Father, I want to kill you.
— Jim Morrison, "The End"
I think we can safely stipulate one thing about father-son relationships, no matter how tormented they are. By the time a man is 61, which just happens to be my age, he should be ready to take responsibility for his own limitations.
We can further stipulate that it is unseemly to rail and rant in public like the late, great Morrison, though he was only in his 20s and soon to die when he offered up his famous cry of pain and rage. So let's not be too harsh on him.
But still ... still ... I feel I must acknowledge this, too: Who your father was how he acted, what kind of role modeling he offered, no matter how reluctantly will have a significant effect on every aspect of your grown-up life, including poker. And this is true despite the fact that once I was off on my own, away from my father's malignant influence, I made a solemn vow never, ever to be anything like him, then and forever.
This, of course, did not stop me from becoming exactly like him in ways both big and small, ways that had in common one thing: I was blissfully unaware of all of them at least until recently, when my journey into the weird and consciousness-altering world of poker forced me to confront my limitations head on.
The big one? I once asked my mother if my father was really much of a gambler. She chuckled and said with uncharacteristic contempt, "He was no gambler. He hated to lose too much."
Well, mom, I can dig it. For me, losing is much more painful geometrically so than winning is soothing. No matter how often I win and how much money I take, it only keeps the wolf the one that constantly growls, in my father's voice, "You're a loser" away from the door until that next losing session, or tournament, or long evening working on my carpal tunnel syndrome at the computer.
This creates a vicious cycle. Mike Caro has written what I consider to be the best piece of advice I've ever read on the subject of poker: that the purpose of the game is not to win hands, or even to win money, but rather to make right decisions. I know, I know, it sounds obvious. But do you realize how few players actually understand what Caro is talking about? And how many fewer are able, under pressure, to follow his dictum?
If you hate to lose too much or, let's be honest, are afraid to lose too much it's almost impossible to make the right decision when, say, your bankroll is going down the drain. It's as if there's blood haze seeping into your eyes, into your brain, until, as the famous piano player Oscar Levant once did after losing a year's income in a single night, you are ready to jump up on a casino card table and scream, "I don't care what Freud says, I don't want to lose."
And, of course, nobody will believe you, just as they did not believe poor Oscar.
For me, each session becomes a referendum on whether I am really the loser that my father constantly reminded me I was, over and over and over. See, Maess of Minneapolis, you were wiser than you knew when you wrote, early on in this project, that I do not have what it takes to be a pro.