Do you think this is a game?

Reflections on fatherhood and being present

I’m trying to figure out what’s in her hand.

What does she need? I ask myself.

I draw a card. The jack of spades.

Damn.

Not what I was looking for.

“Are you out?” she asks. But I don’t flinch and I’m not giving anything away.

I pause to think for a second.

I have a lot of cards that can help me—any ace, any eight, and either the four or seven of diamonds. If I get any of those, I’m out and I win this round.

Based on what’s in my hand and what’s been discarded so far, there are six aces, five eights, two four of diamonds, and two seven of diamonds left in the deck.

Each card that helps me is called an out. This means I have fifteen outs left in the double-deck of cards sitting on the table in front of me, not including what’s in her hand.

Counting my outs is a carry-over from playing poker for the last eighteen years. I can’t help it. It’s like muscle memory but in my brain. I’m always looking for the highest percentage play.

But we’re not playing poker tonight. No, we’re playing Three Thirteen. It’s a variation on the game Rummy. You collect groups of three or more cards of either the same rank (7♥ 7♠ 7♣) or in a run of the same suit (4♥ 5♥ 6♥). You play eleven rounds, dealing three cards in the first round and adding an additional card each round until you hit thirteen cards. Hence the name Three Thirteen. In each round, there is a wild card, which is equal to the number of cards dealt.

Right now I have eight cards in my hand, which means eights are wild. And I know for a fact she has two of them. How do I know? That’s for me to know and you to find out later.

I discard the jack of spades and she looks disappointed. She doesn’t need the jack of spades either. She stares me down. She’s trying to find a weakness in me—a clue that could help her land the fatal blow that propels her to victory.

Nice try, kid. But you’re messing with the wrong guy. I’m not gonna crack.

She brushes away a stray lock of hair and tucks it behind her ear. Then she leans over and reaches for the deck to draw a card.

“I can see your cards, Sara,” I say to my twelve-year-old stepdaughter.

“Well, don’t look at them then!” she says as she pulls her cards back toward her chest.

“It’s kind of hard not to look when they’re sitting right in front of my face,” I say with a chuckle.

This is how I know she has two eights.

It doesn’t matter, though. Strategy can only help me so much in Three Thirteen—I still need lady luck on my side. I’ve played perfectly many times before and Sara has beaten me aplenty.

She draws the two of hearts and says, “I’m out!”

I get one more draw.

”The jack of spades again?” I toss it onto the discard pile and say, “Nice job, Sara.” I add up my points and give her a high-five before scooping up the deck to shuffle for the next round.

This is a typical scene at my house most evenings. Sara, my wife Allison, and I will play a game while my three-year-old daughter Em sits in her chair playing one of her iPad games.

Three Thirteen has been the game of choice recently, but we often play other games such as cribbage, Scrabble, Train dominoes, Monopoly, and Yahtzee. Allison and I have kept an ongoing cribbage tally for years for the times when just her and I play. We’re currently tied at ninety wins apiece.

Game time with my family is my happy place. It’s my favorite way to be present with them. It doesn’t matter if I win or lose.

With Father’s Day coming up tomorrow, I’m thinking about my life as a father and a husband.

I was a guest on two podcasts that came out recently. Both hosts asked me a similar question with slight variations and I answered them nearly the same. I didn’t even realize I did it until I listened back to them.

In the first podcast called THE ARENA, host Linda McLachlan asked me, “What would you do on your last day?”

In the second podcast called riseyear, host Taylor Marks asked me, “If you had twenty-four hours to live, unlimited money, and could travel anywhere at the snap of your fingers and bring whoever you wanted with you, what would you do?”

They were recorded on subsequent days, just over a month after the day my dad passed away. For some reason, Linda’s more simple and direct question brought him to mind immediately, while Taylor’s didn’t at all.

My dad’s last day was nearly two months ago now. I’ll never forget it. I’m grateful I was able to be there with him and talk to him in the hours before he died. But it wasn’t a fun day at all—for him or for me. So I altered Linda’s question to be about my last great day.

In both cases, I didn’t think about going to some exotic location or ticking something off my bucket list. Instead, I thought about hanging with my family at home.

Actually, my answer to Taylor’s question found me and my family being teleported to a beach house along with all of Em’s specialty medical equipment. It’s cool though, she said the magical finger-snapping teleportation technology could send anything and everything with us.

The point is, I didn’t feel like I would need to do anything overly special or outlandish. There was no “oh my gosh I’d have to do all these things before I die” feeling. Hanging out with my family at home is enough for me. In my final days, I want to be surrounded by the people I love—just like my dad was.

Later on in the episode with Linda, she asked me about my goals for this year.

I talked about finishing the first manuscript draft of my memoir book. I talked about growing my audience for my writing. I have ambitious goals and in order to achieve them, I have to be relentless.

But achieving my goals isn’t all that matters.

Being present with my family is more important.

In a way, it would be easier to let my ambitious goals consume me. There’s always something I could be doing to push myself further along and get me closer to where I want to be. It’s never-ending.

But I’m not going to do that.

This Father’s Day, I want to stay home and play games with my family.


Something Extra:

The other night, I watched an incredible new documentary called The Wisdom of Trauma. It’s basically a profile of Dr. Gabor Maté, who says that trauma—even if it happened in infancy—shapes everything about us. It was so good, I watched it again with Allison the next day. I can’t recommend it enough, especially if you’ve been through traumatic experiences at all in your life. Let’s be honest, though, who hasn’t?

Watching the film reminded me of my friend Alex Olshonsky. He’s also working on a memoir book and writes a great newsletter called Deep Fix. In his latest piece, he wrote an entertaining, enlightening, fun, and fictitious conversation with the guru Baba Ram Dass. He even references the film in the piece.

📖Give it a read


That’s all for this week. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

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