stories of a failed holy man


my deepest condolences
June 2, 2009, 11:45 pm
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i’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

someone i am not close to, but knew from way back, lost their 3 year old son to cancer a few days ago. i cannot comprehend what that would feel like. some people can, but i can’t. my wife lost her younger brother when she was 8 years old. he was 5. 5 years old. 3 years old. in these moments there are no answers. a young child. so innocent. so naive. so beautiful. and life is gone. there is nothing you can say. nothing you can do. no right way to feel. no possible way to move forward. in all that happens in this crazy messed up world, there is not much that shakes me as much as the death of a child. it is one of the few moments where i really wonder, “where are you, God?” 

i went home after finding out about this and found my wife and daughters had gone for a walk. i knew where they would be, so i hopped in my car and made the short drive down to the park, where they go every day the weather will allow. most days, i would go home and sit in the quiet, maybe read or play online poker until they got back, but today i needed to see them. my heart lit up at the sight of my daughter running back and forth from the bottom of the slide to the top. before i even got out of the car, i could hear her laughing. i made the short walk over and as our eyes met, she yelled ‘DADDY! i’m so glad to see you.’ and there was nothing she could have said that would have sounded better than that. i kissed my wife and knelt down to see my other daughter asleep in the stroller, her deep and heavy breath fighting through the summer heat. she was at peace, and as i felt that breath as i leaned down to kiss her, i was so thankful. images-2makena had never flown a kite before, and so i drove home to get her kite as the wind had picked up. i knew she would love it. she is always so adventurous, so excited to try new things. flying that kite was easy as anything that day, as the wind would pick it right up off the ground and take it wherever it wanted. any other day, i would have held the string tightly as makena held the handle, to ensure it didn’t blow away. and i did for a minute, but gave up soon as i realized it stopped me from being able to watch her. and so i let go and watched. i watched her run with the wind blowing her hair into her mouth and the kite going higher and higher. i knew she wouldn’t be able to hold on if the string got out too far, but it didn’t matter. because she was so happy. so alive. and i needed alive in that moment. because death is terrifying. and a 3 year old boy had died that day. and i was wondering where God was. and i needed to see life. sure enough, she let go and the kite went soaring across the field and into an old ladies house. the string was tangled in her tree, and she was annoyed, but i didn’t care. i know that makes me a rude neighbor, but my daughter was so happy in that moment, i didn’t care. i needed to see her alive. and i hope i don’t sound heartless, speaking of a moment with my daughters that will forever remain with me while someone else has lost someone so dear to them. because it breaks my heart to know the pain they are going through. i just so badly needed to see some beauty in that moment of feeling totally broken and helpless. because if that did happen to my daughters…i would be lost. i wouldn’t know what to do. 

life isn’t fair. and someone can be alive one moment. and they might be gone the next. and we feel powerless. we feel hopeless to control the steady march towards death. most days we manage to ignore it. we push it beneath the surface and pretend we are invincible. we pretend time will never catch up with us. and then a 3 year old dies. and time stops. and we wonder, “where are you, God?” and that’s okay. it’s okay to ask those questions. i have to believe that God is okay with that. if i really wanted to be cliche, i could tell you the story of the footprints on the beach. or i could call up this distant acquaintance who just lost their 3 year old, and tell them, ‘he’s in a better place, now.’ that might be true, but i think those christian cliches mean little in the face of tragedy. but i do believe God is with us in the midst of that pain, stupid footprints story or not. and so if, God forbid, i ever lose someone the way these people have, please don’t hit me with christian cliches. because i might punch you. right in the mouth. because i am wondering today where God is in the death of a 3 year old, and i don’t have an answer. and neither do you. i can’t see him. i can’t understand why he let’s this happen. and i’m angry. and trivial words spoken with positive intentions can’t stop the pain of those who have lose someone. but i believe God can. and i believe he is there in the wreckage of life. and as people on this broken earth, we can’t offer much.

but we can sit. and wade through the pain alongside them in silence.



gus and the flower
April 30, 2009, 8:25 pm
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for hallowe’en a couple years ago, we bought our daughter a skull on a stick. before you call child protection services, i’m not trying to get my daughter to be fascinated with death. she picked it, out of all the hallowe’en toys. and while we thought it strange that a 1 and 1/2 year old would want a skull, we bought it for her anyway. she loved it. she would take it to bed with her, in the car, in the bathtub…it was her sidekick. she could speak fairly clearly at this point, but for some reason she couldn’t pronounce ‘skull’ properly. she kept calling it ‘gus’, and so to this day when she sees a skull, she calls it ‘gus’.

3076_165994730410_857240410_6676519_2495433_n2i got a tattoo the other day, a huge skull with a rose growing out of its mouth. i thought i looked pretty tough. who wouldn’t be intimidated by someone with a skull tattoo? i know i am, even though i have one. they pretty much scream out, ‘i will kill you if you make eye contact with me’. not that i am stereotyping people with tattoos at all. i mean, they are all lowlifes and sinners, but other than that…so i felt pretty tough with my new forearm tattoo. nobody had better mess with me, because my skull tattoo has given me power beyond measure. until i got home…

my daughter ran up to me and said, ‘oh look, it’s gus and the flower.’ 

that took some of the steam out of my toughness train. what looked really tough at one point now reminded me of springtime blooming and my old school bus driver. i don’t think he was named gus, but he reminds me of what a gus should look like.

tattoos tell stories. and while you might not understand why someone would desecrate their body so, every tattoo tells you something that’s beneath the surface. something deeper in this person’s heart and soul. sadly, too many people’s souls are filled with weird tribal art that means nothing to them, but other than that…

i got my first tattoo the day i turned 18. i had just graduated. i made the appointment months in advance in anticipation of this day. my parents were strongly opposed, so i knew i needed to stay in cognito on this quest towards tattoodom. the design was brilliant…or so i thought at the time. it was a bat logo from a band that i loved. AFI… afi-badges-s1i still stand behind the fact that they were a great band, and maybe still are. not really my cup of tea anymore. but it is a pretty dumb tattoo if you simply judge it by its appearance between my shoulder blades. but if you look deeper, it describes a huge part of my life. music. cheesy pop punk riffs that made me feel like i mattered on some level, like nothing had before. traveling to see bands like AFI, deathbystereo, Good Riddance, Layaway Plan, Choke, Moneen, Face to Face, Gob, etc…these bands were what i lived for. it is where my greatest friendships were formed. not sleeping for 40 hours straight in order to follow a band (death by stereo) through the prairies. cramming 15 bodies into a 4 person hotel room the night before warped tour in minneapolis. eating gravy with the loaf of bread i stole from home in grafton, nd because i had no money to buy food, but poured what i did have into gas money to go to a show. 341 productions. the old fire hall. goodsampark and means split tapes. the adrenaline of hearing the perfect beat. the smiles on the faces of those moshing/dancing/whatever you want to call it. music is where God found me, or where I found God, depending on how you look at it. it’s where i grew. it’s where i matured (somewhat). music was everything to me, and still is to a certain extent. and so this dumb little bat tattoo that resembled my crush on davey havoc’s (lead singer) great singing intertwined with gut wrenching screams looks stupid. but it resembles so much more. it resembles a time in my life that shaped me into who i am today. a time of pure joy. a time where i found real joy and purpose in life.

and so now i look at my new tattoo and don’t really miss the tough guy feeling i had. i simply smile when thinking of my daughter’s beautiful face and the excitement with her declaration of my gus and the flower tattoo. because it’s not what the tattoo looks like that’s really important. it’s what’s behind it. it’s where the meaning is found. i’ll take that beautiful image any day over intimidating old ladies in the grocery store.

although, maybe i can still do both…

‘move over grandma, that’s my last package of farmer sausage. i have a skull tattoo.’



masters of the universe vs. toronto maple leafs
April 15, 2009, 4:11 am
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i know my dad loves me. i have no doubt about that. he is a special man who has always been there and done whatever it took to provide for his family. i’m proud to be his son, and proud that many say i’m just like him, which is just another way of saying i have lame jokes and smoked too much weed when i was a teenager. he still denies that he ever did…i haven’t decided whether i believe him or not. i saw those high school pictures, dad. you can’t fool me.

there was nothing quite so amazing to me when i was a kid as the cartoon “masters of the universe”. i don’t remember much of it now. just some dude wearing a loincloth with a giant sword. i wanted to dress like him, but mom said i would get kicked out of school. i still think it would have helped me with the ladies. and trust me, i needed help. my skill was, to say the least, lacking (read here). to this day, i have never tried the loincloth and sword idea. i think i should call up johnny depp and ask him to do it, because then it would be cool. if i did it, i would just get fired. but if he started it, i would just be following the trends. since i have him on speed dial, it shouldn’t be a problem…

hockey playoffs are life and death situations in the roberts family. and so came the night when masters of the universe conflicted with the worst abomination to walk the face of the planet…the toronto maple leafs. i don’t know why i’m telling you who it was, i’m sure you all know they are uglier than sin. while i didn’t know this scientific fact at the age of 7, something inside of me must have sensed it, because i knew masters of the universe was way better than some stupid hockey game. so every time my dad would sit down, i ran to the tv and changed the channel. i pretended it was a joke at first, because i hoped he would give in without me having to beg. but my stubbornness came from somewhere, and it was then i realized it was him. it was a showdown like no other. 

father vs. son. HE-MAN vs. toronto wussy leafs. 7 yr old vs 32 yr old. it all came down to this moment. dad firmly said as calmly as can be, “son, please quit changing the channel. i really want to watch this game.” would i give in? would i fall flat on my face in defeat the way the toronto maple leafs do every single year (did i mention i enjoy that?)? would i crawl in bed and be the bigger man. of course not. i pushed my luck. dad got up to go to the bathroom. i turned it to the real deal. when he came back, eye contact was made and frustration was obvious. and he walked away. he gave me what i wanted. he gave up. he gave up something important to him so i could do something trivial. i felt really guilty. i tried to convince him to turn it back to the game, but he wouldn’t. he just sat with me and watched masters of the universe. i felt pretty low. i thought victory was supposed to be sweet. but it tasted stale and empty. but i knew my dad loved me. i’m sure i knew on some level before. but in this moment, dad let me win in a meaningless fight. if the stakes were higher and i was doing something destructive, he would have loved me enough to not let me win. but in crappy hockey vs. crappy cartoon fight, he knew that i was more important.

as hockey playoffs start tomorrow, and i understand now how important it was then to my father, i hope i can have the same grace when my daughter switches from the Canadiens game to Dora. i hope i love my daughter enough to let her win the meaningless fights. i know i will. because my dad did it for me. and that’s what dad’s do. they let their kids win because they love them. thanks for loving me enough to let me win, dad. if only they loved me a little more to let me wear the loincloth, i would have been set, but i guess their hearts just aren’t that big. 

and p.s. i’m not as good as my dad. i’m just lucky enough to have a lap top to let her watch Dora on, so i don’t have to be as giving as he was. sucker…love you, dad.