By Angela Noel
June 29, 2017
Some dads teach their kids how to fish, or how to play backgammon. Other dads teach baseball or carpentry or cooking. Since a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich served as my father’s specialty–it’s safe to say his skills weren’t in the kitchen. Also an excellent handyman, he tackled work around the house as one would a science project. He’d carefully form a hypothesis of what needed to happen, then experiment until he found just the right way to fix whatever needed fixing. But I didn’t learn much from him on that front either.
My dad taught me skills of a different sort, like how to play, to explore, and to create. I remember few of the many nuggets of advice he offered, his words passed over my younger-self like water. Yet my quest to understand the world in new ways, my curiosity, all stem from the lessons of my youth. Who he is, rather than anything he said, shaped me.
One of the most creative people I know, he invented games, and still does. He dreamed up a card game for us one family vacation in Hawaii when I was in the third-grade. We used decks of cards to create a path through the rented condo, even up and down the stairs. We practiced our arithmetic as we added and subtracted the ten of diamonds and the five of clubs. He’d draw a card and we’d advance or retreat along the playing card paving stones. I don’t remember the rest of the rules or how to win. But I remember how fun it was, and how much we wanted to play again. Vacations bring out some of my dad’s best ideas.
For example, in my pre-teen years he devised a scheme to test our budgeting skills. On a trip to New England, he allotted my sister, Dawn, and I a certain amount of money for food each day. If we didn’t spend it all, we got to keep it. This worked until he realized the two of us hoarded our money instead of buying food. He’d raised two savers.
But, he didn’t reserve his inventiveness for family trips alone.
He used to give us “think-ups” at the dinner table. He’d think of a question and we would have to think up the answer. I loved the game. I looked forward to dinner–even if I knew I’d have to choke down lima beans–because I wondered what my dad had up his sleeve.
He’s retired now, but the creative endeavors continue. We just returned from a family cruise to Alaska. Nine months ago, my dad devised the “Fun Facts About Alaska Game” (FFAA for short) intended to improve our knowledge and capitalize on the best part of vacations, the anticipation.
The game required we pick prospector names and complete a series of challenges to earn “Prospector Bucks.” Every night, while we ate multi-course meals in the cruise ship dining room, we bet our “grubstakes” on nightly quizzes. This game upped the ante on the think-ups of my youth. Fabulous prizes awaited the winners of FFAA–even one I heard could prove difficult to get through security at the airport, which made me both curious and a little nervous. I ended up winning that particular prize.
A gold foil-filled bottle shaped like a grenade now sits on my dresser. But the real prizes had nothing to do with gold or silver. In fact, they weren’t things at all.
At one point during dinner on the last day, after the prizes had been awarded and the dessert dishes cleared, I watched my silver-haired father talk and play with my twelve-year-old nephew. The joy on his face, the genuine smile–with teeth–lit his face brighter than polished gold. Novelist Cesare Pavese wrote, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”For me, for all of us, we prize the memories.
Lucky for me, I am my father’s daughter. Let the games begin.
Your turn: What do you love about your dad (stepdad, father-figure fellow)?