For as long as I can remember, there’s been a battered blue cardboard box in my parents’ home that would come out when they’d have friends over. After the meal was done, drinks were brought out: wine of course, plus Glenfiddich for Dad and Grand Marnier for mom. Then they’d pull the lid off the battered blue box and unfold the game inside. Trivial Pursuit was a guaranteed good time in our house.
I start playing when I’m far too young to have a shot at answering any of the questions. But I’m always on a team with my Dad, and he never loses. Not ever. It’s a running joke, but we all still want to play because it’s so damn fun to watch him answer the most obscure clues. I love witnessing the breadth of his knowledge. He’s my Daddy, my hero, and to me, he’s infallible.
My Dad’s a smart guy. Before he started his business he was a research chemist, and he bitches frequently (in relatively good humour) about both my brother’s and my complete inability to wrap our brains around math or the hard sciences. One time I find a calculus book on his nightstand, and when I ask about it he answers, completely straight-faced, that he was reading it just to brush up. For fun.
Still, while he may not always get how my brain’s wired, he’s the one who always tells me I’m smart, and capable, and that I can do anything. Of course I believe him — who am I to question the man who’s never caught off-guard by some esoteric question about history or geography or random baseball stats from the 1960s?
In my early teens, I get Trivial Pursuit: Millenium Edition for Christmas. It was the first thing on my list. In all the infinite wisdom of adolescence, I figure that we could just swap my version in for the usual one without a hitch, and I’ll win for sure; I’m a devoted reader of both Teen Vogue and Teen People, as well as the occasional J-14, and I watch a hell of a lot of Pop-up Video on MuchMusic. See, this way, I can prove I’m smart — an urgent need as I continue to fail spectacularly in French and algebra. I can prove it, in particular, to my Dad. Beat him at his own game, make him proud — it’s flawless logic, no?
After reading through a few cards, though, Dad’s not particularly interested in playing a game about boy bands and their ilk. My brother plays through with me once before telling me I’ve cheated; that I must have read and memorized all the cards ahead of time. I haven’t, but hell if I had? I’d have earned that win through sheer dedication.
The Millennium Edition never does make it to the dinner table.
In 2010, the Master Edition comes out. I’m pretty damn pleased with myself when I pick it up as a Christmas gift for my Dad. I’ve had far too many gifts end up in his gift graveyard (“much appreciated,” then put aside, never used), but I’m pretty sure he’ll at least open the box on this one.
The initial reception is positive. A week later, it actually gets brought out for a spin. I’ve escaped the graveyard! Now that we’ve added a couple of significant others around the dinner table, it only makes sense to play as teams — which means Dad and I are united again.
The mix of questions definitely leans modern. We win, but it’s not resounding, and Dad’s just a little less merry in victory. Oddly, so am I. While I feel the warm glow of satisfaction from answering more than my share of questions, something doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not quite the same. I begin to grasp why.
I’d caught the small tics of frustration each time he couldn’t answer a question. Even as he celebrated my answers, and our team shot to victory, he hesitated where he never had before. He doesn’t have the same grasp of social media as he does of baseball stats, see. As time’s gone by, the bits of information that he’d always subconsciously catalogued just don’t stick anymore.
Why would a man born in the middle of the Second World War be expected to know the main characters of various video games, for instance? He’s not failing by anyone’s standards but his own. But that’s not the point. He expects he’ll know everything, and so do I. It’s not even remotely fair, but I feel something in the back of my mind shatter softly; that perfect, all-encompassing, infallible faith that Dad will always know the answer. In the game, sure — but a crack in that faith allows reality to seep into other areas, too. He’s growing old.
Each time we play after that, even as jokes are made about our team’s unfair advantage, there’s that slim, subtle thread of frustration. The same frustration that exists when he can’t hear something without his hearing aids, or finish the yard work without feeling exhausted and frail. The one which pulls his spine straight upright when we worry aloud that he works too much, still, years after others would retire. It’s not enough to have any impact on everyone’s overall enjoyment of the game, but I notice. I notice because it’s one of those strange moments where all of a sudden a parent becomes a person.
It’s a Sunday evening in September. Sundays are when our family dinners are held, and we’ve had a good one. After I clear the table, my mom suggests we play a game. The vote’s for Trivial Pursuit.
Dad agrees to play, though the enthusiasm’s a little faded from where it used to be. Tonight, though, I’ve got a bright idea — I pull the cards out of the old game, the one with the battered box and torn lid, and shuffle them into the crisp new deck. The cards are slightly different sizes, noticeably different colours, and they stand out in their little groups. But I keep shuffling, and slowly the distinct decks disappear into a textured stack of trivia. I’ve blended the old game and the new, my Dad’s game and mine.
Dad’s eyes light up when he’s asked a question no one else could possibly answer. He pours us each a finger of the Macallan that I bought him for his birthday — I’m my father’s daughter, after all. He grins and taps his glass to mine when I answer something about Star Wars. This game’s going to be fun.