My father used to tell me that all the time. I’ve talked about my relationship with him a bit previously, and always things are more complicated than originally implied. Yes, he was an alcoholic all my life. The strange part about living with an alcoholic that you never really see on TV though is trying to cope with them essentially being two different people. On one hand, when Paul was sober he was an introverted and reserved man. He loved technology and that was apparent in his purchases for the family and himself. Eventually that appreciation would be passed down to me it seems. The other Paul was the aggressive, selfish, bully that was every bit as vile and abusive as you’d see in the movies. Living with that man was unpleasant (to put it kindly), which broke the family apart and drove everyone away from him. The two men that he was couldn’t be any more different from one another. They also never seemed to be aware of the other’s actions so you could never hold one accountable for the other without him staring back at you confused. It was maddening to have someone that looks like your father have you fearing for your life, then the next day offer to take you to McDonalds for a happy meal.
I remember around age five or six him coming home from work one day with a Nintendo Entertainment System. I’d never seen one before or knew what it was. Apparently we had an Atari before that, but all I remember of video games started when he came home that day. He boasted about how great the visuals and how we all had to try it out. That weekend my two siblings and I kept passing the controller back and forth playing Super Mario Brothers / Duck Hunt. My father kind of just enjoyed watching us play. I was too young to remember much else outside of a few trips to the store with him to pick out new games… Double Dragon 2 stands out in my head, pointing at it behind the glass for the clerk to show us. Looking back I realize now he was just excited to give us something fun to do. My sister even did a mock awards ceremony for “best player” and “best games” one time with the family, makeshift podium and all. I’m the youngest and stuck to games the most so I’m sure it was all done just to humor me at the time.
From time to time he’d jest with me when I’d take it too seriously, “life’s not all about video games, ya know?”
Fast forward a couple years to the next memory. We had gotten the upgraded “Super Nintendo” a year or two after it was out. We were lower-middle class slowly getting ahead, but my dad’s affinity for tech outweighed financial planning. Any talk of money would lead to an argument with my mother, then him drinking… So generally any careless spending went unchecked. I was around 8 or 9 years old at that point yet I was able to tell that money he’d spend on fun stuff should have been going elsewhere. Still, he’d buy a computer come tax time just so we could say we had one. Back in 1992 it seemed like a big deal that my family had a PC. Maybe that was just me buying into his tech love though? That enthusiasm he had carried into video games too. A year after Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came out I remember him buying a Sega Genesis and proudly claiming “We’re one of the only people that have both video game systems!”
Despite him making the purchases and encouraging my play, he’d still echo his earlier taunts of “life’s not all about video games, son.” – Both when he was intoxicated and sober.
Years later I recall being at Blockbuster Video. My family pretty much didn’t play our consoles anymore at that point. I’d claimed the SNES through constant use while my siblings were in high school and had moved on from games. So while they were all browsing for movies to rent I hunted through my options to find something new to play. I found exactly what I was looking for with a kiosk set up for a “Sony PlayStation”. The unit hooked up was running a demo for a racing game called Ridge Racer. I had no clue what either the system or game was but I was glued to that thing until my parents came around to get me. My dad remarked about how realistic the graphics were and he couldn’t believe it was a game. I had no disillusions about owning one since money was always tight. Blockbuster allowed people to rent the system though so I begged to rent it for a weekend. My parents said no. I know I had to of been horrible for the car ride home that day. Sure enough my father’s draw towards technology and desire to have the newest everything won out again, and a week or two later my dad brought home our own PlayStation. I was in a state of ecstatic disbelief at the idea that we now owned a PlayStation.
Things got bad within the family though during the PlayStation era. My mother’s strength to deal with his drinking hit a critical mass, they separated, and I was stuck as the child they fought over for child support payments as I went back and forth between homes. I’m sure that’s partially to blame for games making the switch from something I do when I have time, to something I make time to do. I’d start diving deep into RPGs or cinematic experiences like Resident Evil. Sometimes when things felt calm enough to have friends stay the night on the weekend at my dad’s we’d stay up all night playing either the PS or Nintendo 64. Waking up after noon my dad would still tease, “life isn’t all about video games you know” with a smirk. It was the one consistency I always had with him.
Skipping ahead a few more years, I was the youngest and last to leave. I had left my dad and he was living alone now. His drinking pushed anyone away that tried to live with him. It made him dangerous and unpredictable… Yet now as an adult I feel guilt and remorse, knowing that he was lonely and depressed during those times. It’s what drove him to drink. He didn’t know how to cope with it right and it cost him his family, job, and eventually had no place to live. I’d been angry with him for years from all the damage dealt from his alcoholism. Anger dies down though and I came to terms with it. I would try to help by spending time with him and creating some good memories, and towards the end of it all he started to control his drinking. Being humbled by losing everything, my mother was kind enough to take him in and let him live in her basement rent free. Her only rule was no drinking. Being 52 years old and starting from scratch with your career has to be hard. I know it couldn’t have been easy for him. Still he swallowed his pride and tried to start over.
I’d end up living with him again which helped get some closure on those mixed feelings. For a short stint I was living with my mom, sharing the basement with my dad, while finalizing the purchase on my own home. That time with him made me realize who he was and how alike we were. I got to know my dad as a person, as Paul, instead of the alcoholic father that I feared a few nights a week as a kid. We’d hang out and geek over Microsoft’s latest Windows platform, him eagerly showing me an Atari 40-in-1 emulator that hooked up to the TV, and jest back and forth about what he thought was the ‘better’ console at the time (hint: he was a Microsoft fanboy)… All the while I’d throw back at him that life wasn’t all about computers and video games.
After moving out in into my new home, a few months later I was on vacation for my wedding anniversary. Randomly he sent me an e-mail with no subject or message. It was just a picture of my cat from when I was staying with him and my mother recently. It was the last communication he ever sent me. The next day he passed away a from a massive heart attack at 53. I loved him and am forever grateful that I got the chance to make amends before he passed away. No, everything awful that had happened to our family from his drinking wasn’t washed away. I’m not making excuses for his actions. Dealing with depression myself now I understand that he was hurting when he turned to the bottle. He hated it as much as we did I think.
Still, it’s been four years now come this May and all I care to remember is silly things like him always telling me “life isn’t all about video games”.