Who Would I Be, If You Hadn’t Died?

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WhoWouldIBe-FeaturedOn Saturday morning, I woke up, saw nothing of major consequence on my news feed and headed out to my rowing class. When I got home, I popped open my news feed and saw the news of yet another famous, inspiring, and influential person dying thanks to cancer. (Thank you and rest in peace, Mr. Cooke. F#$k you, cancer.) As I hopped into the shower, I started thinking about how much cancer has impacted my own life and the geek, man, and father I am thanks to my dad.

My 39th birthday is coming up, and though an insignificant age to most people, it’s probably going to be the biggest milestone age for me. When I was 13, my dad, a week before my birthday and at age 39, died from cancer. His cancer was work/environmental related so there’s never been a logical reason for me to worry about it, but 39 has always seemed like an impassable point in time for me. And so, of course, this close to it, I’m reflecting a lot on the upcoming event and my life.

My dad was definitely a blue-collar kind of guy. He worked as a painter at a shipyard, loved working on projects around the house, being out in nature, and reading Louis L’Amour. But he was also a geek and loved Saturday morning cartoons (and would watch them with me every weekend we were together), Sunday morning comics (and we’d take turns reading them together every weekend as well), and sci-fi, especially Star Trek just as much. He really taught me that anybody can be a geek.

Bear with me as this laundry list doesn’t have any order to it, it’s just a list of the things I consider my top geekdom and where I can trace their roots back to.

FormativeYears-WillJamesComics

Comic books have certainly played a major role in my life. Although I never really read them when I was very young, my dad definitely instilled a love of sequential art in me from as young as I can remember as we read the Sunday comics together every weekend. Once my parents divorced, I’d ask my mom to get a Sunday paper on her weekends just so I could still read the comics. As I got older, especially after my dad died, comic books were my favorite escape vehicle. West Coast Avengers was the first title I started actively collecting thanks to finding an issue at my local 7-11, and while I’ve mostly abandoned superhero comics, I still spend way too much money every month on comics. I even worked at my local comic shop for a couple of years while I was in high school.  I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t buy and read comics anymore, even when I was scraping by as a college student in the dorms. Heck, even most of my tattoos are based on comic book characters.

Sci-Fi

I remember the VHS copies of the original Star Wars trilogy we had when I was growing up. I wore out Return of the Jedi since it was my favorite (I’ll admit it the Ewoks were one of my favorite parts and I had tapes of the Ewok movies too). And although I’ll always be more of a Star Wars than a Star Trek guy, it was not for lack of trying on my dad’s part. He loved all sci-fi, but he was definitely a Trekkie. He tried to get me into The Next Generation, which was in year three when he died.

My dad loved to tape shows, so he had every episode, up to that point on tape, and after he died, I devoured them. Wil Wheaton and Wesley Crusher were the big hook for me. Here was a kid, essentially my age, who didn’t have a dad, but who was doing amazing things and having amazing adventures (but let’s be honest: it’s Riker I wanted to be when I grew up). I became a huge Trek fan, begging my mom to take me to conventions she had no interest in going to. I had never even heard of a fan convention before that, but the fifth anniversary ST:TNG convention had me hooked, and I’ve been going to conventions ever since. I even got to meet a large chunk of the cast, including my idol Wheaton, at those early conventions.

Cosplay

Star Trek was also my first ever cosplay, though it wasn’t called that back then. I saw people at those conventions dressed up and knew I had to have my own TNG jumpsuit (of course, now, I wish I would have waited until they had the two-piece uniforms before deciding to dress up). That led, in some ways, to dressing up for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (which led to my love of history and even a degree in history) and Vampire: The Masquerade LARPing in college. And any GeekDad readers probably know by now how much I love cosplay.

Video Games

It seems like almost everyone in my generation was raised on video games, especially with the introduction of the original NES, but long before that, I remember the Atari 2400 and the Intellivision my dad owned and let us all play with. I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have a console in our house, and I’ve owned at least one console or another of my own ever since the NES I got for Christmas shortly after my parents divorced. Super Mario Brothers and Zelda captured my imagination like nothing before it, and, much like comic books, provided me with my second biggest escape from reality.

Computers

Despite my love of my consoles, computers hadn’t really hit my radar. Personal computers were still pretty rare, and I didn’t really know anybody who had one. About a year before my dad died, I met a friend whose dad was into computers and cellphones big time (and we’re talking late ’80s, not a common thing at the time). He showed me his “portable” green-screen 8088 that was a hand-me-down from his dad, and I fell in love. He wrote, on a piece of notebook paper of course, some basic DOS commands for me to learn, and let me have a go at it.

But it wasn’t until my dad died, that my mom, in an effort to help me deal with things, bought me my first computer. That was the beginning of the end. I’ve never not had a computer since then, nor have I not been connected to people outside of my own little world. As soon as I fired up that 286 and my 2400-baud modem, I got onto a local BBS and haven’t been offline since. I saw my first non-text-based website in Mosaic (it wasn’t much), built my own first website when GeoCities went live, and have played more computer games than I could ever count. Which is why it’s probably no surprise that my day job is working at a software company.

Tabletop Games

While we always had board games and family game nights, we never had anything outside of the standard family games–MonopolyLifeYahtzee, etc. It actually wasn’t until I had found the Dungeons and Dragons gold box games on my computer that I learned there were actual real-life games you could play with other people who were even more awesome than those games I was playing on a machine. My friends and I first passed around our gold box games, but then we started passing around Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition game books (we later briefly branched out to Battletech and Mechwarrior, but AD&D was always our jam).

Over the years, tabletop gaming came in and out of my life, but was never as big of a deal as it was those years in high school following my father’s death, until a few years ago. I had found Wil Wheaton doing some stuff on-line (blogging mostly), and started following him to see what he was up to after all these years. I still had a profound connection with him (through Wesley of course) and when Tabletop started airing, like it did for many people, it reignited that passion for gaming I had so long ago.

DIY

People tell me I’m really handy and good at doing DIY projects. I’ve done pretty much everything to a house that you can do except building one from scratch–concrete, framing, drywall, plumbing, electrical, tile, kitchen cabinets, countertops, sprinklers, light fixtures, etc. While I’ve never had any formal instruction, I remember, as a kid, that my dad always did everything himself around the house, and, quite frequently, he’d let me help him (or give me something tangentially related to do to keep me occupied and out-of-the-way), but it definitely instilled in me a joy of building things with my own hands and not being afraid to do hard physical work.

Nature

I love the outdoors. I especially love running on trails. While I took a long hiatus on loving the outdoors during my introverted computer nerd days (who am I kidding, I’m still an introverted computer nerd to a large extent), my dad’s love of being in the outdoors and being physically active definitely planted a seed. My dad’s family is from the mountains of Southern California, so trees and mountains seem to be in my blood, which is one of the reasons I love the Pacific Northwest so much.

Robots

When I started this exercise, I thought I’d find a lot of things I’m a geek about that didn’t trace back to my dad. So I’m putting this one in here last because, although robots, and Transformers specifically, are one of my biggest geekdoms, I can’t think of any way it traces back. Sure, it was one of the cartoons I watched religiously, and he most definitely watched it with me, and the same could be said for G.I. Joe or M.A.S.K. And while I love both of those still today, neither ever took root like Transformers did.

Anti-influence

WhoWouldIBe-DisneylandThis process wouldn’t be complete without also thinking about the things that didn’t influence me or that I actively rejected. My dad loved the snow and snow sports. Although I love the outdoors, I deplore snow sports. I have a feeling that if I just tried them again, I’d probably love them because I do love a good run in the snow. My dad also loved Disneyland and while I can still remember that his favorite ride was Peter Pan (it’s mine too), I only went to Disneyland a handful of times between when my dad died and I met my wife (almost six years ago). For a lot of people that won’t sound like a lot, but for someone who lived in close proximity to Disneyland for most of their life, it’s not a lot at all. I know plenty of friends with annual passes who go multiple times a week! Thankfully my wife broke me of this one and we try to go as often as we can. Our son loves it, and it’s actually helped me deal with some residual grief.

To some extent or another, I’m hopefully planting all of these seeds in my own son. I try my best not to force any of my geekdoms on him, though he already loves Star Wars even more than I do. And I try to give him the freedom to follow his own path (I still don’t get his love of Disney princesses, but that’s just fine) because I know, from my own journey, just how far those paths can take you.

It blows my mind to map all of these things out and see how much overlapping influence there is and how many things can be traced back to just a handful of things from my childhood. The threads weaving in and out to create all of my geekdom. I highly recommend this thought experiment for yourself if you haven’t done it before.

Who would I be, if you hadn’t died? I frequently ask this in my head when I think about my dad. I’m happy with the geek I am. Whether it’s because of the things he sparked in me before he died, the things I delved into because he died, or, most likely, some combination of the two, I’d like to think that either way, my dad would be proud. And I’m certainly proud of the little geek I’m raising.

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12 thoughts on “Who Would I Be, If You Hadn’t Died?

  1. That was very moving and inspirational story at the same time. Thank you for sharing something that must have been tough to recount and remember.
    I lost my father a number of years ago and while I was lucky to have him till I was in my 30’s it didn’t lessen the impact of losing him. I had tremendous respect for my father LCDR Joseph Propati, who served in the Navy for 30 years and who I saw as larger than life. Young boys or young men need a father figure to look up to and help mold them into men they will become. I’m sorry you didn’t have the chance to spend more time with your father but you now get to help shape and mold your son as your father did before you. Having three boys of my own it is the greatest feeling in the world to have your son come up to you and be genuinely interested in the geeky things you do. This puts a smile on my face every time I think about the time spent playing Legos or watching ST:TNG together, which I’m also a HUGE fan of.
    Enjoy every moment with your son because it truly does go by fast!
    Joseph J. Propati

  2. This is lovely. My mother died when I was 13 and I definitely relate. Especially about the birthday — I’m now five years past the age my mother was when she died and it’s still strange sometimes.

    1. Thank you for reading! I don’t think it will ever not be weird. I “celebrate” his death every year a week before my birthday which is probably why I’ve never been big on celebrating my birthday. My wonderful wife has been determined the past few years to make sure I do though, and I’m sure she’ll make sure this one is great for me. As strange and weird as this one is making me feel, I don’t know that I’m ready for how I’ll feel when the next one rolls around.

  3. I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was 15. She was 39 as well. I turned 40 this year and it was almost surreal passing her in age. I would stop short of calling it a fear, but I do sometimes worry about leaving my boys too soon. I thought my mom was almost immortal, until she died. Now I know we could lose anyone at almost any moment in time. I don’t worry them about it, but it’s still always in the back of my mind. Thanks for sharing your memories of your dad.

    1. Thank you for reading! It’s just never easy losing a parent no matter your age. And I often worry about leaving my son too soon, irrational as it may be. I try to take some comfort in the fact that I do a pretty good job of taking care of myself, that my wife is a great mother (and also a huge geek), and that I’ve instilled enough goodness in him that even if something were to happen to me, he’d be ok.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! My father passed away when I was 14… He was 47. I’ll be 47 in a few short months and struggle with this milestone. It is hard for those close to me to understand that I’ve never expected to live to see 48… Should be an interesting year!

    1. It isn’t something not many people understand. Which I am equal parts jealous of and grateful that that aren’t many people that have to deal with a parent’s death so early on in life.

  5. My mom was 35 when she died from cancer. I was 4. Because I was so young, I don’t feel like she influenced me very much, but I often wonder what life would have been like (and what I would have been like) if she had been around. I constantly think about how I’ve outlived her by quite a few years and how much more my son knows about me than I know about my mother. Sorry for rambling… but I loved reading this. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I am over hear crying as I read this. Thank you to Will’s Mom Lennie for telling me about this and Will’s wife Sarah for sending me the link. My name is Kelly and I am Will’s half sister. Will and I share the same father. I am seven years older than Will and my birthday is just before our dad died (June 10th), so I was just 21 when our dad died and I actually went through the same issues before I turned 39 and now, as of yesterday, I am 46.

    I am not sure even where to start, so I will start with something sort of random, the photo of Will and our dad at Disneyland, I was there that day too and have a similar photo of me and dad. As I search for the actual photo (which I just found) I find many other photos of dad and Will and snow of all things. (Bro, I will send you copies of all of these pictures.) I am also reliving moments with dad that Will did not get to have with dad; the birth of my son Matthew James Huebert is a big one. Dad was there, as well as his third wife Teri, Teri’s daughter Nikik and three of my best friends Leesa, Melissa and Michelle, all of whom are still my best friends today. Dad actually cut the cord from me to Matt when Matt was born and dad was so proud to be there. I have a few pics of dad holding Matt right after he was born and then a few months later. I could very easily slip in in images of Owen, in place of Matt, and that is the experience dad could have had with Owen and Will of dad. I just came across a photo of Will and dad at dad’s birthday and Will is tiny (only months old), so dad would have been 26 if my math is correct, we are in the Lakewood (I think, or maybe this is in Bellflower, anyway, someone around there) house, in the kitchen, homemade German Chocolate cake on the table (dad’s favorite) and dad holding Will who is balling. I also have photos of dad in the National Guard, which are spitting images of Will, again Bro, I will send you copies of all of these.

    I too have many things that our dad influenced me on, love of outdoors or course, I love camping and we did camp a bunch when Will was very little. Being at the beach and in the waves, riding motorcycles, love of German Chocolate cake (which was my birthday cake yesterday), Star Wars and Star Trek. My son’s first baby photo looks like Jean-Luc Pickard (Captain of the Starship Enterprise TNG). Baseball, another huge thing for me. Dad would take us to Dodger games and we would get the cheapest nose bleed seats, bring food from home, but dad would let us get peanuts. I am a huge Dodger fan today and I, like my brother, bear a tattoo, not of comics, but of the Dodgers, on my back.

    Dad was also there when I got married at 19 in Las Vegas. He, Teri and Niki were all there and we videotaped it. I am so glad we did. Dad walked me down the isle, Teri acted as my witness and Niki did the videotaping. Dad died just a little over two years later, but thankfully got to see his first grandson being born before then and I am so thankful that he did. He loved Matt so much and I know he loves Owen and now Hazel just as much. Dad was so full of love and life and taken way too soon.

    I miss dad everyday and think of him often. I was recently given my dad’s wedding ring when he married Teri. I wear it everyday and think of him every time I look at it. Thank you Teri for giving this to me. It really means a lot.

    The other things I also find myself thinking about are all of the terrible things I did as a teenager to dad, Teri and Niki. I grew up living sometimes with mom and sometimes with dad. I got to shed a lot of this in recent years with Teri and Niki, but I never got to with dad. So Dad, I am so sorry for all of the crappy things I did while I was living with you, Teri and Niki in Huntington Beach. The lies, the damage to your house and your trust that I betrayed. I am no longer that person, as my family now knows and sees. I am married 26 years to my wonderful husband John, we are both former Marines (John and I actually met in the Marine Corps) and loving life together. Matt is a graduate from Texas Tech and very successful as a manager in his field of study.

    I feel my dad’s presence often and hope he is proud of me now and the person I have become. I miss you dad.

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