When you’re a kid, you do inexplicably selfish, emotional things on such a routine basis that a veteran parent could probably set their watch to it. I didn’t always realize that, of course. As a kid you’re pretty much positive you’re always right. But as years go by, earlier youthful transgressions seem to pop up in the memory banks that you wish you had a do over again.
One of those cringeworthy moments that I’ve thought about fairly consistently throughout the years, was actually born out of one of the few things my dad and a pint-sized me had in common: gaming. My parents have been split for years now but back in the heyday of the original NES, my dad and I would take turns with the light gun and controller and play Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt for hours.
Now, my dad isn’t a gamer now, and wasn’t much of one back then, either. But he realized it was something I took an interest in and so he became one, at least momentarily. He wanted to bond with his son, and he certainly wasn’t going to do so over Little League or something like that. That wasn’t on the cards for this kid, and to his credit, he knew it, and took what I liked and ran with it a bit.
But one Christmas, our shared gaming caused a tiny splinter in our relationship that I can’t shake to this day. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but my mom had taken me to my brother’s house on Christmas Eve for the usual food, gifts and merriment. My dad wasn’t there and I can’t remember now if he was working or if my folks had already split, but what I do remember so distinctly was one of my presents.
It wasn’t quite like the video of the kid getting the N64, but when I unwrapped my last gift and saw a Super Nintendo in front of me, I remember being so insanely excited, maybe the happiest I had been to that point in my life. Clearly a 7 year-old has excellent priorities.
Excitable kid I was, I couldn’t wait to get home and play the thing. And the next morning, Christmas Day, I bounded down the stairs to open the rest of the presents simply to respect the Christmas process. After all, nothing was going to top that Super Nintendo. I couldn’t even tell you anything I received that morning. Anything except for two gifts.
My dad brought them out last, fairly big boxes if I recall. I had no idea what they could be, but I could tell he was very excited to present them, like he’d had this idea in his head for some time now.
I unwrapped one, and I can’t even imagine what my face looked like. It was one of those huge arcade sticks. Which is great, except it was for the NES, a system I may as well have given a Viking funeral to the night before when the Super Nintendo emerged from its festive wrapping paper.
I was crushed. So stupidly, childishly crushed. My level of embarrassment at how mad I was at him about this is really through the roof. And maybe parents are conditioned to the tantrums of their kids and it rolls off their backs, but I still can’t believe how angry I was about the stupid controllers. Here was a guy, who was not really the most tech savvy dad, going out of his way with what would have otherwise been a pretty big deal surprise, and I acted like he tried to set the tree on fire.
I don’t remember him being visibly upset, and we probably returned the sticks for a game or something else. But our gaming bond was more or less over after that. Soon after, my parents did split (if they hadn’t already), and so we didn’t really play video games much together anymore afterwards.
But I never stopped gaming. I love this hobby, and have turned it into a bit of a vocation from time to time, which I never imagined I would do as a kid playing Duck Hunt with my dad.
So on this Father’s Day, even if he’ll never read this, I’m raising a toast to you, dad. You got me started on something that has been so incredibly rewarding to my social life and my work life. Sorry I was such a pill. Those were pretty cool sticks.