The Masterful Gene Fomin

This September my father enters into his 70th year living among us common folk and it has gotten me thinking about everything I know about Gene Fomin and the impression he has had on my life.  If you’ve known me well for any length of time you’ve probably heard me tell stories, give impressions and recreate to the best of my abilities some of scenes and mannerisms that are brush strokes on the portrait of a ridiculous and endearing fellow.

Gene Fomin has such capacity as a linear thinker as I’ve yet to witness up close in another person.  He can apply present circumstance and foresee a path to success well beyond the normal human horizon of planning.  That is to say, Gene can form a winning strategy to play out over a long time.  In chess, a good player is always thinking of the next move, not the current one.  Better players think three or four moves ahead.  My dad thinks ten moves ahead.  In cruder terms, when I first heard the expression “Russians don’t take a dump without a plan,” I knew immediately what they were talking about.  

My dad always has a very specific idea about how events are going to play out, and it’s served him well over the years, at least in some arenas.  In the world of chess, he was twice crowned the Seattle Chess Club Champion (a plaque he still displays with pride) and was a highly ranked player on the national level, one time beating the reigning champion of the state of California.  More recently he’s been recognized as a Contract Bridge player, competing regularly at national tournaments and holding down his position in the 99.6 percentile of Master Points. In fact whenever he applies himself to a hobby, he has earned accolades and awards for his intelligence, foresight and mastery of strategy.


And yet, I have seen this man walk directly through a closed screen door.  I’ve seen him attempting to extinguish an enormous juniper bush on fire with a sprinkler head, attached to a garden hose, instead of just the hose by itself. I’ve seen, at best, questionable fashion choices not on a few occasions, but on nearly every occasion I’ve ever seen him in public. I’ve listened to his unwavering insistence that the word Klingon is pronounced Klee-on. I’ve heard the cries of anger and disgust from my father after being outwitted time and time again by the family dog.  This is a man who showed up to an important job interview in 1995 dressed in a powder blue leisure suit.  This is a man who invests his money in crystals and is perpetually at a loss on how to “do internet.”     

I know what you’re thinking. It’s easy to pick apart the people whom we see up close the most.  It feels kind of childish, and indeed as a kid I used to do it all the time with my dad.  Despite the fact that he acted for large swaths of time as a single parent, I never gave him any credit as anything more than the most unhip dad a kid could have drawn from the dad-lottery.  He didn’t have a cool job.  He was an outdated dresser.  He listened to terrible music.  Even by teenager standards my dad was lame, and that is how I thought of him for years until a high-school band concert in 10th grade.

While our band was waiting in the wings for another band to finish, a bandmate sidled up next to me and asked if that was my father in the audience, pointing to a man sitting dead center in the audience, head all the way back, snoring audibly enough to challenge the wind section of the band now struggling to get through their performance of the theme song to 1989’s Batman.  Needless to say, I was mortified. Until I looked back at the same bandmate and realized he was laughing, along with some others who had caught on. “Your dad is rad.” I looked back at my dad, who had now been prodded awake by some angry parents for not paying respectful attention to their budding artists. It was then I saw my dad for who he really was: the kind of character that people tell stories about.  

Whether by his own design or by sheer dumb luck, Gene Fomin is a man who leaves an impression.  I think now looking back at his many accomplishments the warmest memories of my dad are when his plans went awry.  There’s a certain cosmic comedy to it all.  The master tactician befuddled by a common plumbing fixture. The grand strategist not seeing the possible consequences of feeding the dog an entire expired birthday cake.  The curveballs of life that have been thrown his way and hit him square between the eyes in a blooper reel spanning decades.  

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When I began to see my dad in this light and total up the feats and foibles in equal measure, it’s kind of amazing what he’s managed to get done.  It’s a lot like a dog who you’ve come home to discover has figured out how to open the fridge and consume an entire wheel of cheese.  He has had no small amount of obstacles put in front of him but somehow managed to form and reform and reform his plans after every setback.  And his plan worked.  His sons, friends and companions can all attest to it in the form of a story or impression he has left along the way.  

The pieces on the board have come and gone and changed positions from time to time, but Gene Fomin has mastered the the long game.  I’m turning 37 this year and I can still catch moments of my dad “playing” when I talk to him.  I still hear new stories from people about my dad all the time.  That’s the kind of man he is – quite possibly the coolest dad ever to hypnotize himself. Very likely the most successful man to ever think it was a good idea to decorate an entire bedroom in a wolf motif.  I sincerely hope I get another 37 years of broken screen doors stacked up behind his house.

Love you, Dad.