NEWSFLASH! It’s okay to mourn a celebrity’s death. Sometimes a celebrity, whom you have never met and don’t personally know, is an important part of your life. You are a person with feelings and attachments, and there is no shame in grieving and processing a celebrity death.
Last month I felt a full range of emotions in hearing that the world, and that I, lost Alex Trebek. After initially feeling sad that Alex Trebek died, I started thinking back, fondly, to my personal history with Jeopardy!
After dinner in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, my dad, brother, and I migrated to the family room, and found our unassigned, but basically assigned, seats. It was Jeopardy! time. (In my memory, my mom was left doing the dishes because we Bard men were shamefully patriarchal back then. Fun Fact: I called my mom and apologized.)
You shouted out the answer, and it didn’t have to be in the form of a question. There was no scoreboard, and thus no penalty for wrong guesses. When it came time for Final Jeopardy, everyone waited the requisite 30 seconds, and we shared our guesses, before the contestants did.
“But aren’t you and your brother two of the most unbearably competitive people alive?” you may be asking yourself.
Absolutely! Thanks for asking! Lucky for us, playing Jeopardy! wasn’t a game; it was a ritual, and mostly it consisted of coming up with a few state capital and sports answers, while watching my dad run the board.
A common measurement for the quality or reliability of dads is how often they make it home for dinner. I took that for granted, because for me, it was always about the show dad put on after dinner.
Even without Trebek, my dad is incredible. I know it’s not a novel idea, but simple truths are just as important as flowery ones. Growing up, my dad wasn’t the biggest, strongest, coolest guy in the room. He was a decent basketball player (deadly with a set shot from 15 feet), an unspectacular softball player, and a good tennis player. He wasn’t the most fashionable dad and was blissfully uncaring about whatever trends we were wrapped up in.
But when Jeopardy! came on, my dad could beat up your dad. He DESTROYED. He knew everything. And not in one of those starry-eyed-kid inflation kind of ways. Every night, my dad dazzled with an array of correct and fast answers that blew us away, and would also have blown away the contestants. No one was cooler than my dad, weeknights from 7:30 to 8:00 P.M.
Answering Jeopardy! questions was hardly the only thing that made my dad shine, but it was where he shined the brightest.
Dad was a Jeopardy! superhero—before the modern day Jeopardy! superheroes like Ken Jennings ever showed up. We were convinced he would have won weeks in a row if he only had the chance. Sure he didn’t deal with the buzzer, or the pressure, or answers in the form of a question, but he was quicker to more right answers than anyone.
I began to win more family game nights. And every now and then I could sneak something illicit past my dad. But when it came to Jeopardy!, he never gave an inch.
When I went away to college, my roommate also loved Jeopardy!, and we’d go head-to-head, and even started tracking points (just two cool college kids playing Jeopardy!). Turns out, my remarkable dad was a lot like his remarkable dad. And likely countless other remarkable dads and moms. It wouldn’t surprise me if you read all of this thinking, it sounded familiar to your childhood and that one of your parents was also an unheralded, potential Jeopardy! G.O.A.T.
As a kid, my G.O.A.T. hall of fame all shared similar traits. Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey Jr., Zack Morris, and other physically gifted humans endowed with superpowers like strength and speed and unyielding coolness. But Jeopardy! opened my eyes to my dad’s superpowers.
He endowed my dad, and so many others with this power. And while I understand now that knowing a lot of Jeopardy! stuff isn’t exactly the same as being smart, in formative years, any encouragement to embrace intelligence is significant. I thirsted for trivia and facts and knowledge because I saw how impressive it could be, and I wanted to be like that.
So while 2020 strikes another blow to our lives, I won’t let it sink me. Thank you Alex Trebek, and thank you dad.