The players on my table hockey game were made of steel. I think one of the teams was Team Finland, but I’m not sure anymore. I am sure, though, that even a 7-year-old kid could grab those flat tin players by the head and bend them into an S shape, if they, for example, wouldn’t shoot the puck right, or if the goalie let in a soft goal.
It was also easy to curve the blades on their sticks so they were exactly like the real players’ sticks.
The little metal guys did their best, and so did I. My Dad, however, probably didn’t bring his best game to the table, but even his second-best was a little too good for me.
My mighty opponent also happened to be the man who had already instilled a never-say-die attitude in me. No matter what I did, there was only one rule: Never give up. So, after losing our first game, I issued a challenge of a rematch.
Another loss. Another rematch. Another loss. One more rematch. One more loss.
After a half a dozen losses, the world started to look pretty unfair to me. I would like to say that we played ten games before I lost my cool, but I don’t think I lasted that long.
The Team Finland tin players probably didn’t last that long.
So I gave up. I played one last half-hearted rematch, mostly wanting to lose, so I could really feel sorry for myself, and when Dad scored his tenth goal of the game, I just left the room, angry at the world.
We had a lot of rules in our house, some of which I only learned at the precise moment that the rule was called upon but the one about not letting the sun go down on our disagreements was one I learned early on, and it was one that we all stuck to. Most of the times.
I think Dad let it slide that time because I wasn’t actually mad at him. I was just angry and sad having lost all those table hockey games. Or, maybe I was a little angry at him for being too good.
The next morning, though, Dad offered to give me a ride to school. The breakfast had been a quiet one, so I understood I had been made an offer I couldn’t refuse. I packed my school bag, brushed my teeth, and skipped – a little too happily – the 31 stairs downstairs, through the bike storage, out into the backyard where our car was.
Dad got out, scraped the ice off the windshield, but he didn’t make those funny little holes on my side first, but instead, pushed the ice off in long sheets.
We lived close to the school, and had I gone out through the front door, I would have almost made it there faster walking, especially since Dad had to park the car on the wrong side of the school building. So two minutes after we took off, Dad pulled to the curb.
Now, on some other mornings when he drove me to school, he always kept the engine running. He just stopped the car for the few seconds I needed to get out.
That day, he turned off the engine.
“Listen,” said Dad. “Listen up now.”
I was listening.
“Yes, I’m listening,” I said. Because I was.
“You know I’m better than you…” he said, and I nodded.
“… at table hockey because I’m bigger than you. I’ve played it many, many, many times. Many times. You’ve just got the game, and it was your first time. Of course I’m going to beat you,” Dad went on.
“Of course I will. It’d be weird if I didn’t, right?” he said.
I didn’t say anything. I knew he was right.
“Right?” he said.
“But there must be somebody out there who can beat even me. Probably. That’s just the way it goes. And one day, that somebody may be you. If you keep practicing, and if you never give up, maybe one day, you can beat me in table hockey,” he said.
The windows had got a little steamy inside, and I wrote a small “R” on the wind shield.
“It’s not my fault that you lost. Sometimes you lose, and you just have to deal with it,” he said.
“I want you to be the best loser there is,” he said, and looked me in the eye. “Buds?”
“Buds. And Dad … I’ll be a great loser. You’ll see,” I said, and ran to school.
Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes
Even the losers keep a little bit of pride
They get lucky sometimes
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Even the losers (1979)
This is a part of an ongoing series of stories, mostly flash fiction, inspired by 80s pop songs. You can find them all here.