Hope and Irrationality: How far my father went to find a Charizard card for me
A few weeks ago, my father passed away at the age of 58, marking a definitive end to the period of time where I waffled between whether or not I could call myself an adult. Life since has been a blur filled with lawyers, long phone calls, and house work as I try and wade through the mess that has become my family’s new normal.
I used to worry about if my favorite TV shows would get cancelled, when the next happy hour would be, and not being too awkward at networking events. Today I pay my family’s remaining mortgage balance, fix a faltering air conditioning unit and try to make sure my younger sister will have enough money to go to college.
In a desperate attempt to cling to childhood during my time back home, I began to sort through my old toys and things. In doing so, I rediscovered a small and dusty red binder full of trading cards and suddenly I was eight again.
Like most kids growing up in the late 90s, I was obsessed with the Pokémon Card Trading game. The collectable card game about pitting mystical and cute creatures against each other in battle was all anyone ever talked about for years. Each pack of 11 Pokémon cards retailed for $3.99 and had one random “Rare” or “Holographic card.” For those lucky and chosen few, this meant getting your hands on a Charizard card. Shiny, beautiful and worth not nearly as much as we thought it would be 17 years later, this glorified piece of cardboard was the life goal of every eight-year-old. Of course, it was impossibly rare, and it was possible to open 50 packs of cards without spotting the fire-breathing bastard. Still, some of the richer kids in the area had parents who bought the individual card from card shops for exorbitant prices. My family had no such money. We did alright, but all the good stuff happened to other people, not us.
One day, after a particularly unsuccessful youth soccer game, my father took my crying self to a Toys R Us on an ugly and rainy day to buy some Pokémon cards to cheer me up. After buying four packs, we returned to the car and began to open them. He asked me to close my eyes and imagine exactly what card I wanted.
I shrug and did as he said, thinking the whole thing to be pointless. He handed me each card in the pack facedown. The first pack opens and goes without any luck. My heart sank- the same result as always. We moved on to the second pack.
The first five cards were nothing special, repeats of ones I already had in my collection. He handed me a sixth and I lazily flipped it over to see Charizard’s fire-breathing maw staring me in the eye. An uncontrolled sound of sobbing mixed with a triumphant yell escapes my mouth. I had lost control of my body, my arms waving my prize wildly: I was going to be the kid with a Charizard, the coolest kid on the world’s lamest playground. I couldn’t believe it.
After I become able to form sentences again, we continued with the rest of the cards. The third pack started off the same way as the first. Then it happened again: a second Charizard sat in my shaking hands. The fourth and final pack yielded the same result. Unbelievable. Within in the span of 5 minutes, I had become the proud and incredulous owner of three Charizard cards.
Between my friends and I, we had probably opened over one-hundred packs of cards without any luck. Here I was sitting with three Charizards in four packs. Turns out it had nothing to do with luck, only a father trying to teach his son to dream big.
As it turns out, he had skipped meals, worked late, and spent nothing on himself to raise enough money to buy over 150 packs of cards- Enough to find three Charizards. He then hid them in already opened packs, and swapped them when I wasn’t looking on our way back to the car.
Few would argue skipping meals to buy your son Pokémon cards is a smart move. But it’s this type of irrational yet hopeful behavior that propelled my father through life. He dreamed big and found ways to make things happen where others would give up. He grew up during the tumultuous Chinese Cultural Revolution. Where others gave up on their education and hope he never saw it as an option. He came to America with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes, 300 dollars, and an amazing amount of grit. He worked late into the evenings to provide a stable home for his family. He was relentless in fighting for things he cared about. He was far from perfect, but he never stopped trying his hardest. He never thought about himself and sacrificed everything to provide me and my sister with the childhood he never had. He taught me to live with fire and passion, to always ask “why not me?”
It wasn’t enough for his son to have just one Charizard card. Because, dammit, why can’t his family have the best? We weren’t one of those families where things dropped into our laps, if wanted something we would work and make it happen ourselves.
Things aren’t exactly easy today. Sometimes wish I could go back to being a kid whose biggest worry was finding a rare card.
Still, when I look at that binder full of cards, I somehow remain hopeful that things will be okay. Not just okay, but great. I’m going to move forward with that same hope and slight irrationality my father had and I will make sure that everything he worked for was worth it. He did his best, and you can bet that my future child gets his own Charizard (or three) someday.