Dialysis; a word that has haunted my life and a process that has plagued yours. A process so grim, so gruelling, so necessary for you to survive dad.
Your life was cut short, the life you knew, that we knew, in 1992. Or was it 1993 when your kidneys failed? The image you described is seared onto my consciousness like it is onto yours I expect; pissing blood.
It was then that you knew, then, when you were a man in his early 40s, a working man, a man of sweat, of sinew, of strength, a man who carved your future, your wife’s, ours, out of brick and earth.
And it was then that our lives changed.
I was a boy, a boy at school, secondary school, on the cusp of puberty. I was then, as I am now, fiercely protective of you, of my sister, of my family. I remember a class when someone crudely joked about kidney failure and I said how you were on dialysis.
But mum is your true protector, the woman you married in 1973, the woman who took the vows, stands by you now as she did then, not as a woman with a future of happiness on the horizon, but as a carer, who tends to your needs.
I can see the image of you outside that church in Southampton with mum in your arms. That photo. Your wedding photo.
You are my father. I am your son and I love you beyond these words.
Your life has been so cruel. I asked myself why you had to be afflicted by this illness. I asked this question for years. I ask it now, still. I reject God. To me, no God could sanction a life beset by the horrors you face with dignity, possible resignation yes, but you have handled your illness as…as… as a man, a husband, a father.
Yet, you believe. In God you believe. And in a way I can’t question this, as you prayed for a miracle, a miracle to cure your epilepsy. And cured you were. You have faith. I hope this unwavering faith is repaid to you.
Perhaps you dream of reincarnation, a life reborn without this physical plague. I think you do.
Yet dad, your life has been beyond worthwhile, for me at least, for everyone you have touched, for everyone who has loved you.
You have given me life.
Your footsteps may not be able to ever cross sand but they have marked this earth forever.
The love you have for us is so clear. All you have done, as your physical frame has been tortured with those needles piercing your skin, your fistula, three times a week, to pump your blood through the machine, to cleanse it of the impurities which would swiftly bring your death, a death I have feared, and fear still, all you have done is out of love for your family.
When your kidneys failed you took the decision to dialyse out of the house, the horrors of this process, bloody horrors, confined to a cold, dark hospital ward in Portsmouth. As the 1990s drifted by I would grow from boy to man, your eyes would watch this, your words, your actions would facilitate this. Your trips there thrice weekly some thirty five miles from our Chandlers Ford home were hard I can only presume, five hours of strain no body needs to be punished with.
But dad, I would excel at school and college, thanks to you, thanks to mum. Your illness was something you handled with grace, it was a part of your existence and I was so aware of it, yet it did not prevent my success. Thinking back now, the only image I recall, perhaps the passage of time has eroded the others, is of your fistula bleeding, and myself having to wrap your arm in a tea towel to stem the flow.
Grandma reminded me recently that it was a new tea towel so I don’t think mum was overly happy!
This is the grandma, your wife’s mother, who you would visit on the way back from dialysis past midnight as I slept, as my frame grew, as my mind did too. Grandma asked me once if I recalled you in good health. This hurt in a way as it showed how so much of my life has been lived with the shadow of your ill health following me. This sadness is only for the life you could have had. Aside from a few snatched memories, I don’t think I do. Memories like our childhood family trips to Cornwall, France and Germany.
The pictures of you in good health playing in a park on some climbing frame with my sister and of you burying us in the beach sand are ones I cherish. Mum always said it was a blessing your mum passed just before kidney failure. I think this was a blessing. Your dear mum. Our dear grandma.
Back then you were a working man.
Confined to a wheel chair now after your failed hip replacements, sections of society may look down upon you. Certainly this is the perception we as a family have of the Department of Work and Pensions and the pressure they bring down upon you and mum with their threats of cancelling benefits and incessant bureaucratic demands.
But to those people I say this; you were a working man.
Not a fraudster, a cheat, a drain on the public purse.
No dad, you are a man who after the successful transplant you had in 1999 when I started university in Sheffield, decided to return to work. And to gut bursting work you returned, risking your body, your kidney to put food on your family’s plate, as you did throughout the 1990s when dialysis confined you to the role of house husband, despite the desire to work being written in your soul.
Friends at school used to joke, ‘Is it stew again John’?’ It usually was. Or cottage pie.
But, you fed us. You watered us. You enabled my sister and me to grow.
And so whilst your life now is one no other would wish for and one that makes me feel so sad, I have so much respect for you dad, you are my idol, the man I look up to.
Yes we are different; mine has been a life of continued education, my future will be built with words, the words I write. Yours was a life of strength and a burning desire to achieve. And achieve you did. The epilepsy that prevented you from starting the shipwright apprenticeship, after school, your intellect gained, was to curtail that future but it would not cut you down.
Like kidney failure has not cut you down.
I have learned from you, how to overcome the highest of hurdles. After that transplant in 1999, I hope you recall your achievements before its failure in 2007, as I stood crying in Manchester, my home then, phone pressed to my ear while you told me it was failing.
The successes; the job you held down for a few years before restructuring took your employment, the house you bought for my sister to house her and her new born away from the grim reality of shitty rented accommodation that only brought her baby hospital trips, the trip around Ireland with mum in our camper van, the computer you bought, the new home we moved into, the patio you lay; new kidney beating inside you.
Life since 2008 has been progressively harder for you as the cruel ageing process does not abate. Your life now consists of dialysis, hospital visits, carers four times a day to hoist you from chair to wheelchair to bed. But never forget that you are my dad and I as your son am bonded to you beyond these words. All you have ever shown me is love and support. And interest.
I hope to marry in time, to find that woman you crave for me, and when I do a song will ring out. I pray you will still be with me then. Pray is not correct, hope, hope so much. These words have brought tears to my eyes as I type through blurred vision. Please be there.
The song that will play is the one synonymous with your marriage to my mum, the mum I idolise too and love so so much. As we discovered Ireland together, this song rung out one night in a restaurant. In sickness and in health you have stayed together, this is what I wish for for my marriage.
‘Let’s, let’s stay together…
Loving you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy are sad…’
So, whilst hope has been progressively stripped from you, your mental strength remains, a powerhouse of a man in my mind, so few could have coped with this torture. Your chances of another transplant are so slim.
I remember you saying how one night in the contact lens factory where you lifted heavy machinery to earn money for us, despite the risks to your new kidney, how the supervisor broke off from work and spoke to you for some two hours extending the tea break beyond 15 minutes.
In this conversation she told you how much respect she had for you returning to work after the transplant. You were in that Southampton job fair queue barely before the stitches had been removed.
This is you dad; a working class hero.
I am your son.