The following is a guest post by Mikey Walters.
In January of this year, I lost my dad to cancer. In the weeks that followed, I was overwhelmed with memories of all the things that made my dad so special, and started to write about them as an expression of my grief. I suddenly wanted to write a follow-up to my interview at 2 Warps to Neptune to express how my dad was such an encouragement to me as a young geek, and how the love and acceptance of a parent can be such a powerful force for a child like me.
Dad served as a navigator in the US Air Force, and my family moved quite a bit during my pre-elementary school years. Dad was often away on temporary duty, including time in Vietnam. Somehow, even during these hectic times, I was the lucky kid who always had the best Christmas on the block. I don’t recall actually making a Christmas list, but Santa always knew what I wanted, probably from watching me reading the Sears Wishbook and seeing which TV commercials got me really excited. Looking back at my family’s Christmas home movies, I know I couldn’t possibly have been happier.
Dad always spent Christmas day playing with me (an only child) and my new toys. One Christmas the gift I wanted the most was a Mego Star Trek Tricorder (a souped up cassette recorder), and my parents hid it behind the curtains so it was the last gift I received (long before Ralphie’s dad pulled this trick in the classic A Christmas Story). The excitement didn’t end that morning, though. Dad and I used that Tricorder for weeks to record a series of “radio shows” staring announcer “Banzai Bifford” (Dad came up with that name) interviewing various personalities like the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind!
Dad was always supportive of my geeky projects. When I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker, he broke out the 8mm camera and spent days filming my science fiction film Target: Earth. My parents both saved every single paper towel roll and toilet paper roll my family ever used, knowing that I loved to use them to construct spaceships and other things. As I began to clean out the garage after my Dad’s passing, I discovered a large box still filled to the brim with toilet paper rolls. I like to think Dad couldn’t bear to throw them out since he knew how important they once were to me. Part of Dad’s Air Force career involved working with the T-43A Navigator Simulator, and he often gave me old manuals and documents to play with because they were full of technical diagrams that were perfect for constructing futuristic control panels.
I have fond memories of Dad coming home from a trip to the BX with a few comic books for me. In addition to the usual Spider-Man and things he knew I would like, he often chose things that looked interesting. He had an uncanny sense of knowing what would make me happy. My very first exposure to the Star Wars universe was Marvel’s Star Wars #1, which Dad picked up right off the spinner rack. I remember taking it with me to Albert Schweitzer Elementary School the next day and showing it off to my friends. Dad was increasing my geek cred before the term was even invented. Even in the last year of his life, Dad still picked up the “free for Armed Forces” Captain America comics and gave them to me, his 48-year-old son.
Dad and I shared countless hours together obsessing over each era of video game technology, starting all the way at the beginning with our first console, the Unisonic Tournament 2000 (a 1977 Pong clone). Later we bought Mattel’s Intellivision during a visit to my grandmother’s home, and Dad was so excited about playing it that we even bought Grandmother a new color TV to improve the experience. We had such fun with the Intellivoice module playing B17 Bomber, always mimicking the Slim Pickens-style voice saying, “That was close! Watch out for flak!”
Next we moved on to our Atari 800, which was not only a great source of gaming entertainment, but also an essential tool for both our lives. When Dad retired from the Air Force after 24 years of service, he went back to school for an Accounting/Information Systems degree and worked as a database administrator for the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Dad often used our Atari 800 and blazing fast Hayes Smartmodem to check on database jobs running in the evening, while I wrote programs in Atari BASIC and learned the skills that pay my bills today.
After that we continued to buy the same game systems, including Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS, and the Nintendo Wii. Eventually Dad settled into iOS gaming, and we challenged each other to games of Words with Friends literally every single day for years! Dad was an avid collector during all of these video game eras. He was compelled to buy Intellivision cartridges, Atari software, and Nintendo games, almost more than we could ever find the time to play. I know in my heart that he made each purchase thinking of the fun he could share with his son. Recently I found the instruction manual for our Pong system and some Intellivision catalogs tucked away in his desk drawer, looking as new as the day they were printed. Maybe Dad saved these as mementos of our shared video game memories.
As a child I was sometimes socially awkward, a little overweight, and spent more time alone than most kids, but Dad never tried to change me into anything other than my authentic self. He didn’t try to make me play baseball or any other “boyish” endeavor, but instead was thrilled to fill my room with super heroes, spaceships, and everything I could ever want to fuel my imagination and make me feel I could accomplish anything. My love of nostalgia is directly caused by my incredibly happy childhood. Everything I collect, watch, read, and obsess about helps me remember those amazing golden days. I miss Dad dearly, but I’m forever thankful that he was a man who was proud of his geek son.