Happy Father's Day!