My 12-year-old daughter, the one who is nearly my height and much better at basketball than anyone in our family, was angry as she walked away from the makeshift court in our driveway.
She wasn’t the first to leave our game. Her mother and 6-year-old and 13-year-old sisters were already knocked out. She’d just accepted her “E” in our full-family game of HORSE, but accepted isn’t quite the right word. She knew it was there, and it angered her. It annoyed her. It festered in her.
“Where did she get such a fierce, competitive drive?” I wondered for a moment. There was no time to contemplate that, though. I was in the middle of one of the greatest comebacks in HORSE history.
If you somehow skipped right from being 5 to 50, HORSE is a skills game for basketball, where you have to make the same shot as the person before you did. You don’t have to spell horse. Any word will do, really. When we need a shortened version, we spell PIG. As a child, we spelled LOSER sometimes.
In this game, I looked destined to be the LOSER. I’d already picked up the first four letters and made my typical joke about being an appetizer. (Don’t fall for it. OK, you fell for it: Because I’m hors d’oeuvre!)
Meanwhile, our 19-year-old still hadn’t picked up a letter. She didn’t letter in any sports in high school either, so that gives you a baseline on her usual athletic prowess.
It was down to her and me, HORS vs. nada. Shockingly to both of us, I proceeded to hit a series of jump shots that would’ve left Larry Bird envious in his heyday. (For the youngsters without a reference point on the Hick From French Lick, that would be like Stephen Curry or Kyrie Irving.)
As she missed her final shot, I could hear Al Michaels’ famous call from the 1980 Olympics in my head: “Do you believe in miracles?” I’d won, HORSE to HORS. For her part, the 19-year-old just said she wanted to go inside, as it was getting cold.
I’ve never been particularly athletic, hitting my growth spurt too late to be anything but clumsy. My previous sports highlight was one sack recorded late in a varsity football game, when our coach put me on the defensive line as a lark. I didn’t know what happened on the play until I heard the announcer say my name. Up until I heard that, I couldn’t tell if I’d taken a lineman, a quarterback or an official to the ground. I was just glad it wasn’t a teammate.
Just because you’re not gifted doesn’t mean you can’t be competitive. The girls’ mother and I are both extremely competitive. On our first date, not knowing this, we spent some time playing pool and air hockey. It’s a miracle we ever had a second date, but we’ve never went head-to-head since that first date (ahem) years ago this coming week.
So whenever I wonder how my children became so competitive, I know why. It’s the fault of a world that puts winning above all else. It’s the ongoing pressure to be the best and sometimes find shortcuts to get us there. It’s a nation that just wants a winner, no matter how many souls it has to crush to get there.
It’s my fault, for I have the competitive gene I’ve passed on to my children.
I went to chat with my 12-year-old later, and she was still angry about the loss. You can’t always win just because you want to win. Not everything in life has to be a competition. Some things worth having in life just don’t require competition, like her father’s love for her.
David Trinko is managing editor of The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.