Late November 2005 we celebrated a big party. My dad turned 55, an age he was always scared about. He had lost his dad at the age of 54 and before that his granddad had also died at the age of 54. Turning 55 was a big thing for him, a very big thing, he had outlived his dad and granddad and we celebrated with roughly 80 of his best friends at our favorite diner place.
In January 2006 I bought my first house at the age of 23, needless to say I felt excited about moving out. It was only 200m away from the place I’ve grown up but it still was a big step. I worked 5 days a week and would play poker any moment I could. I daydreamed a lot about becoming a professional poker player and told my parents I wanted to chase down that dream. I already had a 6year career in IT and was making good money for my age but still poker felt like something I could make a living off. My parents didn’t really like the idea, but since I’m not the reckless kind of type they knew I wouldn’t rush into something if I wasn’t really sure. They let me be and knowing that I just bought a house they were even more sure I wouldn’t do anything stupid.
April 2006 I went to Las Vegas again. In 2004 and 2005 my dad came along and after two times he said he wanted to skip a year. That year we went with a big group, I had finally convinced all my friends Las Vegas was the place to be. Hearing that, my dad suddenly changed his mind. My friends really liked hanging out with my dad and while I was playing poker with my poker buddy, my dad would show my friends all the casinos in Las Vegas. He was crazy about that city.
In July 2006 I got the keys to my house. The house was in pretty good shape so it wasn’t a huge project besides some small tweaks and the usual paintjobs. I have two left hands so there wasn’t a lot I could do but luckily my dad was a carpenter and combining my ideas with his craftsmanship would create the perfect place for myself. I wasn’t in a rush to move out so we agreed to do things slowly. I remember also that the weather was really great so I spent more time on the beach then doing stuff, also knowing I could do little anyway. My father wasn’t the type who would sit still so despite my mom saying he should come down to the beach and take it easy he would do all kind of things in the house. In July he had the month off but in early August he was back to work again and one day didn’t feel so well in the morning. Going home sick wasn’t like him, so he finished the day but felt really bad when he got home. My mother got worried and took him to the hospital where they told him he had had a small heart attack that morning. I visited him together with my sister that evening in the hospital and he told us that it was nothing to worry about. He talked about how he would go back to work the next day and when they told him he wasn’t allowed to go home he wasn’t happy. He felt fine and didn’t understand why they would keep him in the hospital. He would say that every day and after a couple of days he came home and coming home was a bit different then he expected.
His energy levels had dropped and he felt tired quickly. He wanted to work, he wanted to finish my house but the doctors told him he should rest first. And so he did and after a couple of days the doctors advised him he should join recovery group sessions at the hospital where he would meet other people who were in a similar situation. Of course he didn’t want that at first because he didn’t see it as a big thing but probably with some guidance of my mother he joined the recovery sessions. I remember how he came back from one of his first session. Basically what the sessions was about was to work at his condition so they put him on a bike with a heart rate monitor and he needed to pedal slowly while they would watch his heart rate. He saw people who could barely get on the bike, who were tired after a couple of minutes pedaling on a very low cadence but he jumped on the bike and they told him to slow down all the time because he was pedaling to fast. He was way ahead of most others in his “class”, giving him even more reason not to see it as something big. My birthday came around mid September which was supposed to be the date I would move in. Doing nothing made my dad crazy so he would do small stuff in my house, often at a slow pace and only for an hour or two. It gave him some distraction so it was all good, you could see his energy levels slowly coming back.
When I visited my dad in the hospital in August I wasn’t worried at all. They way he acted gave me the idea he was indeed okay. When he got home I saw how my dad was struggling so that did give me the indication something real had happened but by the time it was October I had no worries at all. Many people survive a heart attack and many people live years after. When you are 8 years old you believe your dad is the strongest man on earth, I still believed that when I was 24.
My sister was a stewardess in that time and had invited my mother to join her on a trip to Isla Margarita. Only a couple of days but my mother was very hesitant because of the situation with my dad. The trip was in early November, and my dad was getting better by the day so my mom decided to go. The morning of November 6 my dad drove my mom and sister to the airport. I headed to work like usual and my dad would do some stuff at my place. Around lunchtime he had a recovery session at the hospital and I finished my day around 5. My reception was always pretty bad in the office back then and when I arrived at the train station I saw that I had a couple of voicemails. I called my voicemail and my grandmother was on the phone, I could barely make out what she was saying thinking something had happened with my granddad only noticing a couple of seconds later it wasn’t my granddad, it was my own dad.
Standing on the railway platform I felt desperate. My mom and sister were still in a plane, I was in the middle of Amsterdam waiting for a train to get home to eat dinner with my dad. During the recovery session my dad was on the bike as usual, after 5 minutes or so he got his 2nd heart attack and fell of his bike. Getting a heart attack in an hospital having a heart rate monitor attached to your chest is probably the “safest” place to get one but that didn’t help in his case. They tried to reanimate him but couldn’t get him back. After he passed away the doctors had tried to call my mom and sister but couldn’t reach both since they were both in a plane. They didn’t had my number and had tried ringing my grandma after a while. While trying to reach my mom and sister they had called up my sisters employers somehow, maybe it was my grandma. My sister had a different flight plan then my mom and had a stopover in Copenhagen where she heard the news. My mom heard the news in the cockpit on her way to Isla Margarita, probably thinking she would get a special tour in the cockpit because my sister worked for that airline.
Wednesday this is 7 year ago. A lot has happened in these 7 years. The last 5 of these 7 years are truly my best years in life so far. Soon after my dad died I started playing online poker, in 2007 I changed my life for the better by losing 41kilo’s. I chased my dream of becoming a professional poker player and after a successful year in 2008 I finally had enough confidence to go pro in January 2009. I’ve enjoyed life to the max knowing that it can be over in a split second. I celebrated my 30th birthday in the place where he celebrated his 55th, knowing he would have loved that. I’ve changed as a person after November 2006, for the better and there are two key reasons for that, my dad and poker.
This year however was different. I’ve still lived life to the max. I’ve probably just closed off my most enjoyable summer ever but I didn’t go to Las Vegas for the first year since 2004 and I haven’t played nearly enough poker to consider myself still a pro. My life is changing again and while I do know I’m probably on the right path, it feels kinda wrong. I can’t get my dad back for sure and letting go of poker probably means more to me then poker alone.
What I do know is that the way I’ve lived my life over the last 5 years would have been the way my father wanted me to live my life. Besides my dad I have many other people to thank for my happiness but this blog it’s only about one person.
Thanks for everything you are still the greatest dad in the world!