This article is part of an ongoing series by Michael Lewis about the birth of his third child. Click here to read the other entries in the series. Michael Lewis first began his "Dad Again" column after the birth of his second daughter, Dixie, in 2002. Click hereto read about that delivery.
"Me too!" says Dixie.
"If we win, you girls have to join us in the winner's circle!" says the owner.
We rush out to lay some dough on Winsky. "Daddy, what's the circle?" asks Dixie, but I'm too distracted to answer. They've replaced old tellers with new betting machines. It's now more complicated for a 46-year-old man to place two $5 bets on a horse to win than it was 30 years ago for a 16-year-old to lay two grand on a horse to show. I waste 10 bucks printing out two erroneous tickets before finally getting my hands on tickets for Winsky to win. Grabbing them from me, the girls race outside to watch their horse up close, from the rail. The weather is clear, the track fast. As the bell rings and the horses bolt from the gate, I wonder: This is what fathers are for? To take children to the places they aren't supposed to go, so that they can do the things children aren't supposed to do? If Mama's the law, I'm the blind eye.
For roughly 51 weeks a year, I'm a bit player in my children's moral education. This week is the exception, when we visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras. For seven days I'm more or less in charge and use them to cultivate the aspects of their characters that they'll need to make it in the modern world: guile, greed, charm, and a deep appreciation that what you know is less important than who you know. Mardi Gras might just as well have been created to teach small children how to compete in the more ferocious sectors of our nation's economy. Beads, in the brief moment they fly through the air, become so valuable that grown men will trample one another to get them and young women will disrobe. Three hours later they're worthless again, but that's not the point. The point is how to get as many of them as possible.
Last year, when she was 6, Quinn draped the beads she caught around her neck. This year she takes what she catches and squirrels it away furtively in a camouflaged Army duffel bag beside her. "If they see you have lots of loot they won't throw you anything," she explains, hurriedly, and then resumes her quest for more beads. Dixie is only 4, but even she seems to be coming along nicely. As I haul home a 50-pound sack full of beads, she says, "Daddy, you want me to tell you why they gave me so many things? 'Cause I was making a sad face." Every small child in America should be flown to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Those who excel should be offered jobs by Goldman Sachs selling bonds. Those who fail should be taken to the racetrack, to see if they are perhaps better suited to trading.
The race starts, a mile and 40 yards. There is no drama to it. Winsky, on the inside, takes the lead and never surrenders it. She wins so easily that, if I were one of the other horses, I might just canter back to my stable and shoot myself. My daughters leap around: They won! "How much did we win, Daddy?" they ask but then are distracted by their new best friends, Winsky's owners, trainer, and jockey, who guide them into the winner's circle. They pose for a group photo, Quinn and Dixie front and center, as a man with a television camera races back and forth filming them from every possible angle, beaming their smiles into every off-track betting parlor in the land. Quinn sees the camera and waves.
Twenty-two minutes after they strolled into the Fairgrounds, they're back in their car seats, waving $5 bills and looking for something to argue about. The experience has struck neither of them as noteworthy. The problem with lucking out with your children is that your children don't appreciate their luck—and the lucky feeling is more than half of the pleasure. You go to all this trouble to get them an education, and they promptly forget the lessons. On the drive home I explain to them that it isn't common for two little girls to walk into a racetrack in the middle of the day for a single horse race and wind up in the winner's circle, holding winning tickets, with the horse's jockey on one arm and the horse's owner on the other. Not to mention getting serious screen time on every OTB network. It takes some effort, but by the time we arrive home, each little girl has been convinced she has something worth saying about her field trip—only it isn't the same thing. Dixie, running to the back of the house to find her mother, squeals, "Mama, I made $5 at the round field!" Quinn races up the stairs, finds her grandmother, and shouts, "Nana, we were on national TV!"