On the day he was born three months premature, August 16, 2006, my son Sam was barely bigger than my hand. I spent much of that day on my knees at the Royal Alexandra Hospital praying he’d survive. I’ve told the story of that day, and how my wife Analyn and I got to it before more than once. If you know the story, great. If not, it’s there. If you’re not interested, click through. That’s fine.
These days, 12 years later, I find myself hanging on for dear life down at the basketball court at our neighborhood park knowing it won’t be long until Sam will beat me for fun. I figure I’ve got maybe two more years to hold him off — until he’s not only faster than me but taller. In so many ways, the time between those days in the NICU and now feels like the blink of an eye.
We have the same birthday after his dramatic and early arrival those dozen years ago. Today, Sam turns 12 and I turn 60. Where has the time gone? He’s growing up – Grade 7 is on the way, he needs a bigger bike again and he’s already taller than his mom. I’m growing old – I swear I’m an inch shorter than when he was born, my vertical has gone from mediocre to pathetic and I’ve got more hair growing in my ears than on my head.
Time, specifically how much more of it I have to spend with Sam and making the most of it, is on my mind today. I do the math – 60 and 12, 61 and 13, 62 and 14. Growing up the way I did, I feel like time is the most valuable gift I can give Sam. Whether we’re playing ball, riding our bikes, talking about school and friends and life in general, or I’m showing him what chores need to be done around the house and yard, it’s time well spent. I think I’ve got the important stuff covered, but I’m learning as I go.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
It seems like just yesterday I showed Sam how to ride a bike. I can’t wait to show him how to drive a car, preferably a really cool one. I want to be there when he graduates high school and when he gets married. What’s that, like 73 and 25? If these next 12 years go by as quickly as the first 12 did, the two of us will be there soon enough. Time. However much I’ve got, he’ll get.
Sam smiled the other day at the playground when I called him LeBronlee after he sank a couple of jump shots. He fired it right back at me. LeBronlee, he smirked. “Dad, can you dunk the ball?” Sure, son, like 30 years before you were born. I can barely bend over and tie my shoes now. “Dad, what year was that?” Never mind, Sam. “Like, in the 1960’s?” Quiet, kid.
People around the playground think it’s great Sam’s grandfather – that would be me — plays basketball with him. He thinks it’s pretty great, too. Every day, “Dad, can we play?” Sure, but I’ve already told him I think it’s about time he tries out this LeBronlee routine with his school team against real competition this year instead of taking it to the paint and showing up “grandpa.”
I hope Sam gives it a shot, if that’s what he wants, because he’s actually very good. If he does, his mom and I will be there to see it, just like we were with T-ball and soccer. We’ll have to break him of the habit of waving to us while the game is going on, though, even if we’ll miss it. For me, rides to and from the game are as good as the game itself. Win or lose, I’d get overwhelmed sometimes just watching Sam compete. I’m so proud of him.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a father in my life, so I have no blueprint to go by. I actually had two fathers, but, for all intents and purposes, I didn’t even have one growing up. My biological parents were high school sweethearts. They were teenagers when I was born. I was given up for adoption as a newborn in 1958 and they were forbidden to see each other.
My adopted dad was an alcoholic. When I was two, he threw me across the kitchen so hard I ended up in a cupboard with the pots and pans. My mom packed my little brother and me up, loaded us into the car with what we could carry and never looked back. I saw him just once after that, years later on the street while I was waiting for a bus. He passed away soon after. I was 14.
Now, a twist. I met my biological father when I was 35. While he and my mom went their separate ways, they stayed friends. My mom started to search for me when legislation regarding adoptions in B.C. changed. Before she passed in 1988, she asked my dad to continue the process. He did, and he found me. I’m thankful he did — there’s a whole chapter right there. More than once, we sat and talked about those 35 years apart, what we missed and how things might have been different. He passed away in 2015.
This isn’t meant as woe-is-me stuff. Those are the cards I was dealt and they are aces compared to what some people get. With the help of aunts and uncles, my mom, a teacher, provided my brother and I with a wonderful upbringing – there was just no dad. Mom wasn’t much of a ball-player, but it didn’t matter because she tried. Early morning practice? Fire up the station wagon. School recital? Let’s go. She was always there. She always somehow made time. That’s all I really wanted. In so many ways, she has been my blueprint.
HERE WE ARE
All these years later, I see the same things in Sam. He doesn’t seem to care a bit that I don’t have much of a fastball myself these days or worry that he’ll be poster-izing me on the basketball court years before he’s asking for the car keys. All he wants is my time. Every day, “Dad, can we play?” Yes, we can. Bring it, son.
It’s either that or he’ll pop his head into the garage when I’m writing or tinkering around with something. “Dad, are you OK?” What, I’m 100 now? “Of course I’m OK,” I say. “You think I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” He laughs. “Just checking. I love you, dad.” Sam tells me that every single day and every night before he goes to bed. I tell him the same. I’m not sure if that means I’m doing things right, but I hope so.
Here we are today, 60 and 12. Happy Birthday, baby boy. Many more to come.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- At Random: The Guessing Game
- At Random: On the Way Up
- The Next One?
- Aug. 4, 1995
- Homegrown Talent
- Hey Joe