Father’s Day 2009: Not a hockey blog

Until three years ago, Father’s Day was a day I tried to ignore. A day I wanted to come and go as quickly as possible. It had been a day that made me dark and sad and envious and angry. It was a day I always ended up feeling sorry for myself, and loathing how I always fell into that trap. I’m guessing I’m not alone in that.

I was tempted to write about that this morning, which is something I’d never have considered not so long ago. I’m not sure why because, as anybody who has followed me here knows, the birth of my son Sam back in August 2006 changed my perspective forever.

That change began Father’s Day of 2006, when my wife presented me with a DVD of an ultra-sound she’d had. The grainy images I could barely make out made me cry like a baby. Real tough guy.

I guess it’s the circumstances here and now that convinced me to write today, although I’m not sure I could have finished — it wasn’t going to be light fare like the piece David Staples penned about dads at the Cult of Hockey or yet another great bit of real life story-telling you can read over at Black Dog Hates Skunks on almost any day of the week.

Nothing like that. Not at all.

A CHANGE OF STORY

Until Sam arrived, I hated Father’s Day because it always reminded me of what I didn’t have.

I was just short of my third birthday — the age as my Sam is now — when my mother packed a couple of suitcases and my six-month-old brother and I into a beat-up 1955 Chev station wagon and left my dad.

She had no choice, really. Drunk and angry over what I don’t know, my dad picked me up and threw me across the kitchen with enough force that I went through a cupboard door and ended up wedged beside the stove with the pots and pans.

It wasn’t the first time my dad raised a hand to me in a fit of drunken rage, but, it would be the last. There’s no way, not with a six-month-old brother in the picture, mom was going to risk more of the same. She’d already stayed too long and put up with too much, I’d later learn.

I saw my dad just one more time after that. I was 13 and waiting at a bus stop at Eighth Avenue and Columbia Street in New Westminster on the way home from a movie. I glanced over and saw a man leaning against the doorway at Wosk’s Department Store. He was drunk, dishevelled, unshaven, and dirty. He was frail, old and used up — nothing resembling the strapping auto mechanic in the photos my mom kept.

The man on the street was my dad. Our eyes never met. For a moment, I thought about beating the hell out of him. Instead, I turned away. That day, on the bus ride home, I cried for him for the last time.

When he fell down some stairs in a drunken stupor, hit his head and died of a blood clot on the brain about a year later, my mother got a phone call. I got a pair of steel-toed work boots and an electric shaver that didn’t work. My little brother got nothing. Neither did my mom.

HERE AND NOW

Like me, you’ve heard of or even lived and survived circumstances like that, or worse. I’m not alone. Not nearly. That bit of history didn’t tempt me to write today. In fact, it had little to do with it.

As you may have read earlier this week, I’m playing Mr. Mom with Sam now because my wife, Analyn, is in the Philippines. She’s gone home to visit her brother, Arman. He has pancreatic cancer.

Arman is only 48 and is the father of two. He’s a wonderful, kind, gentle man and a loving dad. It will take a miracle for him to survive six months. There won’t be another Father’s Day for him. Sam will never meet him. Pictures and video from this trip will have to do.

It’s so bloody unfair. So wrong. I couldn’t get that out of my head after Analyn phoned me this morning to wish me happy Father’s Day and say, “I love you.” She’d spent the night in the hospital.

Sam, who I’m happy to say is beating down a case of pneumonia like Georges Laraque slapped around Rob Ray, has, thankfully, absolutely no real understanding of why his mom isn’t here right now.

Besides, he wouldn’t be that worked up about it because he’s eaten more hotdogs and pizza and played more video games in the week she’s been gone than he has the rest of his life.

CALL THE RE-WRITE DESK

I was eight or 10 paragraphs into what I was going to write this morning when Sam changed everything, just like he did by being born — three months premature on August 16, 2006, which happens to be my birthday. You know his story . . .

Sam climbs onto my lap. “Hello, daddy.” He wants to watch Gummy Bears on my laptop. He wants to watch In The Night Garden and Thomas and Friends, all of which I have bookmarked. When “I’m working, Sam” fails to deter him, I figure a 15-20 minute break will give me a chance to gather my thoughts.

Sam starts punching keys on my laptop, like he always does. No big deal. I’m used to it. The difference this time is I’ve remembered to minimize what I’ve written, but not to save it. Sam zaps it with a barrage of keystrokes. It’s gone. “Shit,” I say, when I realize what he’s done. “Shit,” says Sam, reminding me that language does matter. “What the hell,” I think, figuring time will be better spent with him, especially today. I wasn’t hell-bent on spilling my guts. No story. No problem.

PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

Sam loves car rides, so I bundle him up and we head for Safeway, which is a regular routine. We’re short on hotdogs and pizza and green gum and bum wipes and other such necessities.

As always, Sam squeals with glee sitting in the cart as we roll up and down the aisles and then head toward the coffee grinder. I grind the coffee, then put the bag to my nose, take a whiff and say, “Ahhhhhhh, that’s good.” Sam peers into the bag, takes a snort and says, “Ahhhhhhh, that’s good.” I hug him and I kiss him. “Let’s go,” I say. “Let’s go,” he says.

Jacked by the aroma of the Irish Crème girlie blend I prefer, Sam, as usual, is bouncing around in the cart seat and swinging his legs. We get two or three steps from the grinder and Sam kicks me square in the nuts. Not a glancing blow, as he’s delivered before, but dead centre in the pills. A Father’s Day sack-beating. “Jesus, Sam, right in the nuts,” I blurt. “In the nuts,” Sam says, adding, “Sorry, daddy.” His concern is obvious.

Moments later in the checkout line, Sam, to the amusement of all, provides a repeat of the play-by-play. “In the nuts,” Sam proclaims, leaning forward in the cart seat before hugging me around the neck. “I love you, dad.”

I love Father’s Day.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

  • RCN

    There ain't nothing like it in the world, it the best job I've ever had. I still remember when my wife first said to me that she wanted babies, I was like sure, thinking to myself, ya right, between the drugs and booze i consume, no way it's gonna happen. Guess what, BAM, in like 3 months, she's preggo. 2 weeks before she's due, she goes into labor (again) I'm thinking it's false labor again, take her to the hospital in Ft. Nelson, say, gotta go feed the Dogs and cats, be back in half an hour, catch the first period of edmonton v Coyotes (I know deadbeat eh!!!). Go back to the hospital, like 2 hours later, I am holding my beautiful baby girl, changed my life instanly, the absolute best thing in the world. Know we have 2, 5 and 3 yrs old, and it's awesome.
    Robin, great post, I'm sorry about your Dad, but as you and me now know, anyone who dosn't step up and love every minute of it, it's there loss because there will never be any true joy in there life. I am not a religous man, but I will say a prayer tonight for your brother in law, and our thoughts will be with you.

  • RCN

    Robin,

    Well done. It takes a bigger set to lay it out there and talk from the heart. I've found a fine scotch or two helps as well.

    Regarding memories – I watched opening day between the Blue Jays and the Royals on TV in 2000 when my first boy was born (very sleep deprived, it may have been game 2 or 3 of the season). He layed in my arms and i described the plays to him. Since i've told him that story, he still asks me details about that game when I'm least expecting it.

    Cheers to all us Dads out there, and those who long to be.

    PC

  • RCN

    Wow! Yet another special moment on my Father's day! reading this heartwarming and personal story from Brownlee was the cap on an awesome day. I also like the fact that I lived in new West for two years and know about where Brownlee is talking about and that I am a Leo being born on August 22nd and Browlee and his Son are both Leo's and born on the 16th of August which is the birthday of one of my closest friends. Good stuff Brownlee! Family is number 1!!

  • RCN

    Happy Father's Day Robin & all.

    That Night Garden show definitely gives me the creeps too. It makes the Teletubbies seem normal in comparison. Thankfully my one year old is into Backyardigans. It's not half bad.

    Robin, I received my first grazer this weekend. I'm not very happy to hear from you that his aim will likely improve and that by three years of age he'll be knocking them out of the park.

    PS: Like most new parents, I've spent my fair share of time in the emergency waiting rooms. So I've had ample opportunity to stare at the posters of Big George pleading with parents not to shake their infants. I really wish there wasn't a need for such posters…

  • RCN

    Yup Robin, we all got a story don't we.

    Just don't quit telling it like it is and since your little one gets up early, you might as well too and get your a*s over to The Team , they need you baaaaaaad

  • RCN

    charlieangels wrote:

    Yup Robin, we all got a story don’t we.
    Just don’t quit telling it like it is and since your little one gets up early, you might as well too and get your a*s over to The Team , they need you baaaaaaad

    I'm glad you think so.
    I haven't heard a word from anybody at the TEAM expressing a similar sentiment, though. I thought Bryn and AJ did a good job in the mornings last week.
    Happy to say I'll be co-hosting Just A Game this Thursday and Friday with Will Fraser while Gregor is in Montreal.

  • RCN

    Great read RB. You are not alone in your past. I use the memories of my father as blueprints of what not to do. If I always do the opposite, I know everything will be just fine.

    From one father to another…Happy Fathers Day.

  • RCN

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    charlieangels wrote:
    Yup Robin, we all got a story don’t we.
    Just don’t quit telling it like it is and since your little one gets up early, you might as well too and get your a*s over to The Team , they need you baaaaaaad
    I’m glad you think so.
    I haven’t heard a word from anybody at the TEAM expressing a similar sentiment, though. I thought Bryn and AJ did a good job in the mornings last week.
    Happy to say I’ll be co-hosting Just A Game this Thursday and Friday with Will Fraser while Gregor is in Montreal.

    IF we can raise money to get Greggor to Montreal we can start calling the team or get a petition going to get Robin the 1-3 slot then followed by Greggor, Man this would be great, ALll local sports Oilers ESKS and CAPS all day long.

  • RCN

    This piece was perfect for fathers day. Very good stuff here Robin. I laughed, I cried, and I smiled and remembered similar moments Ive had with my kids. Thanks for a great read. You write a book, could be a book about ball bearings, and I'd be the first one in line to hand over my twenty bucks. Keep up the good work.

  • RCN

    @ Robin Brownlee:
    Robin: whether I agree with you or not you are at least interesting and entertaining. I do disagree with your assessment of the current morning show. Bryn is Bryn , boring and tedious and AJ is confrontational and crouchy. I miss Jake. He was interesting and entertaining. 1260 made a mistake.

  • RCN

    bryn is horrible, you just have to tune in to 960 in calgary to listen to a good morning show. Get someone who is actually funny and not someone (bryn) who thinks he is funny.

  • RCN

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    When I graduated from University in 2002, I approached my dad with a copy of my Education Degree and told him I wanted him to hang it in his office, as I knew he was very proud of me. My dad immigrated to Canada almost 45 years ago and never made it passed grade 2, as his adolescence wasn't as gifted as was mine. He went into his business, put it in a frame, and hung it on his wall. He then returned to me with a plaque of his own and handed it to me. He said, "This is my University Degree and if you really want to make me proud, then you'll follow in my footsteps and graduate from this school too". Written in black felt with his chicken scratch like printing it read, "University of Life".

    After reading your article today, I'm sure my pops would give you a passing mark in that very same University he attended…lol. Great job, once again.

  • RCN

    Robin, thank you very much for sharing this story with us. Truly wonderful being a dad isn't it?

    I've just returned from a sweet father's day weekend camping with my wife and daughter…reading this makes me appreciate being a dad even more; even with a swift kick to the balls every now and then.

    I also love being a dad even when your kid misses her afternoon nap and is raging lunatic angry from lack of sleep…I still love being a dad even then. Because for the few times being a dad is somewhat aggravating it's so wonderfully bitchin' when you look in her eyes and see nothing but love and total admiration coming back at you. Being a dad rocks.

  • RCN

    Great story Robin, always good to hear that your son is doing better! Although I'm not a dad yet, I hope to be soon. That story about the Safeway trip was hilarious, can't wait for my own trips like that (minus the nut shot of course!).

  • RCN

    Very touching Robin. Once again, The Nation brings up a little of everything – I laughed, I cried, I cherished life. My gf has a 3 year old daughter, and she lights my life up. In time, I hope to have my very own. As scary as it seems, I can only imagine how proud I'll be when that time comes. KIDS RULE!

  • RCN

    Robin!

    Look what you did: now I am crying at work. My fmaily has been away for three monhs and I am getting a wee bit emotional.

    It is always heart warming to read about a man who really understands how important being a good father really is.

    Thank you for letting us in and giving us some humanity to contrast with all the other junk we fill our existence with.

    Kudos