“That’s what dads do – they pass the best of themselves on to their kids.” – former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason, who is battling ALS, to his newborn son, Rivers.
There are many moments in the film Gleason that will grab your heart, but it’s that line that has stuck with me every day since I first watched the trailer a week or so ago. There are lots of reasons for that. ALS is fatal. There is no cure. Gleason’s diagnosis came just after he and his wife found out they’d be having a son. Gleason is running out of time, so he decided to chronicle his last years for his son — an act of love that won’t be understood until long after he’s gone. That’s the subject of the film. It’s heart-breaking stuff.
Then, there’s my circumstances and background when it comes to fatherhood. Let me boil 10,000 words into a few. I grew up without a dad. My parents were teenagers when I was born and I was given up for adoption. My adoptive parents were divorced when I was three. I had no contact with my adoptive dad between then and when he passed away 11 years later. I was 14. Stay with me here . . .
Then, not knowing I was adopted in the first place, I was working at The Journal when I was informed by letter that my biological father was looking for me. I was 35 when we first met. He was only 54. I’ll never forget that moment. His name was Harold and I looked just like him. He could have been my older brother. He passed away last September. I knew him as a man, not a father.
All of which brings me to today, Aug. 16, 2016. My son Sam, who arrived on my 48th birthday, turns 10. I’ve written about Sam and his dramatic arrival into the world here and here. So here I am today, blowing out 58 candles on the cake, feeling reflective as I tend to be at this time of year, thinking about the little boy who is the joy of my life and wondering about that quote from Gleason. What’s the best of me? How do I pass that on? Nobody showed me. Is there a manual or something?
THE STUFF THAT MATTERS
Thankfully, I’m not facing the gut-wrenching circumstances and timeline Gleason and his beautiful boy Rivers are, but given my age when Sam was born and our ages today, I am — always have been — aware of time. I’ll be 65 when Sam is 17. If he gets married at 25, I’ll be 73. Damn sure better hurry up with the grandchildren, boy. On and on. Hell, I’m old enough to be the dad of most of the parents of the kids in Sam’s Grade 5 class. Nice of grampa to pick up Sam after school every day. “Shut it. I’m his dad.” I digress.
So, what is the best of me? How do I give it to Sam? Being a paint-by-numbers dad rather than any kind of artist at fatherhood, there was a time when I thought the best of me meant working diligently to be a great provider. I brought home a nice pay cheque from a job I loved doing. Dad travels with the Oilers. Dad knows fill-in-name-of-player here. “Sam, your dad has a cool job.” Yes, Sam would occasionally show up at the dressing room, he’d meet so-and-so and get a signed puck. High-five. All good. What else?
What I’ve come to fully understand these past 10 years is what I pretty much knew coming in because I grew up without it. The most important thing I can give Sam as a father, the best of me, is time. That’s not-stop-the-presses stuff for those of you blessed with that by your fathers and remember it – as a kid I envied you — or those of us who didn’t. Either way, it leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime. Time is free, but it damn sure isn’t unlimited. We all run out of it eventually.
As creaky as I’m getting, I’m all in. Sam is every bit as happy now tossing a football in the backyard, hacking away at golf balls out on the driving range or kicking a soccer ball around as he ever was meeting so-and-so. During soccer games with his team, Sam will glance over during the play and wave to Analyn and I, much to the chagrin of his coach. We wave back. He beams. Then, there’s the ride home. “Dad, did you see . . ?” Yes. Yes, I did. Sam has played two full seasons now. He hasn’t scored a goal. I don’t care. and neither does he. As long as I’m there. I’m so proud of him. I tell him so after every game. With no scoring title on the horizon, that’s good enough for him.
I’d have given anything for that.
DOWN THE ROAD WE GO
The best of me? My only blueprint is him. Sam is still at an age when he hugs me every day. This item has been a two-hug writing so far. He’s still at an age when he tells me he loves me every day. We still hold hands when we walk to the car after school or go shopping in the supermarket. I’ll hold on to that for as long as I can because I know at some point that’ll change. Just not yet.
Every year Sam asks me what I want for my birthday. Every year I tell him the same thing. He is the greatest gift of all and there is simply no bettering his arrival, early as it was, at 7:11 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2006, so there’s no use trying. I’ve got everything I need. Every year he says, “OK,” and then he makes me a birthday card with hearts on it and makes me cry like a baby anyway.
Likewise, every year I ask Sam what he wants for his birthday. A new bike here. A video game there. This, that and the other thing. And every year, with the wrapping paper not long shredded and my card for him just read, he’ll say, “Dad, can we go to the park? Dad, can we throw the ball around? Can we go for a drive?” Of course we can. So, off we go, hand in hand.
The best of me at 58 and 10? That, without any question, is Samuel Charles Robin Brownlee. I will continue to tell him so and show him so for as long as time allows. For however long I have time to give, it is his. That’s what dads do.
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.
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