More than nine months ago we packed up the kids and the minivan for an unplanned trip to Arizona to be with our family due to my dad’s sudden and unexpected death. (I wrote about this in Hola, Adiós.)
Something that came to mind during the trip was the connection my brothers didn’t really have but that I had with Dad: computers. When he was working as a civilian in Kuwait in 1989, he ordered and had delivered to our house a personal computer. PCs were relatively new at the time. People were starting to use them more in business, but not many had them at home.
PCs were never as easy as Macs
I remember the computer’s arrival and how I managed to completely erase the floppy disks containing an office suite (PFS: Office). That was back when you had to insert into the CPU a bootable—and apparently easily erasable—floppy disk with program data on it. I did what would amount to destroying the full Microsoft Office suite: word processor, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. Though I’m no IT guy today, I know my way around a PC and seldom delete irretrievable files.
Dad fled Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion and returned home. After the war he went back for a short time but eventually settled back in Yuma, working as a flight simulator technician at the Marine Corps Air Station. With the other techs, he would often exchange pirated computer games. One was actually a game about pirates. Still another of our favorites was Hero’s Quest, also known as Quest for Glory, which was a sort of role-playing game set in Medieval times.
Sing it, Bonnie
Because we had an illegal copy, we had neither the instructions nor a map of the village and countryside. Today I downloaded the old DOS game (maybe illegally, I’m not sure) and opened it up. The graphics are awful and colors terrible, but it was high-tech at the time.
At the beginning of the game, you find your person, your hero, at the entrance to a village, where a man who is presumably the sheriff greets you:
Welcome to our town. It’s gotten pretty dangerous outside of town, I understand. Many monsters have been trapped around here with the late snow. Between them and the brigands, we certainly could use a hero around here.
(I can hear Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” in its anthemish minor key.) But that’s it. No further explanation.
So Dad and I created a map from our wanderings and took notes for each other of what we learned from encounters with centaurs, ogres, and the resident witch Baba Yaga, among others. (I remember he always printed in pencil on yellow legal pads.) We needed to figure out what we were supposed to do, what our quest was. During the summer, I would often play while my dad was at work and he late at night after the swing shift. I confess I didn’t always share my notes with him, since I wanted to be the first to win. I think he might have let me, because that’s what dads do. Eventually after killing enough monsters and wandering through the wilderness, we determined there was a princess to be saved. Isn’t there always?
Driving to Arizona last September it hit me at maybe the 1,325th mile. In many ways that character in Hero’s Quest was my dad. He, like many of our fathers, was dropped into this world without much of an explanation as to what we’re here for. As in Hero’s Quest, and in life, it’s easy to get sidetracked when you’re not sure of your identity or what your purpose is. In Hero’s Quest, your character can drink too much in the tavern, waste all his time in a peaceful meadow away from the danger of the forest, and even turn to thievery, stealing from village residents—not the hero the sheriff presaged.
Boys Without a Father
Dad wasn’t the model father. He had two older sons I’d met once when I was about four. I don’t remember it, but I’ve seen the faded photos. For many, many years they were estranged from him. But with the help of my sister and the Internet, my mother found and contacted Dad’s older son, telling him that his father had died.
A bright occasion amidst the grieving was meeting them both again. The older (Bobby, named after my dad) especially wanted to get to know the family our dad chose. I couldn’t imagine meeting the young men who’d taken my place as my dad’s sons. But he didn’t seem embittered—just understandably sad that he’d missed out. It was uncanny seeing them, especially Bobby. My mother said seeing him was like seeing a younger version of her husband with less gray in his hair and his eyes. (His daughter Whitney also has my dad’s eyes.) Sitting where Dad used to watch M*A*S*H re-runs, Bobby probably seemed to Mom an apparition of my father in the living room of the house we, not he, grew up in.
From what I understand, my dad’s parents were far from ideal. He wasn’t shown how to be a good husband and father, and consequently he struggled in these roles. (He found being a grandfather much to his liking, though. Perhaps it’s easier to start anew with grandchildren and move beyond the regret.)
Like the Man of La Mancha
As Dad did, I too stood there at the village gate like that hero. But as a young man, not ready for the world and my place in it, I was surrounded by men who loved God and knew how to rescue the princess. I’d have been certain to fail as a hero too, if not for their unselfishly building into my life and modeling what a man should be.
There’s more to life than rescuing princesses, of course. So it’s my aim to prepare Lindsay, Jacque, and Micah for the “quests” God has for them in a world as frightening as the one of goblins and brigands. And if it’s in his will, I plan to guide them through each step, studying the instructions and deciphering the map as we go along. Helping them win, because that’s what dads should do.