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We had a Commodore64. My dad used to be an electrical engineer and had programs on it for calculations, but sometimes I was allowed to play games on it.

When my mother passed away (late 80s, I was 7), I closed up completely. I didn't speak, locked myself into my room, skipped school to read in the library. My dad was a lovely caring man, but he was suffering from a mental disease, so he couldn't really handle the situation either.

A few weeks after the funeral, on my birthday, the C64 was set up in my bedroom, with the "programmers reference guide" on my desk. I stayed up late every night to read it and try the examples, thought about those programs while in school. I memorized the addresses of the sound and sprite buffers, learnt how programs were managed in memory and stored on the casette.

I worked on my own games, got lost in the stories I was writing, mostly scifi/fantasy RPGs. I bought 2764 eproms and soldered custom cartridges so I could store my finished work safely.

When I was 12 my dad disappeared, was found, and hospitalized with lost memory. I slipped through the cracks of child protection, felt responsible to take care of the house and pay the bills. After a year I got picked up and placed in foster care in a strict Christian family who disallowed the use of computers.

I ran away when I was 13, rented a student apartment using my orphanage checks (about €800/m), got a bunch of new and recycled computers on which I installed Debian, and learnt many new programming languages (C/C++, Haskell, JS, PHP, etc). My apartment mates joked about the 12 CRT monitors in my room, but I loved playing around with experimental networking setups. I tried to keep a low profile and attended high school, often faking my dad's signatures.

After a little over a year I was picked up by child protection again. My dad was living on his own again, partly recovered, and in front of a judge he agreed to be provisory legal guardian, despite his condition. I was ruled to be legally an adult at the age of 15, and got to keep living in the student flat (nation-wide foster parent shortage played a role).

OK, so this sounds like a sobstory. It isn't. I fondly remember my mom, my dad is doing pretty well, enjoying his old age together with an nice woman in some communal landhouse place.

I had a bit of a downturn from age 18-22 or so, lots of drugs and partying. Maybe I just needed to do that. I never finished any school (not even high school), but managed to build a relatively good career. My mom was a biochemist and left me a lot of books, and I started out as lab analyst for a pharma company, later went into phytogenetics, then aerospace (QA/NDT), and later back to pure programming again.

Computers helped me through a tough childhood.

They awakened a passion for creative writing, for math, for science as a whole. I'm a bit messed up, a bit of a survivalist, but currently quite happy and content with my life.

I try to keep reminding people around me, especially those who have just become parents, that you might feel like your kids need a perfect childhood, worrying about social development, dragging them to soccer matches and expensive schools...

But the most important part is to just love them, even if (or especially when) life is harsh and imperfect. Show them you love them with small gestures, and give their dreams the chance to flourish using any of the little resources you have available.

Comments
  • 33
    Wow, what a story sir, thank you for sharing.
  • 22
    As a relatively new parent I appreciate your insight and advice at the end.
  • 13
    That is deep
  • 10
    Trooper...!

    Hats off to you, sir! ❤️
  • 12
    Oh fucking fuck I should write a rant about forgetting tags, wk89 🤣
  • 4
    @AlexDeLarge Just like me, which is why I'm not fond of the pair programming shit.
  • 5
    Your story was really inspiring!

    I don't usually comment, but for stories like these, ++ isn't enough.
  • 6
    Really good story - If you wrote a book I would buy a copy. Seriously. Do it.
  • 6
    I dunno where these bag of onions came from... but they can stay for a little while longer 😢
  • 3
    😥
  • 5
    OK, so I'm not usually impressed by any stories on here but this... Well, if you make a book on your life so far, I'll buy it. BTW you live up to your name "bittersweet".
  • 5
    I always liked your posts, this one essentially.
    It reminds me of my childhood, which only makes me appreciate more what you had to go through.
    I'm mostly impressed by the fact that you could make games at such a young age and were able to rant an apartment. That's really mature and responsible.
    Respect.
  • 2
    Really enjoyed this, you couldn't of worded this any better.
  • 1
    Like @AlexDeLarge said, please write a book!
  • 3
    @Noob Back then the ID documents in our country were laminated heavy paper instead of credit card sized plastic. "Photoshopping" was not a verb yet, so the idea that a kid could make a fake ID at the local xerox store using a heatgun, a scanner, a win95 computer with a diskette drive, a color printer and a laminator had not occurred to the landlord.

    I had some sweaty moments when I turned up at the apartment, and he suspiciously inspected my lack of height, until I handed him a paper bag of money for three months rent in advance. I guess "I study computer science in Amsterdam, and no, no one will come over to party because I don't have any friends" — can't be the worst tenant.
  • 2
    @Noob Regarding programming at a young age, the C64 was a remarkable system.

    The 500 page manual explained everything. It came with programming language examples, machine language instructions, kernel documentation, sprite pointers, collision detects, sound envelope generators, 6510 registers.

    In a sense, it was a very complicated but extremely well documented oversized raspberry pi and game console in one — and most games you bought for it could be reverse engineered as well.

    Give a young kid a system with such a prefect manual, and he might get slightly addicted.

    At the start I just made text adventures with lots of ifs and gotos, later it turned more into rogue likes with D&D stat systems and little chip tunes.
  • 1
    Thank you. These little tears 💦 rolling down my cheek right now contain some deep relieved emotions.
  • 1
    @bittersweet hah! I faked my ID that way exactly in mid 90s!
    But that was in order for me to pass border control so I can move goods (Barbie dolls and rainbow colored dust cleaner sticks) and trade them in places where they were a rarity.

    Also my first computer was a huge keyboard that could be connected to a TV and then had a text input with non-ASCII characters (I distinctly remember a stick figure character).
    I have no idea what was it's name.
  • 1
    wow! Hats off for you man, wish you all the best in the coming years man :)
  • 1
    You're an inspirational spirit to me at this point. Love your story, I do feel sorry for how it had to commence, but love how u still dealt with it all! I've had my share too, but still... the heck... Good luck, dude. You deserve life as positive as it can get and more.

    Succes, makker.
  • 1
    Very good story. Thx for sharing.
  • 3
    Username checks out
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