Father's Day: The Step Game Legacy

When a dad's favorite game can teach kids

By any standard, my dad was an accomplished individual, a first-generation college graduate who earned two advanced degrees from Harvard and became a business leader, executive, author and senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School.  

My sister and I could have spoken with pride about any of Dad’s professional accomplishments at his funeral — he passed away this spring — but this would not have suited him. Instead, we spoke lovingly about the “Step Game,” a game he designed that has endured in our family to this day.

The Step Game requires a coin, a staircase and as many participants as can safely square off at the top of a staircase. As the leader, Dad stood at the bottom of the stairs, placed his hands behind his back and hid a coin in one of his hands. A participant would guess which hand held the coin. A correct choice meant you could move down a step. The winner was the first to reach the bottom of the stairs. While this was fun, like baseball it could get dull with repeated misses, so we added the right to steal a step. Dad obliged, turning his back from time to time to allow a steal. If he caught you, however, you had to go back to the top of the stairs. I have wonderful memories of the looks on my sisters’ and cousins’ faces after they successfully stole a stair, or made it to the bottom victorious. 

Working for Devereux, I have come to appreciate the critical importance of shared family activities such as the Step Game in our children’s social and emotional development. This simple game supports the development of many social and emotional skills including:

  • Self-control: Imagine a crowd of kids at the top of the stairs. Dad would not start the game until all the participants were calm, with their hands in their laps. We also learned to wait our turn.
  • Grace in loss: Participants learned to take a wrong guess in stride.
  • Risk-taking: Getting caught in a steal was a risk, but players learned to take risk and accept the consequences.
  • Leadership: One important aspect of the Step Game was the winner’s right to take over for Dad, leading the game.
  • Creative thinking: Participants have been known to invent variations such as starting at the bottom of the stairs and going backwards, guessing the hand without the coin, and earning extra stairs for doing something special, such as telling a good joke or singing.
  • Responsibility: Occasionally a participant would jostle or push another participant. Poor sportsmanship or bad behavior would result in a stern warning from Dad and expulsion from the game if it continued.
  • Attachment: Most important, the Step Game was our family game, a cherished family memory, passed down from generation to generation.

Dad’s legacy is embodied in the Step Game — take risks, don’t take yourself too seriously, try again if you fail, value humor, lead, be optimistic, spend quality time with your children, and love them unconditionally.  Please consider sharing your special, shared family game or activity, invented by your father or father figure in your life, with other MetroKids readers this Father’s Day using the comment boxes below.

As vice president for product development, Martha Lindsay oversees product development within Devereux’s Institute of Clinical and Professional Training and Research, which provides psychological and educational resources, consultation, and training to Devereux and other child and youth-serving organizations and agencies.

Categories: MK Memo