We’ve all dealt with loss before. Many of us have lost items that were either expensive or held some sort of sentimental value. Some of us have faced more difficult losses, like breaking up with a significant other, being fired from a job, or grieving the death of a beloved pet. Few of us have faced the most catastrophic loss of losing a parent. And while we’ve all experienced loss in some capacity, it never gets any easier, regardless of how many times we face it. Whether we see it coming or it catches us off guard and hits us in the face harder than a Mike Tyson haymaker, the hurt is all the same.
Three weeks ago I lost my father, the greatest man I ever knew. And while I’m devastated by his passing, I find peace knowing that I had an incredible relationship with him. I was fortunate to have a father that I shared common interests with. A father who not only wanted to spend time with me, but also listened to me when I spoke. A father who accepted my two brothers and me for who we are and was proud to call us his sons. I understand the bond I had with my father was rare, which is why I feel so lucky to have had it, yet, at the same time, angry that it was taken from me so prematurely.
Since his passing, the support I’ve received from family and friends has been astonishing. From fattening me up with delicious food to simply being present in my time of need, the people closest to me have done a great job not just telling, but showing me how much they care. If there’s anything this experience has taught me, it’s that I have some pretty amazing people in my life. That’s something I need to be thankful for. Something I can’t take for granted. The times when I’m alone are my lowest, so having this strong support system has been critical.
When he was still living, I would stop by my father’s condo every week to hang out. It was the highlight of my week. He’d make a feast and I’d devour it. Some sports game would be on in the background while we chatted about work, life, and anything else that would come up, including video games. At this point in my life, he wasn’t just my father, he was my best friend. I’d look forward to getting a call from him in the middle of the week to hear what would be on the menu for the upcoming weekend. He wasn’t one to show emotion very often, but he couldn’t hide the excitement in his voice as he broke down when and where he would get each ingredient. It’s something I’m going to miss terribly.
If it weren’t for my father, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. He taught me how to treat others with respect, how to be disciplined, how to work hard, and how live my life the way I want and not give a fuck what anyone else has to say. Without him, I wouldn’t have my love for sports and exercise. Likewise, I wouldn’t have my love for video games. That’s not to say that my father liked video games. In fact, he never played one as far as I know. But he knew they made me happy, and at the end of the day, that’s what mattered to him; that my brothers and I were happy.
Growing up, my dad was the one who would provide my brothers and me with an ample supply of video games. One of my earliest Christmas memories is from age 6 when he gifted us a brand new Nintendo 64. We were thrilled. Not to the same extent as the kids from the famous YouTube video, but still pretty stoked. With it came copies of Super Mario 64, Goldeneye, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. That kept us busy for quite some time, but once we were through with them, the infamous question started to be asked. “Hey dad. Can we rent a game tonight?” I don’t want to say that he hated it, but he definitely HATED it.
Pleading with him to drive me to the local video store (remember those things?) so I could rent a new game became a weekly occasion. It was also a struggle. Most of the time, he would initially shoot me down, but being the persistent little bastard I was, I would eventually get him to crack around the 100th attempt. He figured the $5 was worth it to get me to shut the hell up for the night. And he was right. That is until his sleep was interrupted by my nerd raging. Then the regret would kick in. However, the regret didn’t last long enough to stop him from going through the same thing the next weekend because he was a good father who wanted to see his sons happy.
When I’m by myself, it’s hard to take my mind off the sorrow. I thought writing would help, but I never seem to have the energy to do it as of late. In fact, this is the first thing I’ve written since he died. The only thing that seems to bring me any comfort when I’m by my lonesome is video games. It’s not as simple as being distracted by the immersion or the intense focus on overcoming a difficult challenge. Gaming does much more for me than that. It takes me back to those Saturday nights of my youth when I would sit cross legged in front of my dad’s T.V. and game until the wee hours of the morning.
At the time, my home life was pretty rough. I faced constant bullying from my brothers, which did some severe damage to my self-esteem. Dad was my hero, swooping me up in his Ford Taurus and whisking me away to place where I could play games and gorge myself with delicious snacks in peace. For one night of every week, I didn’t have to worry about being beaten up or insulted. It would just be me, dad, a frozen pizza, and whatever video game I was playing at the time. In the morning, I’d eat a nutritious breakfast of doughnuts and chocolate milk and we’d watch the Bears game before he took me home. These are some of the fondest memories of my childhood, and I’d give anything to go back to them.
I can still hear his voice in my head, commenting in awe about how realistic the latest sports video game I was playing looked. He didn’t hate on gaming like many parents do. It intrigued him, and since I was interested in it, he was interested in learning more about it. Even recently he’d ask me about games he’d see trailers for on television. As a huge fan of westerns, his eye was most recently caught by Red Dead Redemption 2. I wish I would have shown it to him when I had the chance. The gorgeous Old West open world. The realistic, adrenaline-pumping shootouts. The graceful galloping animations of the masterfully designed horses. He would’ve been impressed. Hell, he may have even shocked me and tried playing it.
During this time of grief, there have been a few games that I’ve spent many hours with. Mainly, I’ve been indulging in Cuphead because its remarkable difficulty helps shift my focus away from the overwhelming sadness. I also feel like my dad would think it was pretty cool if he ever got the chance to see it. He would get a kick out of the 1930s-styled animation and jazzy soundtrack because it would remind him of the cartoons he watched as a youngster. He was always interested in vintage, old-timey stuff like that because it made him feel nostalgic about his childhood. We’re talking about a guy who would still make references to Mister Ed and The Andy Griffith Show.
I’ve also been playing a lot of NBA 2K because my dad was always most impressed by the realism of sports video games. Back in my teenage days, I distinctly remember him walking into my living room when I was playing NBA 2K6 and saying, “Holy shit! I thought this was a real game.” Thinking back on it, I can only imagine how awestruck he’d be to see the series’ most recent installment. He was a big fan of basketball, especially at the college level. His father played center for Loyola University Chicago in the late 40s and later went onto coach the program in the 50s. While my father didn’t follow in his footsteps and play, he held a great appreciation for the sport, and thus an appreciation that video games could look so much like the real thing.
Mafia III is another game I’ve been playing since my father’s passing. While I haven’t enjoyed it much, I do admire how well it captures the 60s – from the music to the dialogue to the cars and clothes. I think my dad would have liked that aspect of it, too. He was just a kid during that decade, but he would always fondly speak of childhood memories. He’d tell tales of playing street hockey with other kids in his neighborhood, running to the nearby bakery to get a fresh batch of blueberry doughnuts for his grandmother, or watching some of the greatest football players to ever put on the navy blue and orange. He’d always talk about how different the world was when he was a kid, and I loved listening to the stories. I bet he’d get all nostalgic seeing me cruise around in a Potomac GT (Pontiac GTO) while Del Shannon’s “Runaway” played in the background.
Lastly, I’ve finally decided to build my new PC. This is an idea I’ve kicked around for the past few years, but haven’t pulled the trigger until now. If my father’s passing has taught me anything, it’s that life is fleeting. He was only 61 years old and seemingly healthy, but was taken by a heart attack in his sleep. You never know when your last breath will be, so you have to spend your living moments doing the things you want to do. The day after I found him, I had my friend help me pick out some parts and bought them all that day. We’ll be putting it together shortly and I will be posting pics. Stay tuned.
Everyone experiences grief and copes with it differently. Video games have greatly helped me get through the hardest three weeks of my life, and I’ll definitely lean on them to help me get through many more. Gaming has been much more than a cheap distraction through my grieving process; it’s made me feel closer to my dad. He was one of the only adult figures in my life that didn’t chastise me for being so passionate about it. He never scolded me for “wasting my time” playing games, nor did he ever try to encourage me to replace it with another “more productive” hobby. He didn’t care when I quit sports to make more time for gaming or when I chose my degree based on my ludicrous dream of becoming a games journalist. He always supported my passion for gaming, which is more than I can say about most people.
Every time I boot up a game, I feel like he’s right there with me. Arms crossed with a Miller Lite in hand, asking me questions about whatever I’m playing. Not because he’s genuinely interested in the game itself, but because he wants to learn more about something I love so much. I’m devastated that I’ll no longer have those weekend get-togethers at with him. To be frank, I feel like I’ve been gypped. I thought I had at least another 10 to 15 years of eating his delicious cooking and listening to him talk about the things he hates. But at the very least, I can find peace in knowing that I had such a phenomenal relationship with him and many memories that resulted from it. I can also find comfort in knowing that I can keep him close through the things I enjoy most, especially gaming. Grieving is a tough road to travel, but I’ll get through it. I just need to take it one game at a time.