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Zur Originalfassung: »Papa, ärgere dich nicht«

February 25, 2006

Magdi Aboul-Kheir

Translated from the German by Oliver Morsch

Daddy, don't fret

Is there anything more joyful than playing with one's kids? Firstly, it's immeasurable fun, secondly, the little ones learn the fundamental things in life, and thirdly, or rather firstly: One often wins.

Ephraim Kishon wrote about how he tries playing table football against his undergifted son – and how, finally, in his despair he breaks the feet and legs off all of his wooden players only to let the incapable boy win and boost his self-confidence. How pathetic! How is prevailing over an obviously defenceless opponent supposed to further a boy's self-esteem? It will only enhance sissyness. No, children develop a sense for victory, fighting strength and and ability to assert themselves only if one faces them with toughness and ambition. One does not become Steffi Graf in the petting zoo. With this knowledge I play with, or rather against, my daughters.

I am against pure games of chance. Any idiot can throw dice. One should be able to encourage a little dexterity, strategy and tactics already from a young age. Of course there will be tears now and again, when I steal all of Dana's cows and horses from the cardboard stables when playing »Ene mene mu«, or when she realizes that once again in the category »Feed the animals« she has collected fewer cards with nuts, apples and wheat than her diligent dad. My wife then throws me accusing looks, but I can stand them, for I know that it is for the good of all those involved if I consistently play to win and avoid any effeminacy. One does not become Michael Schumacher in the cuddling corner.

Speaking of my wife: I really shouldn't let her join us in playing at all. When playing Ludo (»Mensch ärgere dich nicht« in German, i.e. »Man, don't fret«) – in any case a particularly stupid board game based on pure chance – she spares her daughter, who is leading by a worrying margin, and prefers making a song and a dance about taking out one of my counters. Unfortunately, when it's my turn I also have to spare my daughter because I have to help my wife. With an even bigger ballyhoo. Now my daughter wins the match, and for this I blame my wife. She says, obviously, unavoidably: »Man, don't fret!«, Dana laughs, I get even more upset, whereupon my wife observes that, if I did want my kid to learn something from playing, I could show her how to be a good loser. Boris Becker never was a good loser.

My daughters should definitely learn to be good losers, that's an honourable skill, but they should learn it by losing. First and foremost, though, they should learn for their future lives how to be winners, champions, triumphators, and that only works if it's done the hard way. By measuring themselves against their superior father and by growing through defeat. Why, do you think, did Beckenbauer become World Champion and Kaiser? Because in 1966 he lost the final match of the World Cup.

To be sure, all this means that I shouldn't play Dana at Concentration. If we only play with ten pairs of cards, I still stand a chance, but with more than 20 picture cards I can't even begin to compete with the four-year old. I stare at the board, concentrate desperately, remember exactly where all the pictures are hidden, ball, sunflower, car, building blocks, sweets and so forth; then I pick the ball and the car. Or cuddly bear and shoe. Or pretzel and sweets. A debacle. Dana, however, hardly looks at the cards, her gaze scans the room, absent-mindedly she picks her nose, and then she picks her cards: ball and ball, car and car, shoe and shoe.

Things can't go on like this. What will Dana learn if she continues to win with such ease? Life isn't that easy, she'll have to learn that. Even if it's hard for me.

I start changing the rules of the game a little. In the middle of the match I point at the window and say: »Dana, look, there's a horse running over there.« While her eyes are looking for the beasts outside, I swiftly peek under the cards in order to get an advantage. The result: I feel terrible, and Dana still wins.

During the next round I have some chocolate, which I drop as if by mistake and which falls under the table. While Dana picks up the chocolate, I scramble the cards a little. Again, I feel terrible, but at least Dana had something sweet, and anyway I lose again, if only by a whisker. But I lose.

It seems that I have to resort to more drastic measures. As inconspicuously as possible I label the backs of the cards, write »shoe«, »pretzel« and »sweets« on them. After all, Dana can't read yet. But my wife can. »You should be ashamed of yourself«, she says. I'm ashamed of myself, but hey, I'm only doing this for the good of our kids. One day they'll be grateful to me. But one day they'll also be able to read, it occurs to me. I should buy new game of Concentration in good time. And learn to be a good loser.



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