Monday, 10 May 2010

Father And Son

Dad sat staring into space; he had been diagnosed with 'that lung cancer'- The one with the long name that begins with the letter 'M' thats awkward to pronounce - the incurable, unforgiving  kind that rips through the body like a black tornado.

I rushed over and knelt beside him, resting  my head against his, and cried. I seemed to be under the false impression that cancer was something that only happens to other people.

My Dad was a fit man, who liked to walk up hill and down dale. He especially loved Arran. The Isle of Arran is the largest island in the firth of Clyde, Scotland and is the seventh largest Scottish island. Arran is full of big mountains, and Dad loved to climb them.

Growing up, Dad was my first experience of God. He was my first friend, my teacher, I watched his every move trying to emulate him at every opportunity.

We never had lots of money, which meant that exotic holidays in sunny faraway places where a bit out of our league. So we went camping, walking, and exploring instead.

Aged 9 or 10, Dad, Mum, siss, and me climbed Scafell Pike, which at 3.209ft is the highest mountain in England. My little legs ached so badly that half way up the mountain I collapsed into a heap by a stream. Dad sat with me and we washed our faces in the icy water, and then he looked at me and said, ‘come on son, you can make it’. So, I stood up and continued my walk until I reached the top.

'The sun shines not on us , but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fibre and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.' John Muir

Pops also introduced me to the wonderful world of cycling.

The day I finally shed my bike stabilisers in the nursery playground Pops was there cheering me on. Later that same day, we celebrated my graduation with a glass of Irn Bru (which is a carbonated drink that originated from Scotland), and a wagon wheel (which is a round biscuit representing the wheel of a wagon. It has a marshmallow centre and is covered in a chocolate flavoured coating.)

A few years later Dad gave me a hefty bright red road bike as a gift, which he had built for me from bits of old bikes. It was beautiful !

Dad would spend hours telling me all about his cycling adventures. He often spoke about Arthur Banks( the clever one), Bill Corone ( the lazy one), and Jimmy Savage ( the stupid one ). These boys were Dads
A-Team, and together they cycled the country from end to end, in an attempt to get away from it all. According to cycle folklore my Dad was the fiercest hill climber on two wheels.

Pops often told me about a ride he had once completed over the remote Salter fell. Then, one bright sunny morning he said that it was time. So, we packed our cheese and cucumber sarnies, filled our bottles with tap water, and set off, man and boy, in search of an isolated Roman Road between the villages of Wray and Slaidburn. This would prove to be a ride of Herculean proportions; a right of passage! The sun was beating down on us, and we both struggled in the heat. The road was rocky and muddy in places, and we had to dismount and carry the bikes.
Eventually, after hours both in and out of the saddle, we finally hit our wall. From that moment on it was like riding in porridge. Darkness fell, and we struggled to stay upright, leaning on each other for support like war heroes. ( See picture below ). How we made time to laugh amidst the fatigue is beyond me, but laugh we did - all the way home.

Sadly, things started to turn sour between Dad and me during my teenage years, when I  realised that no matter how hard I tried to be like him I just kept falling short of the mark. I ended up blaming  him for my pain, believing that he had abandoned me, and spent the next few years walking the solitary path of fear - an emtpy shell -  Dadless!

It was only during time spent in Canada in 93/94 after discovering a  book called  A Course in Miracles  that I discovered the true power of  forgiveness. ACIM  is all about  relinquishing a thought system based on fear and returning to Love. I was blown away by its teachings,and made a conscious choice to invite healing into all my relationships. I started to study the Course, and that Christmas returned to England to conduct a series of interviews with my family, in an attempt to discover more about myself. The results were nothing short of miraculous.

Here I was sitting in a room with a man who as a boy had been cast aside like an old worn out sweater, by a Father who according to Dad emptied the house of all its contents and disappeared leaving the family with nothing. He had to grow up quickly, often looking after his brother and sister whilst his mother went out to work in the factory.

Dad always believed something was missing in his life, that he was robbed of a childhood.

The walls of separation came crashing down in a moment of forgiveness, and I felt an overwhelming sense of Love for this broken man, who believed he was failure. I held him against me and cried for the boy; his boy, my boy, all of it!

From that moment on we became best buddies.

The night Dad revealed he had 'that cancer' I had a dream that  I heard a voice in my head  saying .. 'You will have a party for Dad and everyone will come.' It reminded me of the bit in the movie Field of Dreams,when Kevin Costner is told to 'build and field and they will come.' I decided to take a risk and tell my girlfriend Elloa, who smiled and gave me a big hug.

When I first told Mum about the party she was a bit hesitant, but within a few days she was full of enthusiasm. She sorted out the buffet, made a guest list ,and then between us we started sending out invites.

Shortly after Dad was diagnosed with 'that cancer' he went on holiday with Mum  to Whitby. Mum later told me, that Dad decided to walk one last mountain with Mum by his side cheering him on, the same way he cheered me on Scafell. Dad adored the great outdoors, and he loved sharing life with Mum - mighty companions. This holiday was a time for quiet reflection- a decision was made - there would be no chemo!

Unfortunately,  Dad had been taken into hospital a few days before the party because his legs had swelled up like mitchelin man and he kept being sick. We prayed that he would make it to the party, and our prayers were answered the day before the big day, when a nice man in a white coat  informed Mum that Pops would be released from hospital for the day so that he could attend the party.

I wheeled Dad out of the hospital on the morning of the party thinking that he looked old and frail. His ears resembled cab doors. The wheelchair was more like a dysfunctional  shopping trolley. We both laughed as I bumped the wheelchair like a dodgem on the revolving doors.

Later, I took Dad for a short, back and sides at the local barbers and then we sat in the cafĂ© on the corner of Bridge Street and had a cuppa.

My oldest pal Kate suggested that I make a scrapbook for Dad all about his life. (Kate is my bezzie because she asked me if I wanted to share a locker with her on my first day at primary school) I decided to  make the scrapbook childlike using strong copied images of the 'good ol days', and wrote simple quotes from family interviews.using my non dominant hand, I also added a piece from Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl.

It was all over now. My father and I stood alone just outside the workshop and suddenly the old place seemed to become very quiet.
‘Well, Danny,’ my father said, looking at me with those twinkly eyes of his. ‘ That’s that .’
' It was fun, Dad.’
‘I know it was,’ he said.
‘ I really loved it,’ I said.
'So did I, Danny.’
He placed one hand on my shoulder and we began walking slowly towards the caravan.
‘ Maybe we should lock the pumps and take a holiday for the rest of the day,’ he said.
‘You mean not open up at all?’
‘ Why should we?’ he said. ‘ After all it’s Saturday, isn’t it?’
‘ But we always stay open on Saturdays, Dad. And Sundays.’
‘ Maybe its time we didn’t ,’ he said. ‘ We could so something interesting instead. Something more interesting.’
I waited , wondering what was coming next.
‘ Good,’ I said. ‘ Lovely.’ I reached out and slid my hand into his. He folded his long fingers round my fist and held it tight, and we walked on towards the village where soon the two of us would be inspecting all the different ovens with great care and talking to Mr Wheeler personally about them.
And after than, we would walk home again and make up some sandwiches for our lunch.
And after that we would set off with the sandwiches in our pockets, striding up over Cobblers Hill and down the other side to the small wood of larch trees with the stream running through it.
And after that?There would be something else after that.
And after that?Ah yes, and something else again.

Because what I am trying to tell you…

What I have been trying so hard to tell you all along is simply that my father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvellous and exciting father any boy ever had.

That evening before the party I placed  the scrapbook in Dads hands and left him alone with his thoughts. A few minutes later he emerged from the bedroom clutching the scrap book with tears streaming down his face and said ‘Its beautiful.’

I was feeling nervous before the party, because I had agreed to sing for Dad. I chose three Frank Sinatra Songs which I knew Dad would love; The way you look tonight; Young at heart, and You make me feel so young.  The year before I had performed in front of a thousand people at the Theatre Royal in the show My Fair Lady but somehow this was different. I was performing for Dad, and he was the one who had introduced me to Sinatra in the first place. Bloody el!
I  took a deep breathe, and gave myself permission to fall apart.
There is something miraculous about acceptance. In my experience it softens the edges of the heart and makes space for Love to shine. I sang my heart out! Later that evening Dad said  ' You did me proud son.'

I stood on stage behind the dj booth, watching people from all walks of life queuing to have their final moment with this down to earth bloke from Lancashire. Dad seemed perfectly content, chatting, laughing and joking with old friends and family.
When the party was over he said in his strong Lancashire accent  ' It was a good do lad' .

The day after the party  Dad and me sat on the bed looking at a framed photograph of a mountain which Dad had made on one of his adventures. We talked openly about life and death, sorting out the loose ends and letting go,  We leaned on each other, Father and son, laughing and crying at the absurdity of it all.  He had always said that the most difficult thing about growing old was watching his friends go before hiim.

During the next couple of months Dads health deteriorated, and he was moved into the East Lancs Hospice- which is the place where people go to die with dignity.
I was slap bang in the middle of a DJ gig when I recieved the call telling me that Dad was dying. I could feel myself sprialling. I dedicated a Sinatra song to him - You Make Me Feel So Young. 
Later that  evening, I rang the Hospice and spoke with the nurse, who told me that Dad was preparing to leave his body. She said that I could speak with him but he wouldn't be able to answer, because he had thrush in his throat, which is a bit like eating razor blades. When I spoke, the nurse said that he had opened his eyes.I thanked him for being a wonderful Father, and told him that he it was safe to let go, and make the final journey. 

Dad died peacefully in the early hours of the following morning with Mum holding his hand. His ashes will be scattered in the wind on the mountain of Glenrosa, Isle of Arran later this year.

Young at Heart

Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you’re young at heart
For its hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you’re young at heart

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on its way

Don’t you know that its worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart
For as rich as you are its much better by far
To be young at heart

And if you should survive to 105
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive
Then here is the best part
You have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart

And if you should survive to 105
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive
Then here is the best part
You have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart

I feel truly blessed to have known this beautiful man. His spirit lives on... in me. Thanks Dad X    

 ‘To understand the nature of God it is necessary only to know the nature of love itself. To truly know love is to know and understand God;and to know God is to understand love.’ David R. Hawkins


zonya parker said...

that is beautiful nige,, how lucky u was to have experienced such a wonderful inspiration in ur life,, and he lives on good night god bless ur daddy love to all the parkers xxx

Anonymous said...

It's beautiful, I am having trouble typing as I can't see the keyboard for tears - Jimbo I know is so proud of his beautiful boy


Peter Martin said...

Nige, Wonderful words, said with heart and love, you've made me cry now thinking back to loosing my Dad to the same cancer.

Brooke said...

So thankful you stopped by my blog and commented so that I could link to this beautiful world that you are creating here. What an amazing tribute to your father. Thank you for sharing your expeirence. I can't wait to see where you go with this. I love the pictures too.

Brooke said...

Sorry for the double comment, but just wanted to thank you again for reminding me today what is important and for blowing me away with your beautiful writing from your heart.

Anonymous said...

That was absolutely beautiful Nigel
I started to become very tearful at the end!
Your dad would be very proud of you with all the you have achieved

See you at work on Sunday mate :) xx