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Looking For The Answer In the Back Of The Book

July 15, 2014


My father was a professional gambler.

He didn’t like it. Oh, he might have enjoyed it when he was young. But, by the time I knew him, it was just a job. It was a job that he was pretty good at. Actually, he was really good at it. But, the hours were terrible. He had to hang out with people he often didn’t like. He had to spend his evenings in smoke filled rooms.

I asked him about it one time,

Why do you play cards?

It’s the only thing I can do that will earn enough money to pay the bills.

He was right. My sister and my mother were both in college. My brother and I were in high school. Dad’s job kept all that going.

Was it worth it?

Well, my sister graduated and became a school teacher. My mother graduated and started a CPA firm and then a financial investment firm. She later sold both for cash.

Yeah, it was worth it.

But, it meant he would never play cards with me.

The pop machine at work is broken. It occasionally kicks out an extra can of soda. This really disappoints me, for the same reason my dad wouldn’t play cards with me.

Ever completed a truly difficult project at work? Something that was impossible and then you did it? Maybe it was an impossible schedule. Like Star Trek’s “Scotty” you knew it would take 8 hours and you had 4? And you totally nailed it?

There is nothing that compares to that feeling. I remember when I first went to work and had a tough problem. As I remember it, I was working as a telephone technician and I was confronted by literally a wall of phone lines like a rat’s nest of copper wires. I had to find a single pair of wires in that mess.

After 45 minutes I remember thinking,

I’m tired of this. I don’t care any more. I’m ready to look in the back of the book for the answer.

But, there was no book. It was up to me. Thirty minutes later I found my pair of wires and fixed the user’s problem. And unlike a college homework, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I’d done something hard. And you know what? It was addicting.

That is why I became an engineer, a troubleshooter, a road warrior. And it felt GREAT!

And that’s why my dad wouldn’t play cards with me. And why the pop machine disappointed me when it kicked out an extra can of soda.

First the pop machine. See, our pop machine at work is free. It’s a commercial Coke machine with buttons down the right side and that little shoot that the cans come out of. It just doesn’t take any money. You walk up, press the button for the kind you want and out comes your can of Coke, or Dr Pepper, or Mountain Dew. (Yeah, I work with a lot of engineers. Caffeine is pretty much a given.)

With a normal pop machine where you put in your dollar, or $1.25, if a second can comes out, it’s like winning an itty bitty lottery. There’s some satisfaction. But when the pop is already free that second can is simply disappointing, not satisfying.

My dad played cards for money. He could look at a table of poker players, look at a hand of 5 card draw and figure out almost to the dollar how much it was worth. Same for a hand of Gin.

Like my second can of free soda, my dad couldn’t stand getting a hand of cards in a family game that would be worth money in a professional poker game. Cards were tools, not toys.

I’m glad my dad was able to support our family. I’m grateful that my company provides free soft drinks. But, I wish I’d had a chance to play cards with him. It was worth it, but it wasn’t without a price.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

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