Blank brackets started circulating this past weekend. I filled mine out yesterday. It’s March Madness. This time of year reminds me of my father. He loved March Madness.
When I worked at my old law firm he’d help me enter the firm’s pool. He filled out four brackets one year. I photocopied, scanned and then emailed each bracket to the guy running the pool in our Houston office. Dad had written our last name in his huge, signature, black felt tip pen, capital letters with a dash and the number 1, 2, 3 or 4 after. I’m sure every one made fun of me and how many entries I submitted. But those laughs didn’t last long. Dad’s brackets had some good picks; we were in the running for first place. Then things crashed and burned. But I remember we won some money the first year Dad helped me (it might have just been from the Dallas office’s pool, not the entire firm) and got to split a pretty big chunk of change. That made Dad’s entire March Madness. And from then on, like clock work, after all the conference finals had been played, he’d keep asking me when would my firm’s bracket be distributed.
I tried to get Dad to enter one of the CBS Sports online brackets, but he scoffed. He wanted to fill out his brackets the old school way with a pen. Then he’d keep a highlighter nearby to keep track of his winning teams. Most years he’d drive to Dallas the weekend of the Final Four so we could watch it together, his brackets printed out on white computer paper and unevenly folded in his sport coat pocket or the back pocket of his jeans. We’d go to a neighborhood bar and sit there for hours. And once we watched an entire Wisconsin game from the bar at a PF Chang’s—we were craving Chinese food. It was the best time. Plus, tipsy Dad is super fun and tells even funnier jokes. He’d never get to drunk Dad status during March Madness, that was reserved for bigger occasions, like my high school graduation. One of my high school friend’s parents threw her a party at their home in Bernalillo, New Mexico—about 15 minutes outside of Albuquerque. They had cooler after cooler filled with different kinds of margaritas. Dad tried every single one until he found the “best.” My ex-step monster had to drive drunk Dad and me home that night.
It’s surprising how into the gambling aspect of March Madness Dad was considering how he treated it when my sister was in middle school. He forbade her to enter her school’s March Madness pool because it encouraged gambling and according to him young girls shouldn’t be a part of such things. Well wouldn’t you know it, my sister filled out her own bracket and entered anyway. She won. I can’t remember if it was first place. Either way she won enough money to go buy a new shirt. She bought an olive green peasant blouse sprinkled with little cream flowers and a ruffle neck. Dad saw her wearing it and started fuming. He knew he hadn’t bought it for her and he knew he hadn’t given her any money to buy new clothes. And she didn’t have a job. So he figured it out and proved his own point—that participating in gambling and filling out NCAA brackets leads to dishonesty towards one’s parents. Dad didn’t ground her, but he was supremely disappointed. He couldn’t ground her because he loved the basketball too much. Plus, even though he never told her, he was secretly proud that she’d won the whole pool. I, on the other hand, only cared about how and when I’d get to wear my sister’s new peasant blouse, I had no idea about college basketball—that was Dad and my sister’s thing.
Maybe I became his basketball watching buddy when we got older since I lived closer to him and he couldn’t just hop in the car to drive to see my sister in Mexico City, San Francisco, Boston or wherever she was living during the month of March. I don’t really care how I became his March Madness daughter, I’m just glad I got to be her for part of the time before he died.