These next two pieces from Kirk McKeand and Chris Spann both discuss the relationship between father and son. I was really moved as I read them, and it made me think a lot about what I think time of year is all about. I recommend you find somewhere quiet and contemplative to give them a read.
header image from sonicretro.org
Kirk McKeand – Freelance journo for hire
It was a week or so before Christmas and I was eleven years old. In the middle of the night, I was awoken by my grandmother. Drowsy-eyed, I was ushered downstairs, my jacket and slippers were put on, and we left my house behind. Confused and scared, I remember looking back at my house as it glistened, the frost sparkling from the glow of the moon.
Something had happened to dad. He had been at a local pub, called the Black Swan, on the council estate where I grew up. A fight had broken out in the toilets. Well, I say a fight, but what actually happened was that dad had gone to relieve himself, accidentally stumbling upon three men kicking a young guy as he laid motionless in the urinal of the pub’s toilet.
My dad being my dad, he told them that the victim looked like he’d had enough, so the men left. After helping the young man up and buying him a drink at the bar, my father thought that was the end of it. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
Later, after more drinks, my father his group decided to make their way home. When they got outside, the three men were stood waiting for them, with friends. Dad had to be resuscitated on the way to the hospital because of the severity of his injuries.
His front teeth were gone – the attack also left him with brain damage and epilepsy. I still remember seeing him have an epileptic fit for the first time; it happened at the top of the stairs and he fell like a crash dummy. Watching my mother try and stop my dad swallowing his tongue as he laid there jerking burned into my memory, but it was something I got used to eventually.
The brain damage meant my dad couldn’t work anyway, but the attack had left him with an anxiety that couldn’t be shaken. He hardly left the house and his mood swings were terrible. I retreated too, in my own way. If it wasn’t for videogames being an escape for me, I’m not sure my young brain could have handled everything that went on back then.
We were never a wealthy family, but my dad had also found an escape in videogames. Little did I know, he always had the latest console, but used to only get it out once I was in bed so that I didn’t drive him mad asking to go on it all the time.
It worked out well for me, though. As when my dad got a new console, I got his old one that Christmas, as well as the respectable library of games that he had built up. It was new to me. My dad and I never really bonded by going to the cinema or playing sports at Christmas. No, we used to hide away in my bedroom and beat each other up on Tekken, away from the celebrations and noise of my extended family gathering downstairs.
It was at Christmas, playing games with my dad, where I used to see flashes of my old dad, although I always beat him at Tekken – it still counts if you use Eddie Gordo, or Any Button Eddie (as we used to call him) right?
We still keep the tradition going now. Although our lives have changed, and so have the games, we still inhabit a virtual world together from time to time. Even if it’s not at Christmas, that’s where we realised we shared a passion. The times we used to spend playing together at Christmas helped to overwrite the bad memories that we would rather not remember. It’s not something that can be achieved by any other entertainment, either. It’s what makes games so unique. Sometimes we all need to escape from the harsh realities of life, even at Christmas. With videogames, you don’t have to face it alone.
Before I begin, I feel like I should probably preface this noise by saying I’m not a very Christmassy person.
I’m not a very Christmassy person.
There it is, see? I even copied and pasted it to make sure it was the same because I’m writing this in Notepad while I’m supposed to be doing real work, so time is of the essence.
Right that’s interesting; I’ve just remembered something other than what I was originally planning on writing about, so you’re getting that now instead of a heart-warming story about my Nana pissed on Gin playing Duck Hunt (although that’s probably about the length of that story anyway). So here goes.
My mum left my dad in December 1994. We only moved maybe 15 minutes down the road from him, but he and I have had a really weird relationship with each other since – we don’t see each other very often, despite getting on quite well – although that’s a story for another time I suppose.
Anyway, we moved house and life carried on. Christmas 1995 rolled around, and I’d asked (Santa? No, probably not by then, although I don’t remember) for Worms for the SNES for Christmas, after playing it for a few turns at a friend’s house on the Amiga (although apparently I needn’t have bothered as the SNES one was balls anyway).
I woke up at my Dad’s that Christmas morning, although in the year that had gone by he seemed to have been replaced with a stranger, a silhouette of somebody I sort of used to know but not really. I remember the house being quite cold.
I sat down to open my presents with the man whose house looked like my old house, and opened a few perfunctory bits and bobs; I don’t really remember any of the details for a reason I’ll get to in a second.
The last present was squarish; it was maybe a centimetre or so deep, and very slightly wider than it was tall. It certainly wasn’t the thin, brick-cut in half dimensions of a SNES game box.
Yeah you probably know what’s coming.
I took the wrapping off that last present, then stopped and analysed what I was looking at. Staring back at me was a cigar smoking, rocket-launcher toting invertebrate wearing a bandana like I’d hoped for, but the case he was on was plastic instead of the usual Nintendo cardboard, and up the side of the box was the word “Playstation”.
The Playstation (Or PSX if you were cool as fuck) had come out that winter, and I didn’t have one. The SNES was still on top form in 1995 (Donkey Kong Country 2 and Terranigma to name two great games from that year), so as far as I was concerned I had no need for the grey box that played CDs – and anyway, it was expensive beyond the dreams of all but the maddest madmen.
I thanked my dad as politely as I could. I mean, I barely knew him anymore, but he’d clearly tried. He was a dad anyway, how was he supposed to know what console I had? I mean, even if my parents were still together, he wasn’t home all that often anyway. An odd combination of genuine gratitude, sadness and contempt bubbled in my stomach as my dad walked me into the front room, from the enormous Christmas tree that symbolised my dad trying way too hard to pretend everything was fine in the hall.
Yeah so it turns out he’d bought me a Playstation and he’d kept it from me, the prick.
The rest of that Christmas day is a blur, but I can vividly remember playing a LOT (Was it a lot? I don’t know. Maybe it was only a single game?) of games of Worms with my dad that year. Just the two of us in the house, cathode rays pumping a tiny little annelid war into our eyes. We discovered how easy it is to fuck up with a cluster bomb, we laughed at the Sheep together and made that noise you make he first time you see a Banana Bomb; a kind of amused awe as fruit based (Fuck off they are fruit) chaos unfurls itself in front of your eyes.
I’ll be honest, my relationship with my dad still isn’t wonderful. We don’t see each other often enough, and with Christmas coming up I’m already resigning myself to the fact that I’ll go and see him on Christmas day, have a lovely time, think “I should really see that man more often”, then completely fail to follow up on it in the new year. HAppens every twelve months.
BUT! That day we were as father and son SHOULD be. Worms, Doom, Wipeout, Battle Arena Toshinden. Those games were the accopmaniment to the last time he and I properly bonded, the last time he and I GOT each other, the last time he felt like my Dad, and not some bloke that looks like a fatter, balder me with a better beard.