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Sat, Aug. 24

Kingman Column: I won the Dad lottery

My dad has played the lottery for as long as I can remember. Given the way my family defied the odds, it's hard to blame him.

My sister, the oldest of my seven siblings, was born with Down syndrome. Fourteen years later, so was our youngest brother. We were told that the chances of two Down syndrome children born to the same parents was astronomical, something like less than one-tenth of one percent.

You can see why my dad likes his Powerball odds.

The jackpots were bigger in Illinois than in Missouri, and those rides across the Mississippi River are some of my favorite childhood memories, mostly because they always resulted in candy.

Plus, there was always the chance that dad was going to let us do something mom wouldn't, like listen to what we wanted on the radio - or buy us more candy.

The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I am to have a dad who not only let us slide every now and then, but who was around to discipline us in the first place. I see friends of mine who grew up without a father in the picture and how it impacted them into their adulthood. I wonder how any one parent can be strong enough to take the place of both. Because my mom may have been the heart of our family, but my dad was definitely the soul - and the wallet, and the chauffeur, and the landscaper, and the cook, and the one we begged not to tell mom when he was left cleaning up another one of our messes.

He coached our teams, everything from boy's baseball to girl's indoor soccer. When he wasn't coaching, he was practicing our throws and kicks with us in the yard or driving us to tournaments hundreds of miles away. He always had a spare dollar for candy from the concession stand after a good game. (After a bad game he often had $2.)

At least half a dozen times he piloted our full-size van on the 2,000-mile round-trip journey from St. Louis to Disneyworld. Once we were there he got the privilege of lugging around all our bags and paying for all our souvenirs.

When he took business trips he always thought to bring us something back, like the White Sox pencil caddy I got when I was 10. Not to mention that he always came back from afternoon trips to the hardware store with more candy.

He patiently listened to my sister and I plead for a cat, and pretended to believe us when we promised to clean the litter box.

He let us stay up past 11 p.m. on the Saturday nights my mom worked late at the hospital so we could watch Roller Derby and American Gladiators on Channel 11.

He supported my mom's craft side-business by jigsawing wood in the garage while he listened to his "Conan the Barbarian" soundtrack, and he pretended to act like he enjoyed going to old-lady craft fairs.

And of course, he was always the first person we went to for money, like when he whipped out a credit card as I called in tears from my university's registrar's office because I "forgot" to pay for that semester.

And how did we repay him for everything he did? One year one of my brothers made him a little tuxedo change dish out of a recycled tuna can, which we promptly went about stealing quarters from for the next several years.

Another year we got him socks.

Two years ago my dad became a grandpa, and two of the four sons he raised are now each raising their own boys, who already take after their daddies. Seeing those little ones makes me appreciate my dad all the more and it makes me glad that he's recently taken charge of his health so he'll be around for hopefully many more grandbabies.

And he better be around for a long time, because it's going to take me a while to pay him back all the money I owe him for all the years of food, clothing, vacations, doctors visits, broken valuables, school tuition, car repairs and everything else he paid for without hesitation.

Gee, no wonder he takes his chances with the lottery. On second thought, how about some new socks, dad?

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