My wife was raised by a conservative minister who railed against gambling. You’d sooner get my father-in-law to drink a beer than drag him to play slots. And with a lifetime gambling loss totaling four dimes, his daughter was not too different.
So twenty-four years ago, on the eve of our wedding, I knew I was risking more than our combined savings of twenty dollars when my friends whisked me off to a Reno casino.
With visions of a Hawaiian honeymoon, I desperately needed cash. And since robbing banks would most likely be detrimental to my acceptance into a seminary, I decided to take a chance on the slots.
But chances quickly evaporated, and with only seven dollars remaining, I returned to a less-than-affectionate fiancée. Ever the gentleman, it’s best you not know what she said, but I can tell you that Reno was my last gambling experience – that is, until this week.
This was a real sucker bet – and this time it seemed as though the sucker would not be me. The sucker was my 17-year-old daughter.
It started when she informed me that I had misused the word “hypochondriac.”
“The hypochondriac is right here,” she said, holding her right hand over her right abdomen, “and right here,” she added, placing her left hand opposite her right.
“No,” I said with a smirk. “No way, I work in a hospital. We see lots of hypochondriacs. I think I would know the meaning of the word.”
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll be glad to prove you wrong.”
I rolled my eyes, knowing she hates this.
“If I’m right will you give me twenty dollars?” she asked.
“If you’re right, I’ll give you a hundred dollars!” I added.
Her eyes widened to the diameter of a twenty-dollar gold piece – no, a hundred-dollar gold piece.
She dashed into her room accompanied by the patronizing sound of my tsk-ing tongue and rooted through her book bag.
“Here, here!” she proclaimed, as she thrust her anatomy drawing in my face with her other hand open for cash. “See, left and right hypochondriac!”
Staring at a naked sketching, which referenced H. Gray (1858) Anatomy, all I could say was “Put some clothes on that boy.”
“Ha! I’m right, aren’t I? I want my hundred bucks!”
I was beginning to feel ill deep in my hypochondrium — and I was not being a hypochondriac.
Seeking justice, I consulted the most profound source of help in our house – my wife. Normally she favors me, but apparently she’s still a bit frosted over my gambling spree twenty-four years ago.
“Give her twenty bucks and tell her you are putting the rest of it in her college fund.” With a giant sucking sound coming from my wallet, I began to whine in protest.
“What made you so sure she was wrong?” she challenged.
“Hey, I’m a hospital chaplain after all. I work with a lot of nurses and doctors.”
“Yes,” my wife allowed, “but your daughter’s the one currently making an A in Anatomy.”
“Oh,” I said, through pursed lips and pulled the twenty from my wallet – which seems the going rate for humble pie these days.
I’ll be 46 next week and I can’t help but wonder how many more times and ways God will have to teach me that I really don’t know everything. Or as God once asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world? …Tell me if you know so much!”
And you know what the worst of it is? The longer I pretend to know so much, the younger the “teachers” become who are sent to remind me otherwise.
Smarting from the pain in my wallet, I confronted my wife with one last wise observation. “You know,” I said, “you’re the real gambler in our house and I can only hope our daughters don’t follow suit.”
And before she could inhale the wind she would need to rebuff such a comment, I quickly added – “After all, you married me and that makes you a bigger gambler than I ever was.”