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.

  • lj

    Thank you Robin. Your post puts a lot of things into perspective for all of us. Great read, happy fathers day, and if you'll excuse me, there's someone I need to call.

  • lj

    Thanks for the nice post Robin. I'm sorry we can't send you to the draft, but I'm glad that means you get more time with your son. Treasure him always.

    Happy Fathers day, Dad!

  • lj

    Wow, what a great read. Thanks for sharing, Robin!

    I'd like to add, my brother's girlfriend gave birth to their first child last December 12th – when I spoke to him at Christmas he excitedly told me that the first hockey game he watch with his new son was the next day on HNIC, it was the 3-0 game in which we beat the Canucks 3-0.

  • lj

    It's a great thing for you that your mother packed it in when you were young.

    The sad and horrible story of abuse is that is often repeated in families. Children who were abused physically and sexually often go on to repeat the behavior on others in adulthood.

    It gets wired into their brain at a very young age. People who were abused often go on to seek abuse or the perpetrators of abuse.

    Bravo Mrs. Brownlee for taking the hard but right way out. You have done more for your children than you will ever know.

  • lj

    Robin,

    Have you ever watched an episode of "in the night garden"? That kids show is the creepiest show on tv. I'f afraid my 6 month old son is going to have nightmares……..that character "igglewiggle"….. not as sweet as he looks.

    anyways, good read, nice to hear stuff like that on fathers day.

    Now I must go block out visons of "in the night garden".

  • lj

    Some days being a father is like getting "kicked in the pills", what with the constant teaching of right from wrong we have to do. At the end of the day, you can't ask for a better job because we have the opportunity to shape our childrens lives. And for that I thank God for the "I love you dad" that I get from my 3 kids even when I feel I don't deserve it.