Paul; A Final Draft

All things must come to an end, and yet it’s always still a bit of a surprise when they suddenly do.

Yesterday, on the 13th, at just about noon local time in the Netherlands, my dad passed away.

Or I should say Paul.

I know some people think it odd I have always addressed my parents by name, but to me it feels much more distant to say “dad”. You see; there’s only one Paul, but there are dads littered all across space and time.

Maybe this sharpens the loss of that one Paul right now, but I still have no regrets in the grand scheme of things.

Paul had been struggling with his health for years, so in the largest sense the end didn’t come as a huge surprise.

But for the past two years he had been on some magical medication that had made an immense difference to his energy levels and quality of life. So in the medium sense the change did come suddenly.

However, in the smallest sense, measured by landing in hospital two weeks ago there proved to be plenty of time to say goodbye.

For me.
For all of us.
And also for him.

It turns out that magical medication might as well have come from a stereotypical shady gnome in a dark fairytale, hiding under an arching stone bridge peddling miracle cures to the unwary traveler. The price for the two good years was a sudden reversal of fortune at the end.

And yet, I am glad.

Paul didn’t look at these last two weeks as a curse, he didn’t regret the trade-off. He’d have made it a second time in a heartbeat. And I am proud that’s genuinely how he faced it in the end. Not angry or resigned, but at peace with the gift and its cost.

And in the last two consecutive years, it bought me personally two great final opportunities to spend time back in the Netherlands. We built extravagant Lego buildings and I saw him DIY like there’s no tomorrow.

The past week, the immediacy of the situation pushed me to reflect on what exactly he had given me. Just in time to write a final short letter to thank him.

To my great embarrasment I had never before taken that step back for perspective. I guess it’s the luxury of always one more tomorrow that makes procrastinating on it so damned easy.

In the end the relevant memories came easier than I would have expected.

I remember the year he drew me for the Dutch equivalent of a “Secret Santa”. I walked in on the construction more than once, but he managed to deftly misdirect my younger self.

He built a sort of custom puzzle box from wood, and electronics, and fireworks. Literally.

He wrote a little visual adventure game on our ZX-81 (16kB of memory!) that triggered fire-crackers and confetti in the puzzle box at several strategic points. It was the most magical gift I remember… and I have no idea what the actual gift hidden in the box was anymore.

I remember all the times we played the early Sierra adventure games together. Some I was most definitely too young for technically speaking, but that didn’t matter.

And when we’d get hopelessly stuck on a puzzle in this pre-internet/pre-game-guide era, we’d use the 8086 disassembler and debugger to step through the code of the game to find out where to decode the text to figure out what to do next.

I remember a Molotov cocktail in a volcano lair in one of the Leisure Suit Larry’s that required this intervention. The command the game wanted was incredibly specific… and again I don’t remember the command as much as the process to get to it.

This is all by long and windy way of saying that I think the thing of the greatest value he gave me in life was a relish of the puzzle over the outcome. Of figuring things out and not being afraid of feeling out of my depth.

I don’t think for a moment it’s an accident I became an IT professional.

I don’t think for a moment it’s an accident I prefer solutions outside the box even when there’s a much simpler one found inside.

I don’t think for a moment it’s an accident I’m (a little?) weird.

I regret there will be no new memories to add to the list.

But I think on balance I have been given plenty to last a lifetime.

Jerry van Leeuwen

Jerry van Leeuwen