It's not often that I share personal stories about my life. But as some of you already know, the past month-and-a-half has been very tough. Yet despite how awful these past weeks have been, there were also times when we could create some warm and significant memories. Today I'd like to share the most important of those memories with you all.
Since late last year my father has been in and out of the hospital, battling cancer. For a while, things were looking up. His surgery was succesful, he was breezing through the rest of his treatment, and he was even able to go on holiday to Austria over the summer. Unfortunately, on September 1st his situation took an immediate turn for the worse. The cancer had spread to the liver incredibly rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that there was nothing more that could be done. We were told that in a matter of weeks, my dad would not be with us anymore.
At the time of writing, my dad passed away a little over a month ago.
It's hard to describe what you feel when you receive the most awful news imaginable, and in the time that follows. You want to run away, not have any part of this. You also want to spend as much time with your loved one as you can, while they're still there.
Unfortunately there weren't many things that we liked to do as father and son. My dad and me were simply very different in terms of personality. There weren't many things we both enjoyed; he liked motorcycles, I like Mario. He was a salesman with a massive social network, I'm an introvert who likes to do things alone. We got along perfectly fine and there was never any love lost, but we didn't really match.
However, there was one thing we were both interested in: computers. He liked working with them from a technical standpoint, and I liked them for playing videogames. It didn't take me long before I realized what I wanted to do together with my dad; our final father-son project. I wanted us to build a high-end gaming PC together.
I had been talking about building a gaming PC with my dad for quite some time, even before all this happened. My dad was way more into computer hardware than me. He used to have his own hobby-business where he'd fix the computers for friends, extended family, and ultimately anyone who was even remotely connected to our circle in any way. He'd usually have a good 5 PCs and laptops waiting for him in his work room, and he had a treasure trove of old parts and cables. In contrast I had been using laptops for years (for travel purposes), and I didn't have any experience with PCs to speak of. But being the big gamer that I am, I wanted more out of my device. Besides that I also wanted to learn more about PCs, so that I could fix, tweak, or replace my own parts when needed. Basically I couldn't have told you what a processor looks like (let alone where it goes), and that just would not do.
That's why I'd always say that when I got a steady income and a place of my own I'd replace my old laptops of yesteryear, take a month's salary, and build myself a monster of a machine with my dad's help. I fulfilled those requirements in September 2016, when I landed a PhD position at my old university and moved out of the house. Despite that, the PC project was one of those things that just kept getting delayed. "I don't have the money right now", "I want to save up for a few more months", "I'm kinda busy with work", "The Nintendo Switch just came out", you know how it goes.
That all changed when we received the devastating news that my dad would not be with us for much longer. If there's one thing an event like this does, it's that it puts things in perspective. All of a sudden it hits you how dangerous it is to postpone the things you want to do, and how irrelevant money is in the grand scheme of things. The same evening, I decided that I still wanted to build that gaming PC with my dad while he was still in good enough condition to help me.
The next morning we sat together to decide which parts I was going to want, and to see whether they would all play nice with eachother. I even made an audio recording of this get-together, so that I can still hear his voice when I want to. It's nothing profound, just us talking about which GPU would be a better fit in terms of price and performance, but in a way having captured such a mundane conversation is even better.
A friend of the family has his own computer store, and he was able to accommodate us by bringing over every part we could possibly need very quickly. He even made an exception to his policy of only supplying his orders assembled, and instead dropped off all of the individual parts still boxed. Less than a week after we had first gotten the news about my dad, we had a full set of computer parts ready to be transformed into my first gaming PC.
The day afterwards, I started the build. My dad had just received new medication, which made him incredibly tired. He slept for most of that day, but he was still in such a state that you could wake him up and hold a conversation with him. I had already looked up a bunch of information on building a PC online, so I could get started easily enough.
Ultimately I was able to do most of the work myself, but every once in a while I had to wake up my dad to ask him a question. I made a few beginner's mistakes, but fortunately he was still able to help me out with those. There was even a part where he stood behind me to look over my shoulder for a while, and my mom was able to snap a picture of that moment.
The part I remember most distinctly is when I had trouble putting in the GPU. By all accounts that should've been very simple, just slot it into the motherboard, but for some mysterious reason it simply wouldn't fit. After a good ten minutes of trying and getting increasingly confused, I decided to ask my dad. I woke him up, put the PC case next to him on the bed, and handed him the GPU. After only a few seconds of fiddling, he figured out that...I had forgotten to take the plastic safety off the bottom part of the GPU.
By the end of the afternoon the whole build was fully assembled. I was ready to plug it in and fire it up. I moved it upstairs to where the spare monitors are, gave it its juice, and pressed the Power button.
For a moment my heart sank, because it would've been horrible if I couldn't complete the PC before my dad was too far gone to understand it. Fortunately, the problem was easily fixed. It turned out that the main power cable to the motherboard had come loose slightly while I was moving it upstairs. Plugged it back in, tried it again, and this time it worked!
By the end of that day, I was still able to tell my dad that the PC I built with his help was functional. That was the most important part. It wasn't until a few weeks later that I had all the software installed and it was fully ready for action, but at least the machine operated and recognized every part when my dad was still there to see it.
The following day, he was already far gone. His condition deteriorated quickly, and only three days after our PC was complete he passed away.
My original plan was that we were going to fully build this PC together. Father and son butting heads, working together, getting in eachother's way occasionally, but ultimately coming together to see the build complete. When we were told that my dad would be gone in a matter of "weeks", I thought that was still in the cards. Even then I still maintained the illusion that we had time. In the end, that was not to be. I'm glad my mom encouraged me to get everything together as quickly as possible, because otherwise I would've missed out on this experience entirely. I would've regretted it greatly.
While our father-son project didn't go how I had originally envisioned it, in a way I appreciate this even more. We didn't build this PC together necessarily. I built it myself, with my dad overseeing the project, giving me tips, and helping me out with some beginner's mistakes. If he hadn't told me about the GPU safety this PC would not have gotten assembled that day. These were the last lessons he was able to teach me, before passing on one of his favorite pasttimes to me. Who knows, maybe in a few years I'll know more about computers than he ever did. I think he'd like that a lot.
These past weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions and mixed feelings. On the one hand I'm greatly appreciative of all the mementos we've been able to collect about my dad, from pictures to jewelry and everything inbetween. On the other hand, all I ever wanted is that we never would've needed mementos in the first place. Nevertheless, I'm confident that this PC will only ever bring good vibes into my life. It has a number of important memories attached to it, it's the last thing we did together as father and son, and it's something of his that he was able to pass on to me. And of course, it's going to help me do the thing I love the most: play video games.
Incidentally, I have guarded that little piece of safety plastic with my life; it now has a place next to my dad's picture in my apartment.
In the end, my love for videogames and his love for computer hardware brought us together in a way which hadn't happened before. Whenever I boot up this PC I'll think of my dad.
So in honor of my dad, here's our first high-end PC benchmarking Rise of the Tomb Raider on the highest settings. My dad was never into videogames, but I do know that he has watched the Tomb Raider movies and I know that he liked Indiana Jones. So while he wouldn't have cared to play this game for himself, I'm reasonably certain he'd be interested to see it in action. More than that, he'd be interested to see what the first machine I built myself can do. I hope he's proud.
And with thanks to my dad, here it is: