My apologies in advance for this post. You may think this is a strange place for this but I can't think of another outlet for it and I can make an Atari connection.
My stepfather is dying. Quickly. I'm not even sure if he's technically my stepfather, but he might as well be.
Growing up, I hated him. I realize hate is a strong word but I HATED him.
Now, I'm pretty devastated by this.
My parents divorced in 1979, when I was six. My mother remarried a true a-hole a year or two later. I'm not certain of the exact date but it was in my 2600 heyday. Those were not good times for me but that's not even worth sharing. They would be divorced by 1983. That's when she met the subject of this post.
She was working for the local newspaper in the classified department and he was the local dog warden. He would place ads for dogs they rounded up and they hit it off.
The summer before I started sixth grade (1984), they moved in together. (This would be my fifth different elementary school since kindergarten.) My disdain for him was immediate.
He had a son and daughter from a previous marriage. The daughter lived with her mom & would visit every other weekend. The son was a year older than me but we didn't get along that great.
He was ridiculously strict. It honestly felt like I was in prison. No candy, no soda, being sent to bed super-early, etc. There was one TV in the house & we had to watch whatever he wanted. (A vivid memory is me coming home from school, finding a cartoon to watch or even an afternoon playoff baseball game (Cubs/Padres), him driving in the driveway, eventually sitting down in his chair in front of the TV & snapping his fingers, demanding the cable box. He would promptly change the channel & eventually settle on some horrible kung fu movie.) My Atari, which I used to shuttle back & forth between my father's house & my mother's was no longer to be connected to the TV.
I remember him arguing with my Mom about my father. Things like the child support check, or him calling to talk to me, etc. Stuff that made me super uncomfortable.
The best times would come from when he would go play cards with his friends. I'd have a few hours with him not in the house but he would come home drunk. If everything would work out, I would be asleep before he came home.
My mom never married him but I'm not sure how the common-law marriage thing works in my state. Regardless, they never split up. He was present in my life until I graduated high school.
I learned quickly to keep my mouth shut & do whatever he ordered me to do. Chores, eating every last bite of foods I despised (I haven't eaten a pea in 25 years and I never will again.) He never hit me, although there were times I wish he did so I could find a way to leave. I used to fantasize about walking the 85 miles to my father's house, while not being exactly sure how to get there.
I do remember blowing up during my senior year of high school. I had a girlfriend (SHOCKING!) and he would limit my time on the phone with her. I don't remember exactly what happened but I remember being in my bedroom with the door shut and hearing him outside complaining about something. I threw a Trapper Keeper (or something similar, it was a notebook/folder) at my dresser, which left a mark. The details are hazy now, but I remember just finally yelling back at him. I knew my days of being under his thumb were almost over.
My escape from him was visiting my Dad every other weekend, vacations & summer. I can't even begin to describe how amazing it felt to be picked up on a Friday after school or Saturday morning. And the feeling of dread I had when I had to return...
Once I graduated high school, I went to a college close to where my Dad lived and I never looked back. To this day, I hate visiting the town where my Mom lives and I'm pretty certain it all stems from these experiences.
Since I left, I would visit my Mom & him on holidays, etc. He would always give me $100 for Christmas and our relationship became amicable. He seemed to love my daughter and she had no problems with him. Things were fine.
This past February, my Mom called me during the middle of the day, which was bizarre. I assumed it was bad news about her Mom, my amazing grandmother, who has Alzheimers and isn't in good shape. It wasn't that. Howard has cancer, it's aggressive and the doctors give him six months to live.
I was shocked & saddened but I wasn't sure how to respond to that news. As much as I hated him, I certainly didn't want this to happen. And I was heartbroken for my poor Mom, as now she has to deal with this.
Since the diagnosis, I've only seen them one time, around my birthday in May. I kept saying that we'd do some things during the summer but it never worked out.
Just this past weekend, the pain of chemotherapy and everything else became too much for him. He decided to stop fighting and is now in hospice care. I'm going to visit him tomorrow. I'm not sure if my daughter or wife (not my daughter's mom, that will be a WHOLE other series of blogs ) will join me but I'm going.
Again, the feelings I have are so conflicted. How can I be so upset about someone who caused me so much pain? Yet, here I am, extremely upset. Part of it is pain for my Mom, imagining how she must be feeling. When the calendar turned to 2016, everything was fine in her world. Now, before Thanksgiving, completely turned upside down. As I spend time thinking and reflecting, I'm continuing to remember things that weren't so bad. How he attended my Student of the Month ceremony in seventh grade when no one else could. How he coached my Babe Ruth teams. How he took me fishing & camping.
It's so strange, so bizarre and so painful. I apologize if this isn't the proper use of the blog but I consider myself amongst friends here and I don't feel like going back to a therapist. I have no interest sharing something like this on Facebook, so here I am.
Thanks for listening to me ramble.
This may seem like a strange topic to start off a blog that focuses on my appreciation for my childhood but it's a subject that I tend to dwell on a lot. The year I foolishly gave away my entire toy collection.
First, a little background.
I was born in 1973. My parents divorced when I was six. I stayed with my Mom during the school year and visited my Dad every other weekend and school vacations, including the summer.
I REALLY enjoyed visiting my Dad. Yes, he spoiled me (I'm still spoiled to this day) but it was more than that. I think the infrequency of the visits made me appreciate my time there more and where he lived was just so cool. He lived in a condominium complex that had a playground, a basketball court, tennis court, pool but most importantly, lots of other kids.
On the Friday's or Saturday's that my Dad would pick me up, he'd usually have a gift for me. Nothing extravagant, but nevertheless awesome. A 2600 game, a Star Wars figure, a Matchbox car.
Over time and with a few Christmases thrown in, I amassed quite a collection of toys and games.
I obviously had an Atari 2600. Looking back, I didn't have a lot of games, but living in the moment, it felt like I did. We probably had 25-30 games. (I can't say for certain because the lines between "owned" & "borrowed from a friend" have become blurred over the years.)
I was (& am) a huge Star Wars fan. My collection began before my parents divorced and only grew in the ensuing years. I had a cardboard box that was about 3 feet high & 3 feet across FILLED with vehicles, playsets and action figures. I can absolutely nail down exactly what was in my collection and what wasn't to this day.
In 1983, GI Joe entered my life. Over the next two years, I built up a pretty decent collection. Not as large as my Star Wars collection but still significant.
In addition to all that, I collected baseball cards (along with some other sports cards), Matchbox cars, some He-Man & Transformers figures and many, many board games. I had A LOT of stuff.
In the summer of 1985, my main focus was becoming baseball cards. I had bought enough packs of Topps cards that I was able to send away for a complete factory set. Once I received that, I figured, why do I need to keep all my doubles for? So I gave those away. Of course, in subsequent years, some of those cards (Mark McGwire & Roger Clemens rookie cards) went for hundreds of dollars. (Thankfully, the value has since decreased drastically, easing the pain a bit.)
It didn't end there though. In 1986 & '87, I had purchased a lot of Fleer basketball cards & Topps hockey and football cards. As my baseball card collecting passion grew and non-baseball cards didn't have a lot of value at the time, I gave those away too. Those prices haven't dropped. (The Michael Jordan 1987-88 card sells anywhere from $75 on up and I had a lot of those.)
However, the decision to give away other things hurts worse.
I forget the year exactly, but I would guess the summer of 1987. I was 14. I had an NES. I had an interest in girls. We were four years removed from Return of the Jedi. Once again, I foolishly thought "Why do I need all this stuff? I never play with them anymore."
Two young boys lived four condos down from me. I gave them my entire 2600 collection. My father was good friends with another neighbor who had a 7-year-old son. I figured Derek would enjoy all my Star Wars stuff and other action figures. So I gave them to him. Plus my Matchbox cars. (I'm guessing I had close to 100 of those.)
As for my other items, such as board games and other toys, they all disappeared, I'm assuming when my father remarried and we moved out of the condo in 1989.
Sigh. It pains me to even write those words. I would do anything to have them back. Looking back, I suppose it was a nice gesture for 14-year-old me to give that stuff away but what a stupid decision.
I have no idea who the kids are who received my Atari. Thankfully, I was able to reacquire nearly my entire collection I had during the mid-90's fairly inexpensively.
I'm still in contact with the family I gave my Star Wars stuff to. They moved twice and no longer have anything. Before the prequels hit, I was able to pick up a few figures I had but nowhere near what I used to have.
It does make me happy to see that Derek's children are now Star Wars fans and I like to think I played a part in that.
So, if anyone comes across a Bespin Luke figure with his right hand missing (I rubbed it along the pavement to make it more screen-accurate) at a yard sale, pick it up for me.
My long-term memory is impeccable, at least when it comes to positive memories. My short-term, not so much.
I had been kicking around the idea of starting to document some of these positive memories in a journal, especially the random ones that pop in my head out of nowhere.
Then I thought, why not wrap those memories up in a retro-themed bow and create a blog here. So that's what I'm going to do!
I'll focus on video games, considering the site this is hosted at. But I'll occasionally throw in some other random retro memories from time to time. TV, music, movies, toys, games, etc.
I hope that my posts will entertain a few of you. At the very least, they'll be a repository for the day my long-term memory is gone...
(That's not a photo of me, but that's pretty much my recollection of falling in love with the 2600 right there)