University of Minnesota Alumni Association

The Last Word

Game of Chance

An alumnus considers gambling and parenting.

Illustration by Miguel Gallardo

Saturday night at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi is a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of neon color and carnival sound. A seven-hour drive from Gainesville, Florida, where I live with my wife and two boys under 3, the hotel casino offers up the perennial Wheel of Fortune along with TV-themed slots Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory.

Everyone here came to play against the odds, their hopes as expansive as the American Dream. Many are older, seemingly searching for something. A cheap thrill? There is a fine line between fortune and bankruptcy. But hopefuls come in all stripes: smokers to nonsmokers, boozers to pop drinkers, singles to marrieds and married-agains.

Upstairs, my wife’s aunt and her friend are watching our two boys in our hotel room. Down here in the casino with my wife, I’m remembering the fun we used to have before going from a couple to a family changed so much.

My wife got pregnant a week before she was to have her first IFV treatment. It was a precious gift, which from the start seemed tenuous at best. Our son Sam had a single artery in his umbilical cord that had to somehow do the job of two. This high-risk pregnancy, with possible complications for our child, brought ultrasounds every two weeks, myriad tests, and sleepless nights.

We are architects of our own grand delusions. A list of things I didn’t foresee: As a new father I would be less of a husband; as a mother she would be less of a wife; our intimacies would diminish; I would lose time for everything except parenting; I would be physically present, but emotionally absent, when my wife needed the most from me.

I was naïve. I was selfish. I was withdrawn. I had gone through life without having to care for anyone but myself, so when Sam came along, I was more than a novice. I was also a poor partner for the task of caring for another human being. We disappointed each other and argued. We slept in separate beds, one of us usually on the couch, just to get some shut-eye, all the while wondering if it was supposed to be like this.   

Tonight my wife and I are playing the roulette wheel. I bet the outside where the odds are clearer. My wife plays the inside numbers that make her lucky: 29, 22, and others. Bets become final, players put their chips in across the 36 numbers, as if there is some psychic method to the ways they skip and hop across the board, some vulnerability to the wheel, a calculated flick in the finger pinch that sent the white ball spinning, something whispered into their ear and no one else’s.

We are hundreds of dollars ahead of the hundred we split between us when we started. Her arm rubs up against mine.

“Isn’t this fun?” she says.

“Yes,” I say.

“I like playing this when I’m with you,” she continues.

Our phones ring. The kids need us. Yet we are having a good time together.

“We have to go,” I say.

The timing, however, is good. We leave when we are still winning, when we are still ahead, when we are lucky.

Ben Doty (M.F.A. ’10) is a financial analyst and bad poker player.