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A father-daughter breakfast game - and much more

''What's the score?'' I ask. My seventh-grade daughter analyzes the silverware carefully. ''Five,'' she announces nearly every time, in mock disbelief.

It's a game we play each Friday morning at the tiny lunch counter where we stop for breakfast. Run by two soft-voiced and heavily accented Greeks, peopled by quiet customers who tend to read the less prestigious of the city's two morning papers and eat with their coats on, it offers eggs, toast, potatoes, juice, coffee, and your choice of sausage, bacon, or ham - all for $1.60.

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Being a breakfast-lover, I can't resist such a feast. My daughter, more modestly, settles for a bagel and juice. In fact, our Friday morning habits have become so regular that one day, when she switched to bacon and a donut, the counterman misheard ''bacon'' - and brought, along with the donut, her usual bagel.

Our game? It consists merely in analyzing the different patterns of the stainless steel flatware we're given. I always get a knife, fork, and spoon; with my daughter's more limited menu, she gets knife and fork. Someday, perhaps, we'll get a ''one'': all five pieces will be of a single pattern. Usually it's a ''five'' - each one different, drawn at random from the grab-bag collection built up by our soft-spoken friends over the years. One day recently, turning the flatware over, we found we could even add a geographical dimension to our game: two pieces were made in Japan, and one each in Taiwan, Korea, and the United States.

The game, of course, is just incidental to what I (and, I think, she) have come to rate highly among life's little pleasures: a weekly father-daughter breakfast, all to ourselves. It started several years ago, a fringe benefit of my agreement to share with my wife the task of driving our daughter to school. But it quickly became one of the high points of the week, something we both look forward to on Thursday night with positive relish. ''Remember,'' I remind her as I tell her goodnight, ''to get up a bit earlier: tomorrow's Friday.'' Sure enough, she does.

It's a 15-minute trip to school, and another 20 for breakfast. She reads aloud to me part of the way, and then we just let the conversation take its course. Sometimes our talk is a rag-tag ''five'' - a random collection of odd incidents that happened at school, or news about what her friends are doing, or plans for the weekend, or even silence. Sometimes it's a well-structured ''one, '' as a geometry test looms up just around the corner during first period and I test her on the differences between isosceles and scalene triangles or on the principle of congruence. Usually, though, it's an easygoing ''three'' - just father-daughter small talk, opening up onto sudden insights or profound questions, and then drifting along to other subjects.

And it's always rewarding. In a world where (even at her age) schedules would try to overwhelm, our little breakfasts slow the pace. There's no pressure - although there's a clear beginning and, with the school bell, an ending. There's no agenda. There's just space, an opportunity for things to come out if they will, for the random details of two lives to come together and take on a pattern of their own.

I'm constantly surprised, each Friday, how much I'm learning about the life my daughter leads - and how much room there is for a kind word here, a laugh there. If you asked her, I think she might say the same about me.

Rushworth M. Kidder is the Monitor's feature editor.

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