I have friends that can make anything a competition: sandlot football, mini golf, Mario Kart. That’s how many guys are. We out bench press each other, one-up each other’s jokes, try to win at the office or have the better car. We play fantasy football, want the best lawn, and replace our 50 inch TV with an 80 inch. There are men out there striving to beat the bratwurst eating record. It’s not always healthy.
But, when the sun dips low on the horizon, we enter the Great Equalizer: a dark, secret place where nobody is looking. The “Big Dog” or the guy who makes the “Big Mac,” bulging biceps or bloated waistline, PhD or GED, it doesn’t matter. We’re all the same once the door is closed. Welcome to bedtime.
Tucking a child in changes a man. Even the toughest of us turn to goo.
In the quiet, dim light of a baby’s bedroom I’ve suddenly found myself singing a lullaby, making up nonsensical songs and talking in a mysterious happy high register (notice how we all talk funny around babies and dogs). What happened to my real voice? Sometimes I turn on a music box and just wrap my arms around this little blonde taquito wrapped in a blanket and stare at the simple, soft innocence. My heart is as vulnerable as it can be.
Please Tell Me Nobody is Watching
Then I head to Brendan’s room. He is four. Bedtime with him has become a highlight reel of things I would never (mostly) do in public.
Really, his room is like a “Mini Vegas.”
I’ve tickled, chased, sang silly songs, danced and hopped to music, played with flashlights and glow sticks, recorded silly videos with him on my phone (then sent them to my wife), ran in circles chasing colored lights, wrestled, rolled glow-in-the-dark balls under the covers and had stuffed animal fights.
Tell Me a Story
We’ve read and re-read a library of books, sometimes surrounded by an audience of stuffed animals—and I’ve learned to embrace the times he asks, “Tell me a story.” There are staples that I made up on the spot—“The Little Green Ball,” “The Airplane and the Trampoline” and “Brendan’s Fish Friend.”
And then, even at four years old, there are the times Brendan asks questions about life, me and his mom or someone who is sick. I get the privilege of answering. Sometimes I just nod, like when he told me, “I think God likes football. I bet if I threw a ball really high, He would throw it back.”
That would seriously be awesome.
And we pray.
I’ve prayed as he kneeled next to me, sat in my lap, held my hand or fell asleep. I don’t care if you think you’re Chuck Norris, that’ll get you misty-eyed.
I’ve seen Brendan begin to pray for others. His early prayers were for whatever he could see: his clock, his door, his bed (gotta love it). Now, he’s prayed for friends who were injured and his ailing grandma.
When Does The Story End?
Honestly, some nights I dread bed time. I’m tired. It’s late. I have stuff to do.
Or it’s a night I’ve already asked Brendan to brush his teeth five times and every time I turn around he’s making faces in the mirror.
Still, I know this is precious time I’ll never get back. Someday there won’t be a child interested in hearing a story or watching stuffed animals go all WWF on each other.
On any given day I work hard, lift weights, punch, kick, sweat, watch football, eat meat, fix things around the house, talk sports, laugh with friends and do lots of “Man Stuff.” And then, maybe like you, I grab a well-worn kids book or Bible and leave it all at my child’s door. That’s what happens to men in The Great Equalizer.