Bringing up father: Hi-tech hi-jinks with my Dad

By Richard Leo Ramos, originally posted at the Philippine Online Chronicles

My father and I don’t have a “normal relationship,” in the sense that we have always been practically polarized personalities ever since I was a teenager. From the way we act with each other, most people think that we barely tolerate each other. However, the truth is, much of what I am, and much of what I love is taken from my Dad, and his attempts to raise me well. It’s just that there is some sort of black comedy involved, as it turns out: I ended up raising my dad, as well.

And our relationship is still one of me trying to teach him to be more modern – or at least, learn more about gadgets, while he has this need not to look so helpless. And yes, for all the people out there asking: I have tried to tell him it’s all right to be a bit challenged in today’s world when it comes to gadgets, but, well, old habits die hard.

Video Games

Now, before the advent of video games in our house, we had chessboards, and many tabletop games. I was notorious, for example, for being a lover of Scrabble and Boggle.

However, all that changed when video games entered the house. Strangely enough, my dad was entranced by the whole concept of video games. I wasn’t interested, but my dad practically dragged me kicking and screaming to play “Legend of Zelda” of all things. It was through his determination to make me enjoy video games with embedded narratives that I learned to persevere at any job set before me.

The funny part about this, though, was that while I was learning all this, I had to try to teach my own dad not to play so much. Let’s be clear here: he was obsessed with video games. He had whole notebooks for clues that he had discovered in the game, and in the case of Super Mario and Legend of Zelda, he even had maps.

Some of you out there would think that this was pretty cool. Let me tell you now, it wasn’t. It was a reversal of roles: I didn’t like him sleeping so late (if he slept at all), and I didn’t like him trying to horn in on my time reading and doing my own thing, just because he needed my faster hand-eye coordination for some stages.

If anything, this situation actually led to my ambiguous nature when it comes to video games: I love them, but I don’t like them taking control of my time.
The PC blues

This reached a movie-style climax when I had a desktop computer of my own. Again, my father had quickly figured that video games were available for PCVs, and he immediately made his home in the home the seat in front of my own PC in my own room. I tried, again, to limit his time, but this led to more arguments. I eventually had to write my own college thesis in a friend’s house. And my dad didn’t even care about that, busy as he was chain-smoking in my room while playing Command and Conquer and Dune II.

It was then that I realized it was time to move the PC out of my room. Over the next few years, I had to end up sharing PC time with my sister, since my PC eventually broke down (no doubt from overuse – heaven knows, my dad went through at least three mouse and keyboard changes). Since my sister and I were already tense about the whole sharing situation, my dad returned to playing games on a game console, and later a series of Playstation consoles.

The reason for the insanity

One thing that irked me the most about all this was that my father wasn’t only infringing on my privacy and my time to do other things (yes, he would make me join him in playing his games for whole weekends!), but it was that he could be so helpless while he was at it. This was a man who didn’t even know how to surf the net, nor even turn the PC on unless he was forced to “remember” how since he wanted his video game fix.

As you, the readers, may no doubt have guessed from the tone of my writing, I still harbor issues about these things. However, the truth is, the reason why I forgive my dad for his video game addiction is that I learned, later on, that my father’s business wasn’t doing too well towards the time of his retirement. It was this loss of control over what he knew he was good at that made him retreat into the virtual reality of video games.

These days, my father now owns a PC rig that can probably solve world peace while he’s playing his latest favorite game. And yes, he still does not know how to surf the Internet properly, and he even has trouble using Google. I still get frustrated with him at times. However, I do remember this man tried his best to raise me as well as he could, and struggled to make his business work even if it was already on the way down. And all through that, he found time – obsessive time – to include his own son into his world.

That is why, up to now, even if I have to explain it for the umpteenth time, I teach my father how to turn the new TV on, how to find the website he’s looking for, and how to use the DVD and digital players to watch movies. Now, I am the one being the teacher, and my dad is the student. And even if we’re still getting on each other’s nerves, I feel that it’s my job to do this, because once upon a time, there was this man who saw his introverted kid disappearing too much into a maze of imaginary worlds. And what this father did was teach his son to participate in the story (through video games), to persevere, and to win his own endings.

How could I not teach a man like that? Besides, I always learn more new things when I am teaching him – lately, the value of patience and acceptance are multiple-chapter lessons, to be sure. I hope he is still learning – not only about what I teach him, but also about me, about the man he taught to participate in the world. I can only hope he is proud of his own handiwork, even if he and I still get on each other’s nerves.

That’s why I teach my dad, even if my friends and loved ones are always amazed at how much effort it takes on both sides. As I said… how could I not bring up my own dad?

Photo: “Video Games” by Mike Mozart, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

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