Kneeling down next to 5-year-olds Sasha and Misha, David Robeck grasped them by the shoulders and spoke to them in the limited Russian he knew.
“I said, ‘Today, you are brothers and I am your papa,’ ” he said.
It was a trying process to adopt them, but in the end, love trumped language barriers and cultural differences.
This June, Robeck is celebrating more than 15 years as a proud father of four children, all from Russian orphanages.
“I don’t see Father’s Day any differently,” he said. “Every day is a blessing. Because of our close relationship, every day seems like Father’s Day to me.”
Not only an adoptive parent, Robeck is also one of many in the rising number of single fathers.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, out of 70 million fathers in the country, 1.7 million were single. In Clark County, out of the 713,365 households, 24,269, or 3.4 percent, were single fathers with children younger than 18.
Robeck, a Henderson resident, was always put in a position growing up to look after children, whether it was at his Sunday school or through volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
After graduating from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Robeck went to work at Valley Bank.
Still trying to figure out his career goals and life ambitions, he joined the Peace Corps, serving in Russia for two years.
Robeck stayed an additional two years in Russia to work at a bank.
He eventually returned to Las Vegas. His career varied from banker to managing nonprofits and ministries.
Robeck knew he didn’t want to get married, but he wanted children.
“I always said if I was 35 and unmarried, I would adopt,” he said. “That number came and went.”
When he was 40, he decided to look at adoption in Russia.
He put down a few age suggestions and what special needs he thought he would be able to handle and left the rest up to fate.
“I put it in God’s hands,” he said. “I told God to pick out who he wanted me to adopt.”
He met Misha first. Robeck said the boy ran toward him yelling, “Papa,” on their first encounter.
Sasha, whom he met later, wasn’t as simple.
“The orphanage director had refused an appointment for me because I was a single American man,” he said.
Robeck was prepared to fight for them.
After he consulted a lawyer and a state social worker, adoption proceedings continued. He jumped through hoops proving financial stability and mental health.
The adoptions were approved and Robeck took the boys — now named Thomas and Jonathan – home to Henderson in 1997.
“I remember meeting him and just knowing I wanted to go home with him and be part of his family,” Jonathan Robeck said.
The new father quickly learned the difficulties of dealing with past issue of neglect, which is why the children were in the orphanage. He was indoctrinated into fatherhood quickly, addressing anything from nightmares of abuse to learning disabilities.
But each boy accepted the other as a brother, and the family began to shape.
Robeck’s parents, who were alive at the time, helped out with picking the children up after school.
“I taught my mother a few Russian phrases,” he said.
When the boys were 9, Robeck hosted a foreign exchange student from Russia. After seeing how well the boys responded, he began contemplating adopting more children.
“I’ve always wanted six,” he said.
He asked the boys their thoughts, and they were open to having two new brothers. The second time, Robeck said the process was easier. His adoptions took place years before Russian President Vladimir Putin banned adoptions by American citizens — the bill was signed in December 2012
The other two boys were siblings, 7 and 8.
Robeck said it was a new set of issues because the children, Jesse and Mark, had been subjected to physical and emotional abuse for longer.
“The older boys accepted them right away,” he said. “It took the two younger ones a harder time to accept the eclectic family.”
Jonathan Robeck said it took some time to get used to.
“They were really loud,” he said. “It was all new for us.”
At the time the two older boys, 11, were still in the same school the younger ones were starting.
“They went out of their way to help the younger boys adapt at school,” Robeck said. “They also helped them adapt at home and to learn to speak English. The older boys became more responsible, and the younger boys had built-in mentors.”
They bonded over things such as passed-down toys.
The boys adapting to the new family and understanding the complexities of fatherhood weren’t the only problems Robeck has come across.
He said he has faced discrimination as a single father.
Whether it was school officials, pharmacists or people working on immigration paperwork, he said he has received comments — insults at times — about him being a single father.
“I was picking up medicine for (one of the children) and the pharmacist said, ‘Tell his mother to make him do this,’ ” Robeck said.
People, he added, took issue that he wasn’t looking to be married anytime soon.
“I said I wouldn’t date until all of them were 18,” he said. “We are going through so much. Why would I add another person to the dynamic?”
Through bad dreams, tantrums and the good and bad days, Robeck is making it through fatherhood and loving it.
Today, his house is still full of boys — now 16, 17, 20 and 20.
“And they all eat like horses,” he said. “They are all adult-sized now.”
But they are family.
“They love each other like brothers, and they hate each other like brothers,” he said. “They are so considerate of each other sometimes and then so resentful of each other at other times, just like brothers.”
It’s not just on Father’s Day that Robeck is proud of the family he has created. With every accomplishment — whether it was when Thomas was selected as employee of the month at work, Jonathan was complimented for being good with neighborhood children, Mark was commended by a teacher for his musical talents or Jesse was selected as the physical education student of the year — Robeck is proud to be a father.
“When the boys are recognized for individual achievement, it’s at those times I feel more special,” he said. “It’s at those times, I am the proud father shining in their light.”
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5201.