I never really liked the movie Annie. I’m not fond of musicals in general, but this story of a precocious ginger-haired orphan really riled me for some reason. Maybe it was because the homeless kids I knew never seemed to have that much fun or maybe it was because there was a weird old guy called Daddy Warbucks who had more cash than my family had seen in three generations or maybe it was because I knew, deep down in the depths of my soul, that at some point in my lifetime, a shitty remake featuring the Cuban guy from Dexter would be made.
But as much as I hate it, there is one thing about it that I remember with some fondness. That catchy little tune about hard knocks and harsh lessons. I do like that song. I like it because it teaches us that life is not always sunshine and happiness and that you’re going to cop some knocks. A lesson that junior is beginning to learn.
My son, bless him, has this inherent belief he can master any game or any skill and that his dad is rubbish at everything. He has developed this belief because his rubbish-at-everything dad has mistakenly allowed his cocky six-year-old son to win every competitive activity they have participated in. Be it a backyard game of kick-to-kick, Wii Bowling or rock, paper, scissors, he wins everything. You might think that it seems like a fair and reasonable thing to do —he is a child after all. But let me stop you right there. It is not, I repeat, NOT a reasonable thing to do. I mean, who the hell wins everything they participate in? No one, that’s who. Not even Tiger Woods won everything and he was unbeatable, until you know, the unpleasantness. Besides what kind of lesson is that for a kid? A goddamned unfair and stupid one. You're just setting them up for disappointment.
So why does it happen? Why does this usually sweet, lovable, good-natured kid become a snarling, ultra-competitive, win-at-all-costs feral beast who taunts me every time he bests me in meaningless competition?
Because whining. That’s why. Whining and crying and tantrums. And because I hate the sound of my child crying and moaning, and because I must be touched in the head, I always let him win.
My dad never let me win anything. Even if he was truly awful at something he would find a way to win. Because he cheated. Always. I still resent him for throwing a rock at my head while playing backyard cricket, distracting me so he could then bowl me out. He told me the cut above my eye was just him teaching me a lesson. Aside from learning that my father had a mean right arm and to always, ALWAYS watch the ball, I learned that “I’m shit at everything —everything except eating and playing chess.” Sure, my dad isn’t the most supportive of dads but he had a point. I can play chess pretty well.
I love the nuances and sophisticated brutality of chess and as we waited for my wife, we hunkered down in the sterile confines of the seemingly humanless local library (what the hell have they done with all the librarians?), and started playing. My son also loves chess. From the look of the pieces, to the way they all have distinct moves, to the war-like nature of the game, he's developed a natural understanding of it. So far, every game we've played to date has been “won” by him. Every single one. Something that was seemingly going to continue.
Winning builds confidence, something that he was showing in great abundance as he snatched each piece away with glee. Watching him parade my fallen army around like a crazed General, laughing and telling me that “I was rubbish” and that “beating me was easy” shat me. So bloody much. So I snapped. Look, you can only take so much torment. And as my small unit of pawns and a lone knight marauded across the board, my son's smiling, innocent demeanour vanished, leaving behind the visage of a broken, defeated foe. Then the tears came.
With his wailing filling the cavernous library, rousing patrons from their repose, my wife bolted across the hallway, books falling from her arms like autumn leaves, and dragged us both out of the building, embarrassed, ashamed and filled with a rage so hot it would melt steel. We sat in the car on the way home, him crying foul, her screeching at me to grow up and all I could hear was the chorus to Jay Z's "Hard Knock Life" on the radio. It was the sweetest sound in the world.