Apparently, a new season of the BBC’s classic sci-fi series, “Dr. Who,” is about to begin here in the former colonies, which has prompted some people to reflect on how the 50-year-old show, about a time-traveling do-gooder with a funny accent and slightly funnier outfits, is an excellent source of parenting wisdom. And they’re right! So right, in fact, that I’ve compiled my own list of dadding lessons learned from watching the TARDIS whine in and out of existence:
1. You can disappear for years at a stretch, and yet your kids will still adore you. No, I’m not referring to the Doctor’s penchant for bouncing into and out of his companions’ lives at odd moments. Actually, I’m talking about the way the series barely made it to the age of 50: Beginning in the mid-80s, its existence was threatened, and it went entirely off the air for years at a time, returning occasionally for a season or three with a new Doctor before once again failing to find a broad audience and going dark. And yet Dr. Who fans STILL clamored for it, their ardor only growing with the show’s prolonged absence. And when it returned: joy beyond all reasonable measure! So that’s the approach I take to my kids. I leave when I feel like it, knowing that when—if—I return, they’ll be as desperate as ever for my love and attention.
2. Kids will believe anything. If there’s one thing Dr. Who is known for, it’s execrable dialogue and even worse special effects. Easy example: For the show’s entire run, the most evil bad guys of all were the Daleks, who trundled around on roller balls, unable to climb stairs, and were usually limited to the singularly idiotic spoken line: “Ex-ter-min-ate!” And yet I fucking loved that show, and even now, despite my overt knowledge of its shoddiness, tune in to catch new episodes. And so, once again, I’m taking this approach to child-rearing: I tell my kids whatever flits through my brain, no matter how unbelievable, knowing that the little creatures are so credulous they’ll eat it all up. Remember, I’ve just returned from months or years away, and they want my attention, so their defenses are down—I might well have been piloting my spaceship through the galaxy in the company of unicorn princesses.
3. A silly outfit makes everything okay. Of course, for these tactics to work, you have to emulate the Doctor down to his wardrobe, which can be anything from Edwardian to cricket-ready to 21st-century hipster formal. This gives the Doctor a playful, almost harmless aspect, when in fact his arrival usually signals the imminent near-destruction of the planet Earth, and the upending of his companions’ lives. But hey, he’s got a long, silly scarf! And a robot dog! And expertly tousled hair! How much chaos can he—or I—really wreak? (Answer: As much as you’ll let me!)
So there you have it: a primer on parenting based on the adventures of a guy who’s lived 900-some years without ever settling down, acquiring health insurance (what’s the deductible on regeneration?), and time-traveling all the way back to 4:35 a.m. in order to be first on line to register a kid for Universal Pre-K. Trust me, this stuff totally works—at least until the network executives (a.k.a. your wife) cancel the season and the kids all yell, “Exterminate!” After that, you might as well go live at Comic-Con.