… mainly because tomorrow is Father’s Day, and because I’ve spent too much of my free time lately playing Solitaire. My son has gotten me completely addicted to the Microsoft Solitaire Collection app. It has daily challenges around five games: FreeCell, Spider, Klondike, Pyramid, and TriPeaks. But my obsession goes back much further.

I blame Dad, although Mom was right there enabling him. Some of my earliest memories include a deck of cards. There was always at least one handy. Keep in mind this was before the PC, when we had to actually shuffle the cards rather than click on the “new game” button. And if my chubby little hands couldn’t quite control that bridge then I suffered the natural consequences and the game changed to 52-card Pick Up.

Dinner not quite ready? Dad would grab the cards and deal out King’s Corners or Crazy 8’s at the kitchen table. I don’t ever remember having flash cards, but I learned about counting, patterns, consecutive ordering, adding, subtracting, and could tell you all about tricks and suits before I started school.

Come weekends there were dinners with friends and family. After the dishes were cleared the adults would play grown-up games like Canasta or Poker around the dining room table while the kids would play War or BS on the living room floor. I thought I was all grown-up when I learned to play Cribbage and Gin Rummy during summer camp after third grade.

Our family also loved camping and traveling. But what do you do in a pop-up when it’s storming? Time to teach the kids to play Poker and Canasta. Dad would let us play a couple open hands as he explained the rules and strategy. We could ask questions and he would show us why our play was good or not, and what he would then do when it came his turn. Once we had the hang of it, no more Mr. Nice Guy—Dad played for real and took prisoners. He never went easy on us just because we were kids. We had to learn to win or lose graciously like good sports, or we weren’t allowed to play. Mom would look over our shoulders and give hints or nod yes or no until we built a little more confidence. I never heard the term “kinesthetic learning” until I became a teacher, but my parents were modeling it by having us learn by doing, be it games or chores.

When we were sick, we didn’t get to sit in front of the TV all day. If we felt good enough we could read or play solitaire. If we felt better than that, we could get up and go to school. When Dad hurt his back and was in the hospital, I would ride my bike there after school to hang out with him and…you guessed it…play cards.

Kathryn & Dad 1985

Kathryn & Dad 1985

When my younger brother was in middle school he was caught a number of times gambling with his lunch money, playing Poker at the bus stop or on the playground. He ate very well during those years. I was in high school then and found a lot of friends who also enjoyed socializing with jacks, queens, and kings. It was not unusual to find a dozen teenagers on the floor of our den playing Spoons or Nertz.

Fresh decks were packed with the new towels and sheets when I left for college. Fish camp found me in the freshman girls’ dorm dealing cards and learning names. I was so relieved my assigned roommate also enjoyed the same games. Within weeks we had met a lot of new people, and they all knew our room number when they wanted to play. Unfortunately guys weren’t allowed in the girls’ dorm, so before midterms that first semester our co-ed games moved to The Kettle Restaurant–open 24/7, hot coffee, and brownie sundaes. They let us study or play cards all night, as long as there were empty tables and we tipped well.

It was at one of these Kettle nights that a friend introduced me to a friend who became more than a friend. Our first date was an April Fool’s Day party and the entertainment—Crazy Spades. He and I made a great team and moved quickly to the winner’s table. Eight months later we were married, and after the rehearsal dinner there wasn’t a bachelor or bachelorette party. No, we all packed into the hotel suite and played Nertz. We all had so much fun, and a few members of the bridal party still have scars by which to remember the evening. Now the first rule is to remove all jewelry before Nertz commences.

A few years later and we were expecting our firstborn. Braxton Hicks contractions started six weeks before his due date. Friends would come over to play Canasta, and for weeks prior to our son’s arrival we timed and recorded contractions in the margins of our score pad while we continued melding. When the doctors finally induced labor, we spent a long day at the hospital, and ended up playing more cards. Even the labor and delivery nurses joined in for a couple hands.

My youngest son was only three when my dad and brother taught him to play Black Jack. Today he has an intuitive gift for statistics and probability even though he claims he doesn’t like math. Three generations now sit around Mom’s dining room table playing Pegs and Jokers or the latest card game, Golf.

This will be the fourth Father’s Day Dad is playing in Heaven. I am grateful for the fun, the life and math lessons, the memories, and the laughter. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I’ll double down for you.