My dad pushed away from the chess game, rose and left the room, leaving his friend Larry to find his own way out of our house.
My dad was a tough guy from whom to learn board games. As soon as he saw I had a basic grasp of the rules, it was trial by fire. He was ruthless. Calm, quiet, polite, but ruthless. Granted, I was already a genius when I took up Monopoly at age 7, but Dad was a 38-year-old super genius, and he held nothing back. I was sure he cheated (“I don’t cheat.”). I was sure he manipulated the rules, so I committed all eight pages to memory.
It was the same way years later when it was time to learn to drive. The first time I ever put a car in motion, my dad pulled the stick-shift hatchback out into the middle of the street, traded seats with me and said “Go ahead.”
Crazy? Yes, but I must say I was driving stick within an hour, a skill that has served me all my life. And I grew to be a formidable Monopoly player in my own right. (A couple of years ago, on New Year’s Eve I challenged ten people to play me in three simultaneous Monopoly games. I won one, drew in a second, and got pounded in the third.) (It was a blast.)
Chess, though, I never got into. When we were little, my sister and I used to play chess using Checkers rules. (?) Then my dad tried to teach me chess using his “Now I see you are ready for THIS!” technique. I had no idea what was going on. I knew the rules, but the game was too open ended for me, and I could never formulate a strategy. With my dad just creaming me over and over, with little feedback or encouragement, I quickly became discouraged and gave up on the game.
But even my super genius dad had his limitations. He agreed to mentor his friend Larry in chess. Larry came over a couple of times a week for months. They played intense, silent games in the living room, on the set my mother carved. And what do you know? Larry was a good student, and soon Dad wasn’t winning every game.
Larry told that story at my dad’s memorial service. I think life was a little too open ended for my dad. He knew the rules and usually played by them, but he solicited little input, and without feedback or encouragement, I think he found it hard to formulate a winning strategy. When his life came to an end, which occurred on a day of his own choosing, he found himself cornered, reviewed his options, pushed away from the table, announced “Enough!” and left the game.