Story a Day, Day 20: My Father’s Bet

My brother has three times gone unconscious trying to win a bet against my father. Once, my father bet him he couldn’t go three days without eating. Another time, at the pool, my brother bet my father that he could do two laps of an olympic size pool underwater. A third time, neither of them really owned up to, but it involved a fair amount of beer and a pair of rollerskates down at the high school’s track.

We are not a betting family, with the significant exception of my brother and father. Friendly, but there was always a competition–who can eat more, less, do this better, do that faster. They compared notes on everything, arguing over who had the more illustrious little league baseball career, petitioning to our grandmother as to who had the better report cards like she was the supreme court.

The problem was, they were too alike–their competitive similarity matched only by their talents–they were equally good at the same things, and it was infuriating to both of them. This reached a peak when my brother was in high school, having grown to be almost the exact height and weight as my father. They were an even match in tennis–my brother screaming and panting across the court while my father patiently used his years of practice perfecting just-on-the-line shots.

Their greatest bet began the summer my brother came back from college. My father started losing his hair just after my brother left, and come May, it was noticeable. There was never a bet about hair, but my brother was implicitly winning, and they both knew it.

My brother had come back somewhat more of an environmentalist than he already was, and had taken to refusing to flush the toilets and haranguing us about our electricity use, our car use, and pretty much every component of our lifestyle that up until 8 months ago, he had happily participated in. My mother rolled her eyes and said she didn’t want to show up to work sweaty, and unless he could figure out a way to neutralize all the times she drove to pick him up places, he could shut up about it. When my brother announced that he was not buying anything new for a year, my father saw his opportunity to win a new bet (away from the hair), and bet he could do it longer.

They excepted toiletries and food stuffs. Anything that could be bought used without risk of infection or illness was fair game.. Clothes (underwear included), bicycles, any luxury items, sanitizable bathroom items: tweezers, nail clippers.

At the end of the first year, they were both at zero, and decided to extend it another year. Then three, then four. When my brother was 28, he proposed to his longtime girlfriend, and secretly bought her a used ring at a pawn shop. He felt bad, and paid more than two months rent for it. When they had their first child–a result, my father teased, of re-using condoms–he had to beg my father for all the old baby stuff they still had lying around from our younger sisters. My father refused, believing he had finally won. My mother got exasperated and told him to give it to my brother, or trash it. The old man relented, satisfied with watching my brother struggle through cloth diapers.

10 years passed–my brother never slipped. Buying toys off of ebay, and his wife, with the same clever practicality as my mother, doing more of the shopping and never asking him about it. My father and my brother got bored of their great bet, and now had many smaller ones, involving who was a better father,, who was a better little league coach, who taught their child to swim ealier. It was weird territory, as my brother to win a bet had to petition my mother to prove that he started swimming later–and therefore losing an older bet–than my father. He was losing bets of being a son to win bets about being a father, proving himself a worse person to show himself a better father.

It was around this time that my brother sustained the roller-skated-concussion. You grow up, but you don’t grow different, I guess. Their bet had become just their lives, with each passing year this lifestyle becoming more habit and less competition, and with even less chance of ending.

My father did lose the life bet, dying suddenly of a heart attack. We were all devastated, most of all my brother, wapart from my mother knew him best, and unlike my mother, hadn’t really considered the thought of him growing old and dying. My mother offered to prepare the funeral, but my brother said he should handle it, it was his responsibility. He prepared everything: the funeral home, the wake, the food, the various condolence calls and visits, and did everything with a pained, deliberate expression on his face, as if getting all the details just right would speed up the healing process, at least let him forget it for a moment.

He buried our father in his favorite suit, in a corner of a field near their summer home, and in the end, and in the end, he bought him a used coffin


About Big Adam

A NYC doorman, a community organizer, wannabe ape, sometimes blogger, sometimes writer, always crossword puzzle incompleter, I will ride bicycles with your papa, dance Bhangra with your mama, take you on dates that cost nada.
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