(for Part I, click here)

“Won’t I suffocate?” I ask my sixteen-year-old son, whilst standing in a three-block-deep hole and trying to remember the super-secret Xbox handshake for laying sod.  It isn’t enough to promise your son a day of Minecraft. You also have to survive it. And not just in the physical sense. “I’ll be completely sealed in!”

“Exactly. And you won’t suffocate. Minecraft monsters have no concept of object permanence. If you seal the hole, they’ll wander off.”

[Like adolescents, I might add, whenever chores start.]

“Are you sure that’s my best strategy?”

“Yes.” He doesn’t look at me, deftly maneuvering his character for the greater good of Minecraft. He avoids directly mentioning my crappy grasp of avatar control. “That’s the best you can do ‘til morning.”

I throw a block of freshly mined dirt into the air as instructed, but it does not seal the opening above me as promised but falls on my head and then bounces around by my feet.

Stupid dirt.

“Not the B button, Dad. The left trigger.”

“Very sound advice.  Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

I consider again the possibility of slipping the controller to my daughter (the youngest) and incrementally teleporting myself to the home office. I have other, very real holes to dig out of, and burying myself alive (virtually) hits a little close to home. But somehow, at Christmas, leaving feels wrong. Welch on this promise and I might as well douse the Christmas tree in gasoline and light a match.

“That’s the right bumper, Dad,” he corrects me again. “Use the trigger. No. . . No. . . the left trigger.

Dirt sails ineffectually through the air again. “Crap!” In terms of advice, I can confirm that it is much easier to give than receive.

I can hear monster sounds: grunts, groans, and creepy music that promise all sorts of doom.  One split-screen over, my son is halfway through turning his own sod-tomb into a hobbit mansion.

A mottled-green monster plops into my unfinished hole, sizzling like a lit M-80.

“Ope!” My son says. “That’s a creeper.”

“It’s ug—”


My son’s avatar stops digging and face-palms while I observe the smoking crater that once was me. The few, pitiful treasures I’d gathered are splattered across an empty grassy plain, glittering dewdrops of pain beneath the night sky.

The screen fades from red to gray. (Well, half of the screen fades. My son’s half is fine.)

After a few seconds my avatar reincarnates again, alone and unequipped in a field full of monsters, including the green explody kind.

“Dig!” my son commands. “Dig, you fool!”

I dig. Miraculously I manage to seal myself in the sod tomb, hands shaking on the controller. A happy little accident, as Bob Ross would say.

I am never going to survive a day of this, I think. I ready my ‘dig/punch’ function, determined to land at least one hit before getting detonated.

“Good job, Dad.”

Wait, what? Was that positive reinforcement?

Gradually the thrill of not dying is replaced with the dissatisfaction of sitting in a crummy hole. “This is boring. When do I get some payback?”

“Stay there,” my son says. “We’ll get to that.”

I look over at his side of the screen: he’s sprinting across the monster-laden plain recovering my lost goodies. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

And suddenly, it’s my son, the wise, old mentor.

“We’ll talk about retribution, after you make some armor.”



Sometimes I’m a bad dad.

About two years ago, my son made this point effectively and unintentionally. We were visiting my sister, and an argument broke out around the XBOX and whose turn it was. I went to the game room to investigate, and in the mayhem, somebody handed me a controller. Cool uncle, right?

“Here, Uncle Ben, it’s your turn.”

“Um. Okay. What are we playing?”


I’d heard of Minecraft. I’d heard a lot about Minecraft. In fact, I’d heard so much about Minecraft that I’d deliberately avoided it. “Mine-Crack” some of the kids called it. With all those nieces and nephews staring at me, though, I froze. The people had decided. Who was I to argue?

I am not an uncoordinated person, but the XBOX controller for Minecraft can be tricky, with its multi-colored buttons, dual control sticks, dual triggers, D-Pad, and dual bumpers. Even worse when all your nieces and nephews are staring at you, and you’re trying desperately to maintain that thin façade of coolness that all adults think they wear, even after getting blown up several times by a green proximity bomb with legs.

My youngest daughter sets down her controller and re-explains the controls to me while the rest of the cousins giggle. And from the back of the cousin pile my son’s voice cuts through chatter like Minecraft’s infamous diamond blade:

“You know, all I ever wanted in elementary school was to spend a day playing Minecraft with Dad. And I never got to.”

That hit me right between the triggers. Or maybe the D-Pad. He’s 16 years old, and probably too grown up to care anymore, but I had never once played Minecraft with him. Not even for an hour, though I’d listened to him talk about it endlessly.

The point of being a parent, I think, is so you can feel bad about yourself more often, perhaps hoping eternally that you might get at least one thing right.

So for Christmas, I gave him a copy of Minecraft in his stocking. I’m probably the only historical example of a lame dad giving his sixteen-year-old son a five-year-old copy of Minecraft. About eight years too late, if you don’t think too hard about the math.

He sorta grinned when he took off the wrapping paper. “You know how old this is, right?”

“Yeah.” I grinned back. “But I’ve got the day off.”