stories of a failed holy man


on bedtime routines
July 7, 2014, 3:52 am
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it was nearly bedtime and she wasn’t back yet.

i nervously looked at the clock, debated calling, but instead convinced myself i could do this, even if it was a half-hearted effort. Bella was 2 years old. up until this point, her bedtime routine consisted of mom cuddling her until she fell asleep. i had tried a select few times to take on the role, but if my daughter caught wind i was trying to put her to bed to the exclusion of mom, all hell would break loose. you can say i should man up and do my job as a father. you’d probably be right. so that’s what i decided to do that night, more out of necessity than grit and determination. My wife was out with a friend she hadn’t seen in years. i know, right. how selfish of her!

i hummed and hawed and postponed and let the girls stay up later than they should have been until the moment came when i knew i could no longer postpone the inevitable. i could see the look of distrust in her eyes when i carried her to the bedroom. my oldest went to bed in no time. we were visiting grandma and grandpa’s house, and she had played herself out. Bella just sat on her bed and waited, refusing to lay down or close her eyes. refusing to give in to the tyranny and injustice about to happen. refusing to cooperate with her dictator father trying to corrupt her evening routine of mommy snuggles.

the crying started lightly when i firmly told her it was time to sleep. the screaming started when i tried to cuddle with her. not wanting to wake my eldest, i picked up Bella and headed to another room, still determined to make this young person like me, feel safe with me, be willing to give in to something new. the screaming grew louder and more desperate. Bella has a stubborn streak like no other. it will serve her well someday, but as a child…i was at a loss for what to do with this. if you met Bella today, you’d quickly learn this hasn’t changed. some who know her parents would say she comes by that honestly. they would be correct.

i tried cradling her, rocking her, laying her down in a different bed, leaving the room, rubbing her back…with each new effort, the crying intensified until it was a window rattling scream. so i picked her up and as i grew deaf in one ear, walked circles in the dark, at my wits end, wondering why i had been duped into thinking i could care for this little life. i was convinced in that moment she hated me. maybe she did. maybe my own self-esteem was so shattered i just couldn’t see this is part of parenting. but i was doggedly determined even as i felt defeated. i had started this, and i couldn’t quit now.

i kept hoping my wife would walk through the door and rescue myself and Bella as she had in the past, calming the cries of my Bella and allowing me to wallow in self-pity and drown my sorrows in TSN sportscenter.

but she didn’t rescue us this time. the time ticked on, and the crying and screaming intensified. my mother in law came to check on me a few times, making sure i was alive but knowing i needed to do this. she probably wondered what i had done to her precious granddaughter to torment her so. but she knew better than to ask in that moment what was going on.

i started singing. over and over, the same few lines, made up and sung to another popular kids song i stole the tune from.

“I love Bella, yes I do. I love Bella, how about you?
Bella is so beautiful, Bella is so smart.

I love Bella with all my heart.”

it took a long time, what felt like an eternity. in truth it was 1.5 hours. i must have sung those two lines 1000 times in the span of an hour. at first, the impact was not noticeable. slowly, she calmed little by little. it might have been simple exhaustion rather than the song that began to calm her cries. i like to think the latter. either way, the screaming gave way to sobs. the sobs gave way to gentle cries. the gentle cries gave way to deep, heavy breathing. and then she was asleep.

1.5 hours of screaming, crying, hitting and feelings of failure and embarrassment came to a conclusion in this peaceful moment. i was exhausted. tired and grumpy, having shed many tears in that 1.5 hours myself, all i wanted to do was put her down and go to bed myself. but i couldn’t. i just kept staring and holding her, my arms numb from carrying her so long, but feeling closer to her than i ever had. it felt like a battle of wills in which neither of us won, but we both submitted. i gave in to her, not by relinquishing to Missy as I always had, but by not quitting and taking the easy way out, by standing with her in her fear and uncertainty. she gave in to me, realizing i wasn’t going anywhere and that she could be safe in my arms.

she still screams at me sometimes, usually for my dumb jokes and dying when we play Nintendo. but we are close now. something broke that night. she woke the next morning and hugged me like she always had, but it was a longer hug, one that said to me that she trusted me now. maybe it’s all my imagination, but i believe it’s true. i started putting her to bed more often after that. she still didn’t like going to sleep, but now it was not a matter of screaming distrust at her less than present father. it was a matter of stalling your daddy who was wrapped around your little finger. to this day, she will snuggle in close and try to make me play and laugh, postponing bedtime in any way she can. and i’ll usually give in for a little while because i remember the days when to step into mom’s territory would not be so fun and exhilarating. it took one determined battle, but something broke that night. i became a better father. and i’ll never forget the moment. without it, i don’t believe my girl would trust me the way she does now.

the hardest moments in life are often the ones that make you grow the most. my daughters love for me is a testament to that. my love for her will never be any more or less after that night. but it is deeper and i understand fatherhood better than i did before. it gives my a glimpse of what my relationship with God has felt like many times. i kick and scream. i still am. but Abba still holds me, singing that silly verse over and over again because i refuse to believe it. maybe someday, i’ll give in the way my daughter did with me. hopefully sooner rather than later.



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.



toddler theft
April 8, 2009, 4:12 am
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i got home from the gym and just wanted to soak in the bathtub. my legs were burning and i was sweating out of my eyeballs. i started running the bath and went to the kitchen to get some water, and realized i had made mistake number 1 of having a bath when you have kids. ‘if you want peace, wait until they are in bed.’ i think that rule is followed by ‘lock the door behind you.’ when i got back to the bathroom, makena grace was already splashing water all over and bella gracie wasn’t far behind. i guess my bath would have to wait. i couldn’t help but sit there and laugh as they both looked up with their beautiful eyes as if to say, ‘screw you, dad. don’t you know your life revolves around me?’

my girls are the most beautiful in the history of the world. i’m sorry, but it’s a fact that is not debatable. i am smitten and will always be wrapped around their little fingers. every day there is something new that makes me smile. every day they are more beautiful than the last. and every day, they teach me something beautiful.

makena is the craziest of the crazy. she runs at full speed every moment she is awake. she stops for nothing, except for a hug when she wants a popsicle. the amount of miles she puts on in a day makes her faster than any marathon runner in my books, or at least she has more endurance. she loves life so much. and most toddlers do, so maybe that’s nothing out of the ordinary. but if you’ve ever met makena, you know there is nothing ordinary about her. her smile, her mischievous eyes, her wild spirit, and at the same time this beautiful gentleness that is unseen in most people these days, let alone children. she will be a handful as she grows up (she already is, i’m getting what i deserve), but she is her own person, and i can see at the age of 3 that she will rock this world with whatever she does. she will make her mark on many more lives than my own. i am so proud of her.

at church the other week, i was in the cradle roll room because she couldn’t sit still in church. most parents get embarrassed when their kids are rowdy in church. it took 2 years to get her to sit through the first 45 minutes without screaming every time we walked into the auditorium. so if she wants to talk through service, i’ll try and get her to be quiet, but i’m just glad she is sitting still. i’m the youth minister and i can’t control my own kid. what are they going to do, fire me? oh wait…i guess they can.

but on this day, she couldn’t sit anymore, and i believe it happened so i could share a beautiful moment with my girl. the passer brought communion back, as they always do to make sure everyone gets communion. as i reached for the bread, makena asked for some. my first instinct was, ‘no way. you are just a kid, you don’t understand.’ i remember being a young boy in church and one of the older boys had been baptized, so he had the honor of taking communion. he used to rub it in our faces and brag that he got a snack in the middle of church. he used to rub his tummy and say ‘yum, yum’ being totally over dramatic about it. so i’ve always had it in the back of my mind that kids shouldn’t have communion. mostly so they weren’t jerks like jonathan was. but on her persistence, and my not wanting to have a fight on my hands, i grabbed a bigger piece of bread and knelt down to be on her level. i planned to simply give it to her as a snack. maybe that’s blasphemous. i don’t know. but jesus ate grain in the fields on the sabbath, so i’m sure i could twist that to make it okay to give communion to my child as a snack. before i gave it to her, i asked if she knew what it was. she said ‘cracker’, looking at me like i was a moron. of course it’s a cracker, dad. i said, ‘jesus saved us, and so we want to remember him’. she slowed down a little bit, which is not normal for her. i asked if we could pray. she doesn’t usually like prayer. another knock against me, i suppose, as i should be the super pastor with the 3 year old mother theresa. but she slowed what she was doing and looked at me, waiting. in silence. which makena doesn’t do. she may have just been waiting for the cracker, the mazzo bread that tastes kind of stale, just a snack. but it felt like more. it felt like something important. and in that moment, i saw him. God was standing in front of me looking through the eyes of my baby girl. i don’t see God very often. even when he’s right in front of me, i have trouble picking him out. but i saw him in that moment. i couldn’t miss him. when our eyes met, i believe that God was very much in her and trying to speak to me. and so i prayed. and she repeated after me. a simple prayer.

‘thank you, Jesus, for saving us. we love you so much.’

and i shared communion with my daughter and with God. i know church tradition, or at least mine, has this unwritten rule that one should be baptized before partaking of communion. heck, even the catholics don’t take communion that young. i felt like i was doing something forbidden. but i don’t think God lives in our unwritten rules, or even the written ones most of the time. God lives with us and in us. he lives in my daughter. i met him there.