I’ve told this story about my dad a few times to folks, but I don’t think I ever wrote it down. Back in April 2000, my parents and I went to Las Vegas for a quick, four-day vacation. It was our second trip to Vegas. We stayed at the Imperial Palace (now the Linq) and got into town early in the day.
Back in 2000, Dad and I were dealers Blue Chip Casino. It seems kinda silly in hindsight, but back then, it felt like Vegas dealers were the major leagues of dealers. We both fancied ourselves decent dealers and decent blackjack players, so it was a chance to watch Vegas dealers to see where we stacked up. We weren’t jerks about it, though.
On that first afternoon in town, we sat down at a 21 table at Harrah’s while Mom was off playing a slot machine. We were the only players at this table. I don’t recall what our hands were, but I do remember the dealer was showing a six and flipped over an ace and proceeded to take a hit. Both Dad and I yelled, “whoa!” The dealer looked at us like we were idiots because, in Las Vegas, the dealers hit a soft 17. It’s written right on the tables.
Once Dad and I realized we were idiots, we both put out dealer bets on our next hand as a mutual act of contrition. It was our way of saying, “you aren’t an idiot, sir. We are the idiots.” The dealer laughed about it.
We made our way down to the Venetian, which was still being built during our first trip in 1999. It was an out-of-this-world experience walking through the casino. Dad and I sat down at a Caribbean Stud table (good luck finding one of those in Vegas anymore). It was hard to not be mesmerized by the sheer opulence of the place. The marble floors, the paintings on the ceiling, cocktail drinks in actual glasses…it was something. “It’s like playing cards at the Vatican,” I said to Dad while we were losing at the worst card game in the world.
Later that night after dinner, we knocked around the Imperial Palace gaming floor. I was playing double-deck pitch blackjack—which was relatively rare on the Strip in 2000. Dad walked up and jumped into the game. He’d never played before and seemed to need constant reminder on a few simple rules: hold the cards with one hand only, scratch the table for a hit, tuck the cards under your bet to hold. He kept wanting to hold his cards with both hands, much to the chagrin of every dealer we had. He eventually got the hang of it.
I don’t remember what time we sat down at the table to play, but pretty soon it was about 4 or 5 a.m. and we both ended up getting our asses kicked. “Let’s go get breakfast,” Dad said to me as we were walking away from the table. “Should we go get Mom?” I asked. “Nah,” Dad replied. Now, this led to a bit of a tense situation later on. I tried to warn him. I swear, I tried to warn him. Anyway…
On the escalator ride up to the restaurant, Dad and I were quietly reflecting on the ass kicking we just took at the blackjack table. Looking over the ledge of the escalator as we were near the top, I turned to Dad and said, “You want to throw yourself off first or should I go?”
After breakfast, we made our way to the room. The sun was already rising, lighting up the morning sky. Dad and I were (mostly) sobered up, but our noise ended up waking up Mom. I think she brewed herself a cup of coffee as she listened to Dad and I replay the carnage at our blackjack table. “So,” Mom said after the story. “Should we go get breakfast?”
I wasted no time throwing Dad under the bus. “I told you,” I said. “I told you we should’ve gotten her.” I know, I know. Not cool, dude. I get it. I panicked, I admit it.
Mom was NOT happy with our decisions. While we slept, she went downstairs and gambled.
That trip was 17 years ago. Dad died a few months later, unexpectedly. I was a couple months shy of my 30th birthday when he died. It was a gut punch that never goes away. But I have a lifetime of good memories about Dad that I carry with me. That late-night /early-morning breakfast we shared to lick our wounds is one of my favorite grown-up memories. I’m sorry it came at my mother’s expense, but I’m not sorry that we had our own father-son bonding over eggs and bacon, replaying our mutual ass kicking and how we’ll do better the next night. I couldn’t tell you a single thing we talked about; probably about dealing, which hands really killed us and what we’ll do differently after a few hours of sleep.
Over the years, I’ve met lots of people who didn’t have a good relationship with their fathers; or some soured into adulthood to the point where they no longer speak to them. I feel bad for them. Even though I will always feel cheated out of 20 or 30 good years with my dad, I’ll never live with regret over our relationship. But I’m sure I speak for the both of us that we both might regret not walking away from that blackjack table about an hour or two earlier. It might’ve saved us from two ass kickings that night and early morning.
Lest you think Father’s Day is a sad day for me, it’s not. Even though I only had him for 29 years and some change, I realize I had it better than most. So, no, Father’s Day is still a good day for me because I’m thankful and happy for what Dad gave me while he was here.
So, Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You left us too soon, but you were the best while you were here.