They diagnosed my father with cancer today. He told me calmly. His voice strong, his body a little weaker than it had been a few months ago. It’s in his mouth, a tumour he at first thought was an ulcer. It hasn’t spread, but it’s there. That’s what forty cigarettes a day for three decades does to you, not to mention all the booze. Or maybe it’s just one of those things. A fluke like so many others that occur seemingly at random. He told me while he was sat watching some John Wayne film. Walking home from work, I’d been hoping the doctors would’ve given him the all clear, that it had just been an infection. No such luck. After getting back from the hospital, he’d gone shopping in one of the local supermarkets picking up newspapers and food. Last week they took out all the teeth on his lower jaw, plus a few on top for good measure. In my childhood days, he was a machine. A pillar of strength despite his laziness and devotion to television. Parents are God in the eyes of a child, and how humbling it is to see him now reduced to that of a mere mortal. He eats like a baby. Eggs, noodles, mashed up this and that. Ironing his clothes, he cuts a forlorn figure. Hunched over and busy with his housework, I regret all the times that his mundane routines bothered me so much. How his fickle ways brought me to a temper. But he’s only human. Someone looking for shelter in a world both vast and dangerous. Harmless and sullen, he’s just a man like me wanting to belong. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what makes us real. What sets us apart from those who go through life greedy for money, and oozing with arrogance.

He goes to bed after wishing me goodnight. I wonder what’s going on in his head, and hope he’s holding up despite the shock of what’s happened. Talking to him earlier, I inadvertently looked at his mouth. Somewhere inside hides the disease. Is it punishment for neglecting his body, or maybe just nature? People die young and old, and not just from cancer. They die in car crashes, sometimes in knife fights. They try escaping the world through drugs, and they get crushed in earthquakes and bombings. Sometimes, like my daughter, they die before they’re even born. You can’t be bitter about it, for that’s how it works. If you believe in God, it’s his plan. If you don’t, it’s just bad luck. We come, and we go. Alive for a while, and dead for eternity. Maybe it’s random, or perhaps everything happens for a reason, and we should do our best to learn at every opportunity. You don’t need a god to do that, but there’s something spiritual in me that I can’t deny. A friend of mine died in a car wreck last year. On a dusty lane in India, his young life snuffed out far too soon. The same age as me, we had often talked about higher meaning, about the great beyond. Whatever form he now holds, he knows all the answers that I so desperately seek. Then my granddad passed away, the man who stirred my imagination at such a young age. Without him, I wouldn’t be who am I today. The laughter and the madness, that unstoppable thirst for the unknown. Yet without my father, I wouldn’t be here at all. This man who I hardly know. So different, yet so similar. Maybe it’s time to talk, to open up in the face of such an alarming threat. It shouldn’t take illness and disaster to bring us together, yet sometimes, that’s how it is. It’s so easy to be numb. So easy to lose sight of the ones we love. Yet it’s never too late, and words don’t cost a thing. They don’t cost a thing at all.

12 replies »

  1. Words don’t get said because they choke – so much easier to push them down and bury them. It’s going to sound trite (how can it not) but all my best wishes to you and your father

  2. Incredible writing… and close to home. Gratefully, not too close. My grandfather was the pillar and the ‘machine’ of his family – my father being one of seven children. He was a a psychiatrist, and a force to be reckoned with. When he was diagnosed with Dementia and Parkinson’s I watched all of his children, including my father – come apart at the seams. His son, a doctor, another a lawyer, my father an ex cop – all macho – but somehow reduced to childlike helplessness. I didn’t like him very much – for many reasons – but when I looked at him and saw just how frail he was, and just how aware he was of what a burden he believed himself to be – this giant now diminished to a small, bent over man who needed help with everything, stripping him of his dignity – that made me sad. Men, especially men, should never have to hand over their dignity.

    I am sorry, for him, and for your heart and what it will have to feel. I know, from experience that being numb is a whole lot easier than feeling – but sometimes we simply have to.

    Thank you, for sharing and for being so honest and real about it. Again, incredibly written.


  3. oh my stars! such awful world-stopping news. in times like this gravity feels even more tangible. we are all reminded of our own mortality. i hope, through this, you and your father really get to know each other. it’s the beginning of a journey.

    and maybe your holiday, your need to swim will take you where you need to be…

    love & light to you… x

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