What Dad Taught Me about Gambling

super dog hot dog food stall in front of ferris wheel during nighttime
Photo by Amanda Cottrell on Pexels.com

Every year our family made the trek north to the Wisconsin State Fair — but not to ride the rides or play the carnival games. No, we were the family wandering through all the animals barns and the 4-H exhibits, stopping for a hot dog, some cotton candy, and of course, the world famous dairy state cream puff. Games and rides were not on the to-do list.

I didn’t really care about the rides. I have always had a tendency to get dizzy … and therefore sick on anything that dips, spins, or turns you upside down. But those games sure looked fun. Dad always told me I couldn’t try, because they were a waste of money.

The year I was twelve, however, I saw people walking around with gigantic, super-duper, desireable stuffed teddy bears and oh, I wanted one with all my heart. So I asked if I could try “just once,”

At that point, Dad decided it was lunch time, so we sat at picnic table, munching hotdogs and french fries, while I got a sermon on the downfall of gambling.  Being a voracious reader, Dad was prepared. He had read articles on how most of the games were scams. People paid exorbitant amounts of money because the challenges looked so easy, but were set up to not work like you would think they would work. Very few people ever won the BIG prizes. Most won nothing or at best, a 98 cent plastic snake. Dad was not about to give me a dollar to waste on something that I would NOT be able to do. “Like I said, it’s gambling, ” he explained. “You pour too much money in for too little return. They lure you in with their flashy rows of prizes, their bright lights, and their promises, but you only come out with disappointment.”

When he was done, I said in my sweetest, non-whiny voice, “But couldn’t I try just once? I want one of those gigantic, super-duper, desirable stuffed teddy bears, and I just MIGHT be able to do it.”

Time for the next lesson. We walked over to a nearby booth and we watched person after person try to win a prize, but to no avail.

Dad shrugged. He had won his point.

I knew enough not to whine or beg, but so far, Dad’s mood was amiable, so I tried again. “Just once? Please?” I asked as I saw another 20-something guy present his girlfriend with  one of those super-duper, desirable stuffed teddy bears.

Dad took out a dollar, gave it to my mom and said, “Here you take her. Roger and I are going over to the cow barn.”  He looked at me. “One try to prove my point.”

Searching out the booths, I laser-focused on the one where you threw baseballs at bowling pins. I knew (thanks to my non-gambling father) how to throw a baseball, so that seemed the “best bet.” (Pun intended.) No one else was in line when we walked over and the barker seemed happy for a customer. I gave him my dollar and he gave me five baseballs, explaining I needed to knock down at least three pins. I centered in on a pin and aimed … AND HIT IT! The next three tries did not go as well, but I got the second pin with the fifth ball. The barker seemed a little surprised that the little kid had only missed by one pin, so he gave me one more ball to see if I could do it. Which I did.

And the gigantic, super-duper, desirable stuffed teddy bear was mine.

In the archives of the family photo albums is a picture of me walking back to my dad and my brother, cotton candy in one hand and that teddy bear in the other. The day has gone down in our family history as “The Day Dad Taught Linda About Gambling.”

I didn’t write this post to condemn people who give their kids money for carnival games. (Go for it – a super-duper, desirable stuffed teddy bear might be in your future.)

Nor did I write it to debate the issue of gambling.

I wrote it because sometimes our parental lectures don’t go quite right.

I wrote it because sometimes we can talk and talk and talk, and then finally resort to giving our kids the freedom to “learn a lesson.” But sometimes the talks don’t sink in  and they don’t learn exactly what we’d like them to learn.

But that’s OK. We’re human and we aren’t perfect. We’re parents and we like to lecture. We love our kids and we want the best for them.

The Lord understands that not everything will go the way we want it to go. He still loves us. He still cares about us … and our kids. He is always there to listen to our fears, to listen to our struggles about the choices we make, and to encourage us through His Word.

The incident at the Wisconsin State Fair was not all that traumatic or important, other than to provide a story and a fun picture for our family archives, but sometimes our kids face choices that have greater impact.

When writing to the Corinthians, Paul wrote Christ’s encouraging words: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Often we think of this verse in relationship to health, economics, or relationships, but don’t think about applying that verse to parenting (or kids in ministry.

As parents (or teachers), we don’t do everything right. God understands that. He asks that we live an exemplary life as we walk with Him, that we are passionate about our relationship with Christ, and that we teach our kids both through words and actions.

Yes, it gets hard, but His grace is sufficient.

(And I did not begin a life of gambling.)

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