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Daniel - Poker Journal

My Father

28 Mar 2005

Without a doubt, the coolest guy I ever met was Constantin Negreanu, my father. As a teenager when my friends would come over to the house all they wanted to do was hang out with my Dad by the swimming pool.

In fact, sometimes I'd wake up on a weekend around 11:00am and my friends were already in the backyard hanging out with my Dad by the pool. That was his favorite place in the world. He would get so much sun he looked Indian.

He deserved it though. My father and mother both had tough lives. It's amazing to hear stories about what life was like for people back then. When you compare it to issues we face today it makes you a little embarrassed to think that you've "got it rough."

My parents grew up in Romania which was a Communist country back then. By the time my father was four years old he had a steady job, carrying water up and down a hill for $1 a week. His mother was in the hospital and his father had already passed on.

As for my mother, she was the youngest of 10 children that lived in a house that was smaller than your typical kitchen. They had little food. On good days, they'd send my mother out to steal an egg from the neighbors yard. She was the smallest so she could get under the fence while the others were too big. When she heard the rooster go, "Cock-a-doodle-do" she bolted under the fence, retrieved the egg and then head back to the fences with food for the family.

The 10 of them would then share an egg and some bread if they were lucky. Personally I can't imagine what that's like. My life is so easy and I'm so spoiled, I wonder if I would have even made it back then.

When my father was just six years old he had a gun in his mouth. Born in 1931, the country was occupied by Nazi Germany and a drunk soldier was having some "fun" with my father. With a gun in his mouth, he smashed the whiskey bottle in the Nazi's hand and stabbed him in the throat. My Dad didn't stick around to see if the soldier had lived. Frankly, I don't know that he cared.

My mothers parents died as well when she was just a little girl so the family was split up and she was raised in an orphanage. My father meanwhile, was living on the streets surviving any way he could.

By the time he was 13 years old he owned a little radio shop where he would fix radios and also buy and sell them. By 15 my dad was a regular on the black market. Trading money, food, clothing, or anything else he could get his hands on.

In the process of working on the black market he became fluent in Yiddish, Russian, Italian, Spanish, German, and finally learned English much later.

By 16 my Dad starting boxing. I'm not sure that he loved the sport really, but it put bread on the table. He had his nose broken seven times before moving on to bigger and better things.

By 18 he was an electrician. He still owned that little shop but it had since flourished. My Dad was raking in the "big bucks" and always had a pocket full of money. He was always dressed sharply in designer suits and was quite the ladies man. Everybody loved him... or feared him.

So one night my mother and her sister went to the Disco where my Dad happened to hang out. My Dad wasn't much of a dancer, he preferred kicking back with the guys and scoping out the women.

Well that night someone must have said the wrong thing to my father. My mother and her sister where just there looking to have a good time when they were in the middle of an all out brawl. They hid underneath a table, while my father was flying from a chandelier kicking people in the head.

A few days later my father told my mother's sister Lenutsa that he wanted to go out with my mother. My mother was like, "Are you crazy? I'm not going out with that crazy man." Of course Lenutsa pleaded with her, explaining that you better go out with him, as you don't want to make him mad.

So they went out and I guess the rest is history. They got married shortly after and together had plans for a better life. They wanted to come to America but that would be easier said than done. They lived in Italy for over a year before finally being given the green light to head to Canada. They didn't have any plans to stay in Canada mind you, the plan was to get over to the U.S.

Once in Toronto, Canada they had no money to speak of. Together they had $5 to their name. So my Dad worked the candy floss machine at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) while my mother sold hot dogs.

Before long though my father was doing electrical work at the Exhibition. Speaking little English, he moved on from there and starting working like a horse doing electrical work for people he came in contact with.

My Dad was a real smooth talker. He made you feel really comfortable around him. He had a big heart and was extremely generous... that is until you crossed him. If you crossed him... well let's just say you wouldn't be happy about it.

He was a tough guy and since he didnít speak English all that well he often settled disputes with his fists, knees, teeth, or a hammer if need be. Like I said, you didn't want to cross him!

In 1969 my brother Mike was born. My parents were so happy since my mother had already suffered miscarriages. My parents continued to try for a sibling for my brother but instead my mother suffered through more miscarriages. All told my mother went through nine lost children. She lost triplet girls and twin boys, a total of five boys and four girls.

By that point they'd given up on children. It was too painful for my mother in more ways then one. Then I came along. When the doctors heard that my mother was pregnant again they didn't give me much of a chance.

For this pregnancy though, my mother stayed in bed and did all the right things. She was in labor with my brother for 23 hours. Me? I was out of there in 15 minutes!

The doctors threw me into an incubator as a precaution because of my mother's history, but I was a big, fat, healthy baby. 10 pounds, 3 ounces. I know, I know, so what happened right. How did I end up so skinny!

So my parents raised my brother and I in downtown Toronto. Yet still my father wanted a better life for us, so he worked even harder and was able to secure a beautiful house for us in the suburbs. And that's where I grew up, 43 Pineway Blvd.

I have some great memories from those days. The one thing that sticks out in my mind was the parties that my parents threw. My parents were excellent hosts. My mother is 'da bomb' cook and she used to colorfully prepare seven course meals for the guests. My father made sure their glasses were full and that they were all in good spirits.

My father never played poker but I'm certain he would have been awesome. He read people so well. At those parties, if someone looked bored he'd tell a funny joke to loosen them up. He'd poor them another drink and when they said no thank you he'd say, "Ah shut up!."

My mother was like that with the food, "Try this, it's good." she'd say.

"No thanks Annie I'm full."

"Eh, come on, you have to eat! At least taste it and you'll see." My mother was never wrong, once they tasted it they were hooked.

I feel so lucky. Not just because I can hit a flush when I need to, but more importantly because I was raised by two perfect parents. My mother is the smothering, passionate European woman that wears her heart on her sleeve, and my Dad was the fun loving, life of the party that also commanded attention when he raised his voice.

Then in about 1995, everything in my father's body started to break down. All those years of hard work had finally caught up to him. At age 61 he looked like a kid and was strong as an ox.

Then his liver... his heart... his lungs... his kidneys... everything broke down. He died on March 21st, 1996 at the age of 65. The coolest guy I ever met and I'd never see him again outside of my dreams.

In the months leading up to his death my brother stuck to him like glue. I was just 22 at the time and didn't know how to take it. I knew he was going to die, and I didn't want to remember him as a broken man. He was Superman in my eyes and I wouldn't accept it.

I know in my heart that he never wanted me to see him that way. I used to hear him coughing up blood with my mother at his side, but when I entered the room he'd pretend he was fine. "Hey buggar, what you doing. How come you don't sleep." he'd say. Then when I left the room I heard the coughs again.

The hardest thing for me to swallow, and it's something I will regret for the rest of my life was not being there when my father passed away. I was in Windsor, Ontario with Evelyn playing poker at a private club there. When my mother called me and told me to come home because Daddy wasn't doing well I hopped into my 89' Honda Prelude and hit the road.

There just happened to be a snow storm that day and the cars were hardly moving. As I progressed down the icy road I saw cars flipped over on both sides of the road. I was never going to make it. I head back to my room planning to leave the next morning.

Evelyn was sleeping in the passenger side when I got the phone call about half the way there. It's the call I didn't want to hear.

What drove a steak through my heart was knowing that before he died he wondered, "Where is Daniel... where is Daniel." I just know that he hung on as long as he could waiting for me to arrive.

The rest of the drive home I was in shell shock. I didn't know how to react really. At the funeral I was still in shock. As they lowered my father into his grave my brother, who'd become so attached to my father in his last days couldn't bare to see him go. He was crying frantically and finally jumped in with the casket. Others pulled him back but he was a total mess.

The central figure in our family was gone. Nothing would ever be the same again without Daddy there.

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