Gaming With my Father

My Dad stayed at mine and my wife’s apartment for the first time last night. It was something of a milestone for us. We spent more than a year living in her mother’s basement while I struggled to find work, so finally having our own place where we can really feel like an adult, married couple has been big for us. We’ve seized most every opportunity we can to show off our place, to friends, to family. Actually having someone stay the night felt like just another legitimizing stepping stone.

My father is a cyclist so much of the conversation leading up to his visit was about the prospective roads he could ride on. We live in a hilly, rural area so there were going to be a lot of options for him to choose from. As his visit approached he called again,

“You still have Mario Kart?” My Dad asked.

“Yeah, Mandi and I were playing it so it’s actually hooked up the big screen.” I replied.

“Cool, when I come up I’ll have to kick your butt again on the old Rainbow Road, son.” We bantered on for a bit before wrapping up the conversation.

When he arrived we sat and chatted for a bit. The conversation was the usual stuff we talk about. I asked him what he’s been up, he asked me about my writing and my wife how work had been. Then he asked about Mario Kart again. I led him into the living room where my dusty N64 was set up, a small row of games lined up next to it. I turned on the televison and switched on the game. It took a moment but soon the game sprang to life.

“Welcome to Mario Kart!” The game intoned in the faux Italian accent of its namesake.

“All right, man!” My Dad said excitedly. I handed him a controller and took one in hand myself. My wife sat, watching us as she finished a bit of work, a small smile on her face.

We took off into our first race. Eschewing our old tradition, he picked Luigi instead of Yoshi and I chose to play as Toad. Age it seemed had not improved my father’s virtual driving skills. Back in 1998 when the he used to play it with my sister and myself, he had never been very good. I think he won one race in all the times we played. That said, coming back to the game he was all over the place. It took a good three races before he could stop planting himself in the wall every few seconds.

But man was he having fun. I have never seen someone become so animated or grin so wide while playing a game. Everytime someone passed him, or hit him with a shell was accompanied with genuine indignance.

“That scumbag!” He’d yell. “Just you wait Kong!”

Accordingly, each victory on his part was accompanied by pure excitement. Coming to the end of a race he was dueling with Wario over the seventh place position. Rather than giving in and just accepting it as a loss, he was fighting for it as if it were first place. He was swerving about, ramming into Wario, shooting off shells with reckless abandon. When the end came and he finally passed Wario for the “win” he showed me his thumb. He had been holding the acceletor down so hard he had the honest-to-goodness beginnings of a blister going on.

In short, we had a lot of fun together. My Dad and I are by many accounts similar people. The first time my wife met him, she was amazed by how similar our mannerisms were. We’re both laid back yet temperamental. We both talk as if our tongues are in a race and if you were to describe either one of us in a single word, “goof” is what likely come to mind.

And yet, when it comes to video games things have not always gone so smoothly. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he hated video games, but I would wager that for a time he didn’t quite understand my fascination with them. My Dad is the outdoorsy type. He’s the kind of guy who spots a sunny day and uses it as an opportunity to ride his bike for fifty miles. I am not so much. I like to be at home. A sunny day is nice but then again, cloudy ones don’t leave such a glare on my screen.

For that reason, when I was growing up we didn’t often have much in common and to an extent I was convinced he didn’t really like the son he’d wound up with. So when I look back on those times when he did play games with me -often I’m sure just to spend time with his nerdy child- they are good memories. Whether it was him complaining as I threw him to his doom in Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers or him jumping off the side of the track over and over again on Rainbow Road it makes me smile.

Every child should grow up with good memories of their parents, and I am grateful that I am blessed to have that.

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