I started reading Calvin and Hobbes about halfway through its run, when I was in junior high. Adolescent me immediately identified with six-year-old Calvin: narcissistic, nihilistic, and with a burgeoning taste for hedonism.
However, as I started approaching thirty, I found Calvin becoming more of an alien, a foreign soul more like the kids I was working with than the father and public servant I saw in the mirror. But this comic strip wasn’t done speaking to me yet: these days, I now see myself reflected in the character of Calvin’s dad.
Calvin’s dad is a harried professional who’s vaguely disappointed by the modern world; one whose dour cynicism seems rooted in unfulfilled ideals. He confronts materialism with sarcasm, laments his son’s solipsism with a passive, sardonic wit, and often seeks escape from it all through torturous routines of self improvement involving art, literature, and nature. At one point, he even directly quotes Thoreau’s Walden.
Not to paint too grim a figure of him, though. He’s a devoted father who always tries to enjoy and guide his son, and his marriage is clearly a source of constant contentment. However, those strips are rarely as funny as the bitter ones, so they’re not celebrated here.
Here are seven perfect examples of Calvin’s dad in action; the first four from Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat, the other three (with the artist’s illuminating commentary) from The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book.
I remember attending a department meeting my second year of teaching where several of the veterans complained about the ignorance and laziness of their students. I went home discouraged, not about students, but about my colleagues. Why are they teaching, I thought, if they hate it so much?
A decade later, I understand. Those teachers weren’t complaining because they hated kids and didn’t care; they were frustrated because they cared deeply, and their lack of success was disappointing. You only get frustrated about things you care about. We know what our students are capable of and how important education is, and young people’s lack of achievement is sad because we want more for them. The teachers you should worry about are the ones who never feel bad.
Thus, the comment below this cartoon, from The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, resonates with me, especially the last line. Amen, as always.