A note from the editor.
Allen Katherman is a guest writer to mantanium.com this summer. He is a Poker personality, fashion enthusiast, nuclear engineer and a great friend. Be sure to follow him on instagram and check back for more.
Who am I? No Labels Please… Part 1
By Allen Katherman
You may follow me on Instagram (ak_poker) or have seen me on the semi-professional poker circuit, where I am a “semi-popular” player. But that’s not all I am. I’m also certified as a Naval nuclear engineer, but I’m not just a sailor, or an engineer. I’m also a father, brother, son and a friend to many. But any of those labels only touch the surface of who I really am.
Like most of you, I’ve worn and discarded labels of all kinds throughout my life. Some labels are ones I like to use and show off, like “Dad” or “Friend” or “Nuclear Engineer” or “Semi-Professional Poker Player.” Others, I try to forget but have defined me into who I am, like “Foster Kid” or “Divorced.”
The labels that are put on us don’t really tell anyone who we really are. There’s a lot more to me than just those labels, be they positive or negative.
This is my story.
My adolescent youth was, quite literally, spent in the “Lost & Found” areas of the local casinos. My father, to put it gently, had a gambling problem. He would spend his entire paycheck in the casino, winning and losing, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to be found sleeping in his car. Our “home” was an Oldsmobile and instead of keys, he would start the car with a screwdriver. My bed was the back seat, his was the front.
Along with his gambling problem, dad had a habit of writing bad checks. He was arrested in front of me several times for kiting. Eventually, I was removed from his care and in to the foster care system, where I was placed in a home with Esther and Terry.
Esther already had a daughter (Christine) from a previous marriage, and they also had another foster child named Michael. My dad could never break his addictive gambling habit, and after seeing how well Esther and Terry took care of me, relinquished his parental rights to them. I was adopted by Esther and Terry and welcomed into the family as one of their own.
To only live in one foster home, not to mention being adopted into that family, is a rare exception and a huge blessing. It’s all too common for kids to travel from foster home to foster home and get “lost” in the system. Unfortunately, my foster brother Michael followed status quo. His mother would never sign over the adoption rights like my father did, and he was in and out of our home multiple times. Although it would have been easy to give up on life, Michael has grown into a phenomenal man and father. Words don’t begin to describe how much I admire his resilience through such an unstable upbringing.
Almost a dozen years ago, I met who I believed was the woman of my dreams. Her name was Melinda, and I was smitten. But I was also very young and believed her when she said she was “on the pill.” So, like many other undisciplined, hormone-raging (aka DUMB) teenager, we didn’t use a condom and she became pregnant with our first daughter.
Because Esther and Terry raised me to accept responsibility for my actions, I decided to follow the Disney fairy tale of getting your girlfriend pregnant, marrying her, then joining the Navy. After taking the ASVAB test and scoring exceptionally high, I was offered the opportunity to be a nuclear engineer. Although I didn’t exactly know what that meant, I accepted the “rate” (Navy term for job) because they guaranteed that for the first two years that I wouldn’t go out to sea and my family could live with me there in South Carolina.
The Navy Nuclear Engineering training pipeline was tedious as all we did was take a load of notes and regurgitate them at the end of the week. Did we really know what we were learning? HELL no, but we found out quickly that memorization is a form of “learning.”
To balance out the stress of school, a couple buddies and I regularly got together on weekends and held our own little Texas Hold’em tournaments. Buy-ins ranged anywhere from $20 to $50 per tournament, so it was “affordable” on a government salary.
After a couple of tournament wins, I was HOOKED. I managed to string together so many wins in a row that eventually, no one wanted to play me. In fact they accused me of cheating! I guess they didn’t realize that all that Navy memorization actually helped me concentrate and figure out player tendencies.
As we got closer to finishing the pipeline, poker started to become less important. Right after I turned 21, I was officially Department of Energy certified as a Nuclear Reactor Operator for the Navy.
Upon graduation, I accepted a role as a staff instructor. Shortly after that, I was awarded a scholarship to become a naval officer. The future was bright: we just had our second daughter, I had re-enlisted for a $75k bonus, was automatically promoted to E-5 and was about to become a full-time college student on their dime.
I was living the dream and had a bright future ahead of me. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of what would become the biggest meltdown of my short life.