25 March 2005

"It's Just a Game"

No question: cribbage is a truly superlative game. Anyone who's played understands just how eggregious the title comment would be when applied to cribbage. Some games are too much based on chance (I would put poker squarely in this league). Others are pure skill (for example, chess). I've never really liked either extreme, probably because I stink at poker and chess. But cribbage--it's just the perfect blend. You can either win by hitting a lucky streak, or win by grinding it out. You can blow someone away, come from behind, or nip and tuck it the whole way. Sometimes you can pull off a skunk (or, rarely, a double skunk). Sometimes it comes down to pegging, and nothing (absolutely nothing, in any game I've ever played) matches the drama of that scenario.

There's a second reason I love cribbage, though, beyond its inherent awesomeness (is that a word?). You see, my Dad taught me cribbage. It is the only thing he ever taught me. I'm sure he made attempts with other things along the way, but for one reason or another these activities didn't take. I'd always felt that he would have wanted the typical all-American quarterback for a son, and I think anyone who knows me can understand how far afield I was from that type of guy. That I played classical piano and he likes classical music was probably just lucky--but there is a huge gulf between majoring in piano performance and listening to Aaron Copland records. And while I appreciate sports, he played sports--another equally large gulf. We never really bridged either of those gaps, and that's not surprising. So when Dad made the effort to teach me cribbage, I relented, after avoiding for years what I assumed would be another fruitless attempt at us sharing something.

I learned from Dad the only way to really learn anything--by doing. I caught on quick, and he was happy. We played for hours on end, and at some point I could see for the first time that he took pride in something I was doing because he actually felt proud of it, not because my Mom or someone else told him he should be. Dad was passing on something to me: he was taught by his brothers, who were taught by their father, my grandfather. I guess you could say card-playing in general is in the blood (and, yes, I do buy into that whole notion). Obviously, it was great to feel like part of some lineage, as if I had been invited to some special club. Cribbage quickly became, and still is, the one thing that has allowed me to really connect to my Dad.

It's not that we talk more when we play. Or that my relationship with him has reached new depths. No, I probably know just as little about what makes my Dad tick as I did before; I'm sure he'd say the same about me. But that seems okay now, as if we've reached some sort of understanding. I doubt it will ever change. At least now, we have a common ground, if even in that one small way. For all the years Dad has played, I'm the first person who ever double-skunked him. I'm the first he ever played against who scored a 28 hand. There's a remarkable lasting quality to that for which I'll always be thankful, even if it is "just a game."


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