Before we jump in here dear reader, you must know one very important trait about my father – he is possibly one of the driest people on the planet. He speaks in a slow, measured tone and considers every single word before it leaves his mouth. This isn’t to say that he is cold and distant, because he is a very warm and funny man, but he is just so very, very dry.
I think it’s the engineer in him, because most other engineers I’ve ever met, (including the one engineering professor I dated, and no I don’t have any daddy issues, that man found me in a club and asked me out, thank you very much), seem to have that same thoughtfulness. I think it has something to do with being good at math. Anyway, I just needed to get that out of the way so the next few paragraphs would have a bit more gravitas.
(And here’s the other thing about my dad; he not really sports guy. Sure, he’ll go to a couple of ballgames here and there, but he doesn’t follow sports nor does he quite understand people that take more than a passing interest in the box scores. A couple of years ago he at some sort of reception and some one brought up that the Penguins had recently been on a winning streak, to which my father replied with something along the lines of, “Oh, I really don’t pay attention to that sort thing.” Who did he say this to? One of the minority owners of the Penguins, naturally. This is my father.)
(Two set-ups later and we get to the actually story. Hang in there with me.)
When my sister and I were young, about 9 and 11 years-old respectively, my father called us together in the dining room, for a “talk”. We had both read our fair share of Judy Blume by that age, so we thought this could only mean one thing, “the talk”. The talk that meant we were no longer daddy’s little girls, and that we were on the verge of being little women and he was okay with that, but no, no boys just yet, please. In a rare display of solidarity, we braced ourselves, knowing that nothing was every going to be same after “the talk”. The words that came out of his mouth will forever be seared into my brain.
“Now, I want to show you something so you don’t learn it on the street.”
We sat frozen. What could it be? A doll? Did he have a book? Oh god please, not another textbook, why does everything have to be a lesson in something? And if it is a book, please don’t let there be pictures, this is difficult enough. This is not how the dad in “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” acted. Why does this man take so long to speak?
He pulled out a deck of cards.
“First, you need to know the ranking of the cards. Ace is the highest, but it can also be the lowest.”
Things never were the same again, because that night begat hundreds upon hundreds of family poker nights. 7-card stud, 5-card draw, blackjack, how to count cards in single-deck and four-deck blackjack without looking like you’re counting the cards, Omaha, and everything else between the high and the low was played. To this day, the only natural royal flush I’ve ever had in a 7-card stud game was at that dining room table.
It was playing poker with my father that made me a stronger player. It did not matter how silly or how serious we were in any hand, when it came to cards he was impossible to read. He always used his same voice, his same tone, and his same inflection no matter if he was raising or folding. Dry. Thoughtful. And mindful of the math. It was maddening to play against.
Years later he admitted that one of the reasons he had taught us how to play is that he did not want us to go to college and loose all of our clothes in a game strip poker at a frat house. Frat houses and auto mechanics were the two things my father always wanted us to be ready for once we were on our own. I ended up at college that didn’t have a Greek system while my sister went to a Brainaic U, so it was a lot of worry for nothing. (Although being able to look under the hood of my car has been very helpful over the years.)
I still play a lot of cards, although the big poker fad of a few years ago has kind of ruined some of the fun of it for me, especially around the home games. Living in Los Angeles means I’m never more than twenty minutes from a casino, and I slip down to the Bike enough that they call and check on me if my player’s card goes unused from time to time. It does not escape me that when I am playing at my best is when I most like him, and that when I am floundering is when I more like, well, me.
So thank you Dad for teaching me how to play cards. I’ve never lost at strip poker, (which really, as an adult makes me feel like a stick in the mud), and I’ve made a fair amount of money along the way.
(I couldn’t find the picture I wanted for this post, so instead I pulled a couple of clips from the 12 volumes of home movies my father has sent me. Now you can see where I get the ‘PROP COMIC AT WORK’ and love of Teddy Bear Picnic videos from, because that is one man who loves time-elapse photography. And if I ever get my own film or TV vanity card, I am totally using that ”A Barf Beer Production” clip. The making sure there was better quality of some type of video or audio clip? Totally something my father would do to.)