Don’t let gambling cheat you out of your youth
A self-test for teens to see whether they have a gambling problem

By Author's name withheld
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Illustration by Connie Chung, 15, Gabrielino HS

The first time I realized my dad had a problem, I was in the fifth grade. My mom took my brother, my sisters and me to mass for my older sister’s eighth grade graduation. The church’s welcoming presence gave me a rush. I was looking forward to seeing see my sister walk down the aisle.

But with a shock, I realized my dad was nowhere in sight. "Where’s Papa? How come he’s not here?" I asked my mom. My mom seemed sad. She told me that he was at home sleeping. He had been up all night at the casino. She said it softly so my little sisters couldn’t hear.

After mass we went back to class. It was hard to concentrate because I kept thinking about my dad. How could he do this? How could he put gambling before his daughter?

That night, my dad came to the graduation ceremony and he was happy as if nothing happened. My mom, sister and I were mad, but we tried not to let it get to us. Maybe it would never happen again.

It didn’t start out like this. My dad was a hard-working man who ran a successful business with his brother. My mom was a homemaker and worked as a secretary for the business. We were a normal family; we went to the beach and amusement parks on weekends. We took family portraits and did everything a family did together. I remember my dad gave all six of us piggy-back rides and carried each of us on his shoulders. I missed those days. I missed seeing my father.

He wouldn’t stop gambling

I don’t know exactly how or why his gambling started. I do recall a time when we were at Las Vegas. We stayed at a hotel that had everything kids could want—arcades, roller coasters, swimming pools with slides and everything else. My dad sure knew how to please his kids, because we had a blast. But when it was time to go, my dad didn’t want to leave. We had our bags packed and already checked out. My dad was still in the casino gambling. We waited for a couple of hours in the lobby. Every half-hour my mom tried to pull my dad away from the gambling table. Then she’d come back, looking tired. "He doesn’t want to leave," she told us. We were all angry and tired but Dad made us wait until he ran out of money.

My dad continued to gamble on and off. He’d gamble everything he had. If he lost, which mostly happened, he would gamble more to try to win back his money. My mom’s checks started bouncing. The bank called frequently to talk to my parents. We tried not to spend money on things we didn’t need, like expensive clothes, latest toys and other unnecessary accessories.

Every night I prayed that my dad would come home. I knew that God had a reason for everything and somehow things would get better.

My dad would gambled all night and come home in the morning. He would sleep during the day. When he woke up, he’d watch TV and eat. Then he’d head back to the casino. That was his daily routine.

My mom was crumbling. I saw bags under her eyes, and I knew she hardly got any sleep. I sometimes heard her in the middle of the night calling my dad, begging him to come home. I wanted to run out of my bed, give her a big hug and tell her she wasn’t the only one suffering.

When my uncle called, I heard my dad arguing with him on the phone. My uncle was upset because my dad hardly ever worked and the business was being hurt.

There was a dark feeling in the house. We couldn’t laugh or make noises or have a good time, because he was in a bad mood and it made him cranky. We didn’t feel like talking to him anyway; we were too angry to even look him in the eye. We couldn’t be happy. We didn’t know what to do or how to be. When I went out, I tried not to think about it. It just hurt too much.

I found myself fighting with my sisters and my brother over anything. If my little sister left her toys out or didn’t do part of her chores, I yelled at her, and she cried and went to my mom. My mom would get mad and yell at me. Then I would yell again at my little sister for being such a bratty tattletale.

One Saturday morning, my mom called my dad at the casino but he wouldn’t come home. She piled all six of us in the car and made us go to the casino to get my dad. When I went in, it was scary. I saw so many men and women gambling. Were they all addicted like my dad? The guards wouldn’t let us kids in, but my dad came out smiling. "Go home, I’ll be home soon," he told us. I didn’t really believe him. I was so mad that he didn’t take it seriously.

He gambled for four days

A few weeks later, my dad was at the casino gambling and didn’t come home for four days in a row. He lost everything. There was no more money in our bank account. When my mom picked us up from school, she was quiet.

"We’re going to sleep in the car tonight," she said. I thought she was kidding. I saw my dad’s truck in the driveway and realized she wasn’t joking. My dad was back from the casino. I felt glad to know he was home, but disappointed for all the things he had done. I dreaded going inside.

My mom seemed really stressed. In a tired voice, she asked me, "Could you write a letter to your dad? Tell him how we feel and that we’re not going to come home tonight." I went to my room and sat down to write. As I wrote, tears ran down my cheeks. I had so much to tell him, it was breaking my heart. It was difficult to communicate with my dad, because he was rarely home. Writing this letter made things a lot easier. I wrote down every single thought in my head and was so relieved to be letting out everything I was holding inside. I was told him how much I loved him, how much we all loved and cared for him. I knew he could get over this if he stopped gambling. I stapled the letter and taped it on the screen of the TV. I knew that would be the first place he would go after he woke up.

My mom didn’t want to be in the house any longer. She wanted to get away and prove to my dad that he was ruining our lives. We couldn’t live like this anymore.

That evening, after our extracurricular activities, my mom took us out to dinner. Then we went to Chuck E. Cheese and played all the video games we wanted. It was a lot of fun but it was hard not to think of what was going on. I was afraid of what was going to happen next. We stayed until it closed, and then we went out to the minivan. My sister asked, "Mom, where are we going?"

"Home," said my mom. I felt comforted because I wanted to hop in my own cozy bed. As we were driving in the car, I felt kind of nervous. What if my dad gets really angry with my letter? I was only expressing my feelings. What if my parents get into an argument? Is this all my fault?

My dad met us at the door, smiling. My mom kind of ignored him, and we all went to sleep. I knew he was trying to cover up for what he had done. I wondered if he was taking the letter seriously. Hopefully there would be a change.

My dad stopped gambling for a while, and I was so proud of him. But then he started again. My mom would call the bank and ask for the date and time of the withdrawals he was making. My dad was losing more money and getting greedier.

One night, my dad was watching TV around 2 a.m. My sister got up to use the restroom. I heard my dad tell her to give him a couple hundred dollars. My little sister had saved $600 for a golden retriever puppy. I couldn’t believe he was asking my little sister for money to gamble. My dad used to give us money and tell us to save it for the future and for college. I started crying in my sleep and prayed this was all a dream.

I told my dad how angry I was

One weekend afternoon, my dad was out gambling again. My mom told me to write a second letter. This time I was angrier. I was so mad, I couldn’t hold it in. I wrote about the time when my dad took money out of my sister’s savings and didn’t tell her. He constantly snuck into my mom’s purse. My dad was desperate, and he was doing things without even thinking. I stated every incident that I knew of. I was frustrated and taking all of my anger out. I had to let it all out because the first letter didn’t do anything and there had to be a change. I was pleased that finally my dad and the rest of my family would know what I was going through. I left the letter on my parent’s bedside table and prayed something good would come out of it. My mom told me she cried after reading my letters. She felt the same way I did.

My dad is doing a lot better and hasn’t gambled since the last letter. He goes to work early every day and tries to come home early to spend time with the family. I remember after I blew out the 15 candles on my birthday cake, my dad asked me what I wished for. I didn’t want to tell him that I wished for him to stop gambling. I thought if I mentioned the word gambling, it would send him right back to the casino. "Papa, this is what I wished for. This is what I have been wishing for, for the past four years. I just want you to stop gambling so our family could be happy once again. I love all of you so very much."

It has been hard for me to write this article. Will people judge me because of my dad’s problem? My mom and siblings hope that maybe my dad will finally know how we really feel. I hope this article will make everyone more aware of compulsive gambling and much it harms the gamblers and everyone around them.

I know my dad still thinks about gambling but he tries to resist. Till this day, I still wake up early and go to my parent’s room to see if my dad is sleeping in there. It gives me a sense of assurance that my dad is home and safe.