Dad v Jeopardy!

I didn’t need Jeopardy! to know that my dad was a genius, but it sure helped to prove it every night.

Just like most every kid, I thought my dad was the smartest person in the world. Granted, he had to be pretty smart to graduate with an degree in economics and all that (though I always joked that economics was made up when he was in college in the 1960s so he learned it before it got all hard). I recently learned he spent two-ish years at Berkley… until it got a little hard for him (or too liberal), after which he moved on to BYU, graduated with that economics degree, married my mom, and joined the Army.

But my dad was a pretty humble, blue-collar type of person my entire life. Before he got his job at the post office in 1994 (the ultimate blue-collar, moving folks to the middle class job ever), he worked in jobs not normally associated with one that didn’t get into law school: Pepsi delivery driver, Army Reservist (he was an administrative specialist), souvenir salesman. Anything to ensure that his rather large family had enough to eat and a room over their heads. The things a humble man does to support his family.

But I had a near constant, daily reminder that my dad was a genius. And it was thanks to Alex Trebek and Jeopardy! Or, I suppose more accurately, all the “morons” that populated the stage while my dad watched.

Vivid memories flood my mind of joining my dad on my parent’s bed (or later, downstairs in his “den”) watching Jeopardy! nearly every night at 6:30pm. Nearly always after Wheel of Fortune (where I probably developed my hatred for people buying vowels at the first oppotunity), and unless pre-empted by a Jazz game or some other local event.

My dad was always wearing the same thing: a nearly destroyed flannel shirt that we replaced every Christmas and some dirty, stained jeans that were probably washed just as often. Like my desire to change into gym shorts the moment I arrive home, my dad always changed from his “work” clothes to his “dad uniform” the moment he walked in the door.

Like most folks when they watch Jeopardy! (I hope I’m not alone in this method of enjoying the show), the game from the bed/couch was to try and answer the question before the contestants on television did. Missing the “easy” questions was often met with derision (the aforementioned “morons”), and jumping around the board was akin to corking a bat or throwing a game. But I watched my father answer without fail 75–80% of the questions every round, in a variety of categories that he probably really had no reason to know other than from watching Jeopardy!

Like, I had no idea what a “Potent Potable” was until I was much older, and my father the teetotaler always seemed to know these random cocktails or what have you. Or random facts about European history (admittedly one of my weaker areas). Or national parks. Or modern art. My dad was a genius.

The game became to answer the question first, even before my dad, and after years of watching, my own percentage slowly creeped up at the price of my dad’s. When I answered too many questions in a row correctly, I suddenly became a “turkey” or some other such name, or if I flubbed an easy one that I should know, he humbly took the “W” without rubbing it in too badly.

Maybe he was letting me get all the questions right, helping to build my brain and all that, but I still never felt smarter than him, even as he could no longer help me on my homework (though he did try to teach himself AP Calculus and Physics to be the most help), or wondering why I struggled so mightily with his beloved economics. (Maybe beloved is too strong, but he did study it and all that).

I write this all for a reason, clearly, with Jeopardy! host then and now Alex Trebek announcing that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer yesterday.

The same disease that killed my father will likely now end the life of another mustachioed man that’s been in my life for as long as I can remember. And that’s why I’ve written all this (and why I should have done it in the safety of my house so I don’t start crying at work), because Mr. Trebek was a very large part of that connection to my father, and he doesn’t even know it.

I’ve been trying (unsuccesfully, obviously) to get on Jeopardy! for as long as I can remember. First, in a way, it was to show my dad that all that time on his bed/couch was beneficial, that I too knew random facts at the drop of a hat — winning money or achieving fame was secondary. But it was also so I could have my mustache idol (please bring it back, Alex) tell me that I was correct (or wrong) in that voice that we Jeopardy! fans know and love. Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings described Trebek as the “last Cronkite” for this reason: a voice that we hear almost every night.

I’ll admit that my Jeopardy! watching has diminished some over the past few years; having a child that needs to watch “his shows” from wake up to bed time makes it hard to switch over to watch it live (when we had a television subscription that even gave us the opportunity). But I’ll start watching again now, if only so that small bit of support will somehow reach Mr. Trebek and help him fight this disease against all odds.

As he said in his video, he’s under contract for another three years, which means I have some more opportunity to finally make it to that stage and hear Johnny Gilbert describe me as “a government employee from Clinton, Utah,” or whatever that intro may be. And then I’ll get to try and be funny about some 30-second anecdote before Alex moves on to the next likely starstruck contestant.

I’ll be pulling for you Mr. Trebek. For your family but also for my selfish hope that I one day get to meet you.

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