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In checkers, players must strategize and plan in order to make their moves and win the game. This is what my dad taught me when we played, almost every day after school. After I learned the basics, it was up to me to figure out how to beat him. He would never let me win. Gradually, though, I got better at checkers.
My father works as a college biology professor, so when he wasn’t challenging me on the checkerboard, he was always on my case about being diligent in my homework or studying for a big test. During my freshman year of high school, he re-learned everything about Biology 101 and helped me fully understand the function of mitochondria. He didn’t straightforwardly tell me; he would push me to figure it out for myself—a skill that I would be thankful for during my later years of high school. When I could finally articulate what mitochondria was, I felt accomplished, in a wonderful science-nerd way. Sometimes it was annoying when my father couldn’t resist an opportunity to teach me, but having an expert in my own home is—after-school challenges and all—a true gift.
Then last summer, when I stepped onto the campus of the Université Laval, I knew that a French immersion program would be amazing. I knew that I’d make friends, take part in new experiences, and explore the bustling Quebec City. My dad was the last one to hug me as I said goodbye to my family. The month away from home, with minimal cellphone contact, was going to be difficult on me without him around. During my stay at Université Laval, I began to notice that, without my father there, I was learning how to get through things on my own. Instead of calling my dad for help when one of my friends neglected our group project, I completed our sketch on my own. When a classmate needed help studying for a French quiz, I showed him some study strategies, and suddenly felt a lot like my father’s daughter. Two weeks into the program, I realized that everything my dad had taught me over the years was all coming together.
My dad instilled my values, pushing me to study and commit to reaching my academic goals, but he also taught me how to anticipate almost everything else. My confidence has improved my relationship with my dad, an unexpected benefit of leaving home. Now our conversations over checkers are different, less instructional sessions and more like talks between two equals. My father still doesn’t let me win without a fight, but I win more than I did before.
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