My Father, Sam Fisher, and Me

In the Summer of 2015, I took a day off of work to sit a cold, bland hospital waiting room and wait for my father to get out of surgery. A plaque build-up that had clogged an artery in his neck and needed to be taken out before it got worse. A giant television on the wall displayed numbers in a list, each one representing a different patient. My father’s number sat there with the words “surgery in progress” for what felt like forever.

I spent this time thinking about my father. My dad and I grew up two very different people. When I was 16, I spent most of my time playing video games or skateboarding. When he was 16, he had started a new life in California after spending his earlier years in the Philippines. When I still lived at home, we rarely spoke to each other. The only times we did were when we sat down on rainy Saturday afternoons to play Splinter Cell. This had become something of a ritual for us throughout the years, we started with Pandora Tomorrow and moved up and forward from there. I was surprised that he was good at the game and in one particular instance, I sat and watched him memorize guard movements and camera placements for hours just so he could complete the mission without being seen.When I played, though, my dad would tease me every time I messed something up. Even though his comments were pretty harsh, I always took them in stride. I laughed along with him and when he wanted to take a break to smoke cigarettes, I’d walk out to the deck just to recap the last mission’s events. I mostly just let him talk about life and video games. When I’d ask him how he was so good at Splinter Cell he told me he’d treat each level as if he was really there. He dropped all video game logic and completely immersed himself in the game, which is something I never did.

At the hospital, my trip down memory lane soon broke when a nurse walked in and told me that I could see my father before they moved him to the ICU. I walked in the doors, knees shaking, and saw that he was sat up, with tubes plugged into him and a bag attached to his neck collecting blood. He laughed when he saw my face and asked what I was doing there, but I couldn’t answer. Instead, I stared at him in his drugged up state while he perpetually bled into a tiny plastic bag and thought about all of the times we were surprised to see each other at home.

After high school, my dad and I stopped playing video games together. He had taken on more hours at his job, and we didn’t spend that much time together. Whenever he left work earlier than expected, I would ask him what he was doing at home. Hearing that question reflected back at me in a situation where I was now the unexpected one made me feel uneasy. When I told him that I was there for him, he laughed and said, “don’t you have a game to play?”

The game he was referring to was Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which I had picked up after finding out that he had to get surgery. The day before his surgery he watched me play Blacklist and made comments whenever he noticed something different about the game. One of the things he hated the most was Sam Fisher’s redesign. Sam’s gruff voice was gone and it was replaced with a younger sounding and more agile version of the character. My dad watched me play while he smoked his last couple of cigarettes, shaking his head every time I slid from cover to cover, when he thought I should stay put.

I didn’t say too much while he laid there in his barely-lucid state. Instead, I laughed along with him and gave him a couple of one word answers. I walked with him as nurses and doctors moved his bed into the ICU. Moving through those long corridors, I felt like I was barely there. Even though I was walking alongside my father’s hospital bed, it was as if I had been watching from afar or my consciousness was somewhere else, holding a controller, playing through this terrible cutscene and watching me hold my father’s limp hand.

When I went home that night, I played Blacklist. I found comfort in playing alone. It was the first Splinter Cell game I played without my father and I felt a strange kind of comfort playing without him, knowing that I didn’t need his words guiding me through each mission. I stayed up most of the night with the game, tackling different challenges and figuring things out on my own without him as a sounding board. I moved through the game at a slow crawl, I tried my best to mimic my father’s Sam Fisher instead of playing my own action-oriented Sam.

When my father came home from the hospital, he was in good health and good spirits. He showed off the scar on the side of his neck like it was a badge of honor. He moved slow and steady towards the couch to sit next to me and I asked him if he remembered the days we spent playing Splinter Cell. He quietly nodded and joked about my bad aim and my erratic movements on the screen. As I booted up the game, he said something about hating the new Sam and missing the old guy and promptly lulled himself into a soft snore. I slinked through each level moving quickly but carefully. Even though he was asleep, I felt like he would have been proud to see how I’ve adapted my play style into something worth watching.