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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

The Joys of Fatherhood

February 14, 2017

My father died when I was six-years old. A single mom raised me throughout my youth and it was fine. I had a fantastic childhood, and didn’t know any other reality than the one I was living. Actually, I couldn’t imagine having a better childhood than the one I experienced. Though something about that situation always made me want to be a father, even at an early age. As life would have it I had to wait until I was 36-years old before my daughter was born, and 40-years old for a son to arrive.

I love being a dad. All of those nights when I dreamed of fatherhood— what it would be like, the times shared, the challenges, the laughter, the heartbreak— I had no clue. I dreamed big because I really wanted to be a parent. A few days after my daughter was born, had someone asked me to fill out a sheet listing all of the great things I expected out of parenthood, I would have filled several pages with the hopes, dreams, and desires of a new father. I would have certainly aimed high. Yet I would have greatly undershot the true joy I have received being a parent.

I have a lot of job titles— restaurateur, chef, author, columnist, but the most important job I’ve ever had (and the most rewarding) is dad.

I think about that a lot, and I thank God for the privilege of letting me be a parent. Even through the trying times— and believe me, two teenagers will try your times— I still know that there will come a time when they will be out from under my wing, and I will be longing for even the challenging times.

Parental joy comes at the least expected times. Last Saturday morning I returned home from a series of meetings and my son greeted me at the door and asked, “Dad, will you make me some cup eggs (our name for soft-boiled eggs with crumbled biscuits and bacon).”

There are three questions that I have always told my children that I will NEVER say “no” to: 1.) “Dad, will you take me to the bookstore?” 2.) “Dad, will you take me to breakfast?” 3.) “Dad, will you make me breakfast?” As it happens, I say “yes” to a lot of stuff as a dad, but those three things will always be responded to in the affirmative. So when he made the request for breakfast, I, without hesitation, and with a certain amount of enthusiasm, said, “of course.”

It was one of those perfect father-son moments. My wife was in the back of the house on the telephone and we had the kitchen to ourselves. The 14-year old perched on a stool at the counter and watched as I cooked a breakfast he and I have eaten hundreds of times. With his mother out of the room, we were able to crank the music up loud. He has excellent taste in music. He, of course, loves most of the new stuff, but he also has a deep appreciation for the music of my youth.

Both of my children could name which Beatle was singing which song before they were five-years old. My daughter tends to connect with the folkier end of my musical taste. My son has always gone straight for the jugular with my rock-and-roll. His favorite song when he was in first grade was Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” I took great pride in that. Through the years, he and I have attended concerts. He’s seen McCartney, Springsteen, and plenty others, but he also has a strong affinity for 90s rock and grunge, a genre I turned him onto during a long car ride several years ago, but also one that he grabbed onto and delved deeper into the artist’s catalogues seeking his own favorites, separate from mine. I love that.

So I was soft-boiling eggs as Alice Cooper was playing loudly in the background, and he and I were talking football. I stopped and thought to myself, this is the perfect parental moment. It was one of those points along the parental timeline that, if someone were looking in from the outside, would see as ordinary and mundane. But for me, it was everything I have ever wanted in fatherhood— food, music, football, and a son with which to share all three.

From early days of parenting I must have been implanted with some type of chip that allowed me to appreciate even the smallest moments. I can remember rocking babies at 2am and having the worn-out knee-jerk thought of, I wish this baby would just shut up so I can go back to bed. But in the very next instant, being keenly aware that this chapter of parenthood was going to go by way too fast, and there would be a day in the not-too-distant future where I will be longing for a tiny crying baby on my shoulder. I was right.

So the cup eggs were good, the music was loud, the conversation was engaging, and I was able to add another “dad moment” into my memory banks, and one that I will surely draw from when I am old and rocking in a chair on a porch somewhere, looking back over the course of my life.

In the end, the big vacations and monumental experiences are fun and memorable. But it’s the little moments, the unexpected, the mundane, that string along a set of memories that make me appreciate how privileged, lucky, and fortunate I am to be a father. The fact that breakfast is involved, makes it that much better.


Amaretto-Brûlée Breakfast Bread

1 /3 cup                     Butter, melted

3 /4 cup                     Brown sugar

2 Tbl                           Honey

2 Tbl                           Pecans, chopped (optional)

2 Tbl                           Almonds, slivered and blanched (optional)

8                                  French bread croutons, cut into 1-inch thick rounds

4                                  Eggs

2 /3 cup                     Milk

1 /4 cup                     Heavy cream

1 /8 tsp                      Cinnamon

1 /8 tsp                      Nutmeg

1 Tbl                           Vanilla

1 Tbl                           Amaretto


French bread croutons should be cut out of a baguette-style French bread loaf. Slices should be one inch thick.

In a cast iron skillet, combine butter, brown sugar and honey over medium-high heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly until bubbly and sugar has dissolved. Add nuts. Pour Brûlée into the bottom of a round, two-quart Pyrex baking dish. Allow Brûlée to cool slightly then top with the French bread croutons.

In a large mixing bowl whisk eggs, milk, heavy cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and Amaretto. Pour mixture evenly over the croutons. Using the tips of your fingers, press bread down gently to force custard into croutons without breaking. Cover dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Allow custard to come to room temperature one hour before baking. Bake uncovered until French bread is puffed and edges of croutons are golden brown, (approximately 40 minutes). Place a plate on top of the baking dish. Using dish towels or pot holders, invert dish onto a plate. Top with powdered sugar. Yield: four to six servings

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