Earlier this year, some friends were clearing out their house and offered us their ping pong table. We gladly accepted, and rearranged our living room to dedicate half of it to ping pong,
The smack-talk started immediately, with the boys grabbing paddles and preparing to show their Daddy just what they could do. After years of video games, they were confident that I would be little challenge.
They were in for something of a surprise. Actual physical games are significantly different than electronic ones, and while I may not be very good at ping pong, I have been playing (off and on) since I was barely old enough to see over the table.
After just a few passes, my wife announced that there was no spinning allowed, and definitely no slamming.
“It’s okay,” my oldest son said. “He can spin. I want to spin.”
I’m not much of a “let the kids win” sort of person, but I do keep games close, often letting them get the advantage before mounting a comeback. In ping pong, however, I found no graceful way to miss. I could return their big looping shots all day, but there wasn’t much fun in that for either of us. So I switched to playing with left-handed. Nobody noticed, but the games were still ridiculously overmatched. I discreetly took off my glasses.
For weeks I played that way against all comers: left-handed with no glasses. Nobody noticed. I honestly don’t know how they couldn’t. I understand not realizing I was playing left-handed, but not seeing me take my glasses off? It was weird.
In any case, during that time, both kids were getting better fast. Their shots were lower, and they were controlling the ball.
Finally, my oldest son played me to a 19-19 draw (the games are to 21). He slammed the ball over the net with a triumphant “Ha!” and pumped his fist.
It was 20-19: my serve, and decision time.
I picked up the ball, then reached out slowly for my glasses and put them on.
“What?” he said. “No way! You’ve been wearing those the whole time! There’s no way!”
I beat him 21 – 19.
“Okay, Dad,” he said. “No more playing without glasses.”
I gave him a wink, and switched to playing with glasses.
A few days later, I found myself losing a very serious game with his little brother (19-15), despite having my glasses on. I picked up the ball and started to laugh. It was just a chuckle at first, but it built into a full-on belly laugh.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked, annoyed.
“Because I know something you don’t know,” I said, suddenly serious. “I am not left-handed.” I tossed the paddle from my left hand to my right.
His mouth dropped open. “Really, Dad? Really?!?”
I won that game 21-19.
Since then, the ping pong games have become more intense. The boys practice against the wall and against each other. Beating me has become something of a focus.
Yesterday, my oldest son and I split a pair of games. I won the third one 23 – 21 (you have to win by two), but he’s definitely getting closer.
Every once in a while, though, I still switch hands – just so I can switch back at a dramatically appropriate moment.
It’s not too often that you get to be Inigo Montoya.