54 AND 6: DOWN THE ROAD TOGETHER

I used to take stock of where I was at in my life by the size of my pay cheque and how many stories I’d break during any given season on the beat covering the Edmonton Oilers for the local dailies. I was doing fine on both counts and everything else was pretty much secondary.

That means of measure changed when I met Analyn Agustin and it shifted further and forever at 7:11 p.m. on August 16, 2006, when Samuel Charles Robin Brownlee came into the world — three months early, and on my 48th birthday, no less.

I’ve told Sam’s story here before, including last year, so I won’t repeat it for those who weren’t interested then and might want to click through now in the absence of statistical analysis or any real hockey talk.

A year ago, most of what I wrote focused on how my life had changed since Sam made his dramatic entrance at the Royal Alexandra Hospital as a two-pound preemie just eight weeks after the Oilers unlikely run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final ended in defeat against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Today, with Sam and I celebrating 54 and 6 and Freedom 55 long ago shot all to hell, I’m looking ahead and contemplating what’s next and about changes to come, as they always do. There are many. These are exciting times, indeed, for the boy and the old man.

DON’T CALL ME BABY, BABY

Sam’s at the age where he gives me the hairy eyeball when I call him "baby boy," as I’m prone to. "I’m not a baby. I’m a big boy now," he insists, striking a pose and flexing his pipe-cleaner thin arms. With Grade 1 looming, a new bike to be delivered today and his training wheels retired, he’s right, of course.

With his baby teeth falling out, a mop of hair I vaguely recall and his ability to fart on command (like-father-like-son), Sam’s come a long way from when Analyn and I would be camped out at neonatal ICU convinced that if we prayed enough we’d will his lungs to develop to the point they’d unhook him from that ventilator. "Just breathe, son. Breathe." When that day came and the odds swung in his favor, we celebrated. When we explain that exact moment, to him now we just say he’s "Lucky Sam." He doesn’t understand. One day, he will.

Sam prefers riding his bike or cruising in my 1960 Biscayne to little boy toys now, which makes him a bonafide chip off the old block. At a show and shine for hotrods in Beaumont this month, Sam got his first ticket. Proud papa? You bet, even if the ticket was fake. In May, Sam and returned home from a drive when he proclaimed, "Mom, the police were after us, but dad is too fast. They couldn’t catch us." Never happened. Honest.

While Sam’s talent at passing gas and ability to fabricate stories make him a candidate for a journalism career, he’s got plenty of time to find a profession with shorter hours and longer pay. So far, his stated career goals, in no order of preference, are policeman, race car driver and to be just like his big brother, Michael (not sure what that pays). For now, a full day of school in Grade 1 in September instead of half-days in kindergarten is the challenge.

"Am I six yet?" Sam asked the other day. "Not yet. Not until Thursday," I said. "I want to be seven and then eight and then 46," he said. "Soon enough," I said. "Finish your cereal." Forty-six? Advanced stats tell me I’ll be 94 then. I changed his diapers, so . . . Fair is Fair. My wife and I laugh out loud. Sam, not knowing what we’re on about, scowls. "What?"

As I write this, Sam is hauling ass up and down the block on his old bike, racing a friend from down the street on his skateboard, hooting and hollering. They don’t seem to care who wins or loses. When you’re six and your whole life is still ahead of you, that’s the way it should be, no?

CHANGES COMING

Like I said, there was a time when chasing the story, whatever it might be, was pretty much everything that mattered. I did it well, and I did it for 25 years or so at the expense of family, friends and my health. Why not? Sports writing is a great scam, especially if you’re reasonably good at it and find your way into one of the good gigs, which I did when I got bumped up from carrying Jim Matheson’s notepad to primary beat man at the Journal in 1998 or so.

What’s not to like? Charter flights. Great hotels. Getting paid to watch hockey games. I used to love strolling around Times Square, usually in the hunt for knock-off Rolex watches. There are worse things than hanging out in L.A. or Tampa Bay or Dallas in mid-January when it’s 30-below here. Chicago and Montreal? Chasing the story wasn’t so bad. It’s not a real job. Problem was, it wasn’t just what I did, it became who I was.

Sam changed all that. For all the perks and laughs I had on the road with friends like Matheson and Rod Phillips and an entourage that included Kevin Quinn, Gene Principe and Kevin Karius over the years, the buzz of beating the keyboard on deadline and running for the bus on the way to the next stop, I found I wasn’t looking forward to jumping another jet in the name of chasing the story nearly as much as the return flight home.

The Sun took care of any angst about that when I was fired in January of 2007 in the name, I was told, of cost-cutting. Being 48 and out of work in a shrinking business with tightening budgets wasn’t a good place to be. Staying home with Sam and watching him grow was. I’ve stayed in the business with freelance gigs since – Metro, Canadian Press, NHL.com and Oilersnation. Thankful I am. Likewise, I’m grateful to Bob Stauffer, who gave me a chance to work his radio show, and Jason Gregor, who still allows me into the studio at TEAM 1260 twice a week to do his show. Damn good men, both.

Truth is, though, I’ve been gravitating away from the media game, partly because of circumstance but mostly by choice. And, while I enjoy keeping my hand in it by contributing here and flapping my gums on Gregor’s show, at least for the time being, I’m taking another step away as I blow out 54 candles on the cake.

LUCKY SAM, LUCKY DAD

I’m returning to my car guy roots. Starting Oct. 1, I’m opening a shop in the west end of the city – I’ve purchased a distributorship with a national chain, Crackmasters, specializing in windshield replacement and repair (no more bitching about busted glass in the Biscayne). It’ll operate, I’m happy to say, as part of Lucky Sam Enterprises.

While it’s a significant departure from what I’ve been doing for a living for almost 30 years, it’s exciting (and scary as hell). It’s a return to the car business that many of my lifelong friends have stayed in since I made a left turn for that white collar gig toting a notepad. I’ve missed having dirt under my fingernails.

At 54 and 6 nothing is status quo. What I know for sure is Sam is going to love that new candy apple red bike when he sees it today. He’ll say, "Cool," just like he does when I put a little right foot into the Biscayne on a Sunday cruise. Sam is going to whip that kid on the skateboard with his new wheels. What I know for sure, this August 16 and however many we have left together, is he is the greatest gift of all.

Happy Birthday, baby boy.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Boourns99

    Robin,

    You and Matheson are the voices of the Oilers I grew up to – from that first cup on. Congrats on the new venture – I’m sure that if you take the same passionate, no-BS, direct and honest approach you will have nothing but success. Looking forward to hearing about it,

    Please do come back time to time. We need you to keep these young bucks in line…

    Happy Birthday to you and Lucky Sam.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Happy B-day to both of you Robin and many more. Can’t wait for your new venture to open i can’t hold off on all this glass for much longer lol. Kepp Sam out of the drivers seat of that car or those fake tickets can turn real in a hurry.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Amazing how much clearer the road looks ahead of you with a new windshield. You think, wow I never realized how scratched and pitted the other one was.

    There is probably a metaphor there somewhere.

    Happy Birthday to the Brownlee boys.

  • GLoKz0r

    What the hell? This is Oilersnation, not some happy-fun-time-let’s-share-our-feelings blog! Where’s the hockey?!

    Hehehe, couldn’t help myself. As always, this was a great read Mr. Brownlee. Reading stories like this makes me look forward to fatherhood myself, and I’m always glad to follow along in the lives of the writers that churn my love for Hockey.

    Happy Birthday to you and your son, and here’s hoping it’s one of many many more as you set off on this new adventure. In fact, my car windshield is looking pretty haggard, when do you open up shop?

  • Oilfan69

    I hope you’ll still be on here quite a bit robin or a significant part of the community will have evaporated. However I thank you for making it an easy decision as to where the Oilers Nation should be getting their wind shield work done.

    Please let us know once things are up and running.

  • paul wodehouse

    robin…please reconsider…you and matty are really the best two in the business…gonna miss you and your articles…first the ed.journal is not going to be delivering to my door because i live in rural alta(st.paul) and now this!…depressing end of summer….good luck Robin and family!

  • yawto

    Great read RB,
    While I may be younger I know exactly how you feel. 6 months after Sam was born ( on Smytty’s b-day nonetheless) my first of two premee’s was introduced to the world in pod I at the royal Alex. 48 days later when she finally got to come home I knew what finally matters in life. I spend day in day out searching the interwebs for articles on my beloved Oil. Love all the great reads I get out of the oilogisphere, especially here. But nothing is greater than a HNIC Saturday night when the game is about to start and a 2 and 5 year old come running into the room to sing their favorite song. Used to be the game was the best part, now it’s singing o’ Canada with my true inspirations. Happy birthday Mr Brownlee Sr and Jr. Godspeed on the new venture.

  • vetinari

    Nice article Robin and good luck on your new venture and phase of life. I am sure your new business will be supported by the community that has valued your other talents for so long.

  • OilDoug

    Happy birthday Robin and Sam!

    Best of luck in the new business and the business of managing the life of an active 6 year old!

    Finally, from a selfish point of view, please keeping writing about the Oilers on this site. I respect all the writers here but your pull no punches style along with the banter in the comments section is something I look forward to reading multiple times a week.

    God knows Oiler Nation needs a voice of reason!

    Doug

  • paul wodehouse

    Congrats on the new business. October 1, eh? You probably picked the right year to be sinking yourself into a business at the start of hockey season.

  • paul wodehouse

    Robin,

    Happy Birthday to both you and Sam! I know you do awesome at the new venture. Selfishly I hope you drop in on this board and whenever you can on my radio as it is always refreshing to hear your view of things.

    Dan