Keeping the Younger Generation in Their Place

[Note: with the festivities of my mother’s birthday and my daughter being in town, here is a column from January of 2008 that one of my loyal readers asked me to reprint.]

If you are below the age of 30, you need to stop reading this column now. The words that follow are not for your eyes. In a week I will have something for you to read, but for now please turn the page.

Likewise, if you are one of those parents who allow their offspring to win an occasional game or other contest, or a grandparent who considers this behavior noble and character building, please stop reading. This column isn’t for milquetoasts or any faint-hearted namby-pambies. This column is about winning; specifically, beating your offspring (or the offspring of your offspring) decisively in every game, sport or other contest when the opportunity presents itself.

Now that we have rid ourselves of the weak, let’s get down to what I really set out to tell you stalwarts of gamesmanship.

People like you and I enjoy winning. Sure we can be gracious in defeat. We can even be what are commonly called “good sports.” But that doesn’t mean we like losing. So we do everything in our power to win, whether we are involved in a sports contest or simply playing cards.

Unfortunately we age. And as we age, many of our abilities and faculties diminish. We become susceptible to defeat in games where we were previously almost unbeatable. This is the reality of our existence.

But that doesn’t mean we ever allow our children or grandchildren to win a game or sporting contest simply to build their self-esteem. It is our duty to pummel them mercilessly for as long as we can, so that when they reach our age they have, in turn, the skills necessary to pummel their children and grandchildren mercilessly. This is how you build character.

Earlier this evening, I beat my boy Andrew three consecutive chess matches, including one game where I checkmated him in four moves (he’ll never make that mistake again). I don’t really enjoy chess, but I can beat him – for now. I also realize that if his interest continues, he’ll be beating me at the game in the not too distant future. But for now, I go for his throat when we start a game.

Back when my family lived in Beloit, my father bought a Ping-Pong table. Up to that point in time I never knew he liked the game. Well, after several months of playing with him, I discovered that when he was a student a Beloit College, table tennis (the correct appellation for the game, rather than the colloquial Ping-Pong) was an intramural sport and my father, playing for the TKE House, was undefeated in four years of play. Indeed, he used to practice his slams by putting dimes on the corners of an opponent’s side of the table as targets.

So, as you might expect, I played a lot of table tennis. I practiced with friends and my father and eventually got to the point where none of my friends could beat me, so I figured it was time to go after my dad.

Well, folks, I thought I was a pretty good table tennis player (actually I thought I was considerably above average) until I started to really play competitively with my dad. You see, there were two things I hadn’t really considered: first, that my dad was a really, really good table tennis player and, second, that the entire time I’d been practicing with him he was practicing and sharpening his skills as well.

After my 51st consecutive defeat, I threw my paddle down, stormed up to my room, and creatively rearranged my furnishings in a loud manner that unsettled everyone in the house, including my sisters’ godforsaken guinea pigs, which spent the next two hours squealing and mewling non-stop. When I calmed somewhat, my father stopped by to see the results of my tantrum and asked casually, “You didn’t expect me to let you win, did you?”

Well, of course I didn’t expect him to let me win! It took seven more losses before I finally snapped the streak and from that point on we played more or less evenly. But, as you can tell, I never forgot how hard I had to work in order to play at his level.

Now I find myself in my father’s position. While Andrew is 14 years of age, I am approaching 50. He already hits a baseball better than I can and while I remain a more accurate pitcher my arm tires long before his begins to fail. I can still shoot a basketball better than Andrew, but my days of actually playing the game departed with my knees years ago. I can still beat him at arm wrestling, but I can see the end to these victories is not far off. And the list can go on and on.

So, you probably think that I am resigned to being overtaken by Andrew, just as your own children and grandchildren will overtake you. And I am…to a point. Because if you think I am going to concede defeat in every contest to my son, daughter, or step-grandchildren (currently six of them) you have not only mistaken my character, but also the intentions of this column.

You see, I know – with absolute certainty – that there is one game I can play until the day I die and never lose. It requires no athletic ability, and only a modicum of rational thought. Folks, as strange as it may sound, I simply cannot lose a game of Go Fish. And because of my great fondness for you, dear readers, I’m going to share my secret.

The key to the game of Go Fish is to remember that the object of the game is to get rid of all your cards. And if you want to get rid of all your cards you want to make sure that you don’t get any frivolous cards. So all you need to do is to make sure that when your turn comes to ask an opponent for a card you only ask for something you already have more than one of in your hand.

For example, if you have two fives, a king, a 10, and two sixes in your hand you should only ask for a five or a six. No cards coming back to you from your opponents? Who cares? Keep asking for a five or a six. If you don’t have any pairs or multiples in your hand you are free to ask for any card in your hand, but keep asking for the same card. Follow me?

Stick to this strategy and resist the temptation to ask for cards randomly and you are guaranteed to win as long as no one else is using the same strategy and you don’t inadvertently vary from the plan.

So the next time you are visiting with you grandchildren, invite them to play Go Fish, use the above strategy and pummel them in five, six or 10 straight games. They will be in awe, you will be smugly satisfied, and the younger generations will be kept in their place…at least for a few more years.