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Playing Cards With Dad

September 22nd is my Dad’s birthday. If he were alive today, he would be 119 years old! He was born in 1897 and saw much in his 66 years of life.

Dad was but a year old when Teddy Roosevelt charged up Kettle Hill. He was 20 years old when the United States entered World War I and he immediately joined the Navy. The Great Depression hit in 1929 when he was 32. At 44, he married my mother just months before the United States entered World War II. At the age of 47, Dad and mother started a family which ultimately would consist of my sister, two brothers and me.

As a child, I doubt that I appreciated his wealth of knowledge and the vastness of his experiences. Typically in those days, people had children when they were young and did not fully know who they were. But at 44, my Dad knew exactly who he was. And even greater than that, he was wise enough to know that his influence would help shape us kids into the people we would become.

We lived a “no-frills” life because my Dad believed that it was more important to spend time together talking and building a strong family bond than to be glued to what he called the idiot box (TV)!

But on the occasional Saturday night, mother would take us kids to the picture show. Even though this was quite a treat, I would often elect to stay with my Dad. I loved to listen to his stories while we played cards. The card game we played was rummy; six cards. Two sets and you won. It was quite something to play with Dad, who was quite accomplished at the game. On many occasions, he would play rummy with the salesmen who came to sell us various supplies such as food, gas, novelties, etc., for our family's truck stop. I watched with great interest as I knew that our family could ill afford for him to lose. I was quite glad when he won, which was more times than not. He had a knack for cards as well as a great mind.

I studied Dad’s play and as I played the game and I got to a point where I felt that I was a pretty good card player. Indeed, when I played Dad, I would gain confidence as I won more games that I had the year before. And in my young - but delusional - mind, I thought that soon, I would be as good as Dad or maybe even better! One Saturday evening, I learned how truly good I was not.

On this night of playing cards, I was feeling good! I was winning many more games than my Dad and I felt I had mastered the game! I was really feeling my oats and started boasting to Dad how good I was. My Dad’s reply was, “If you think you’re good, then why don’t you and I play for money?” He knew that I had saved some from selling cold drinks at the University of Florida football games. Thinking of this money I’d saved, and calculating how much I could win from my father, my response was, “For sure!”

I went and got my money and brought it to the table. Dad said, “How much do you have there?” I counted it and said, “Eight dollars.” He said “How about we play for a dollar a game then?” I quickly said OK. At the beginning, I was on a roll winning almost every game! Occasionally, I would count my money and Dad would say, “How much do you have there?” I would tell him $14; then $18, then; when I had a total of $24, Dad said, “You’ve done pretty good there. Why don’t we play for eight dollars a game?” Of course, that excited me to no end and I eagerly agreed. I was now gonna really be in the money!!

But, three hands later, I was BROKE. All my winnings and all of my original money was GONE. I was heartbroken. How did he beat me? I was winning in the beginning; what happened?!!

Dad looked into my dejected face and imparted an important lesson in Waldo Wisdom, “Even though you think you’re really good at something, never risk losing everything and never put your last dollars on the line. Particularly when you are playing someone at their game. I have many years of experience playing cards and I hustled you.”

Through the rest of his life, my Dad had the wisdom to teach us many lessons that would prepare us for the future. These lessons, although at times they seemed harsh, gave me and my siblings a leg up in life. I was 16 when my Dad died. And even though I was devastated at losing him, I was proud that I could stand on my own two feet.

My parenting wasn’t exactly the same as my father’s but the foundation was much the same. He taught me that when we overly protect our children and give them too much, we shouldn’t be surprised if they to go out in the world unprepared to properly deal with the challenges of life. That to navigate life’s various situations doesn’t come from privilege; it comes from hard work, dedication and integrity.

On a side note: Dad let me earn my $8 back one dollar a day by filling out a multiplication chart. Eight days later and now, some 50 years later, I know my multiplication tables backwards and forwards. Thanks Dad! I am grateful for all the wisdom you shared and all the lessons you taught me. I hope as you are looking down from heaven, that you are proud and smiling down on all of us.


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