Well that seems wrong doesn’t it? Saying “dear” to a group of cells, a group of cells that are growing uncontrollably and attacking the person who carries them, a person I love, but how else do you start a letter? I was raised to be polite and well-mannered, to treat all with respect and consideration; the person you’re attacking taught me that. So, even though I want to scream at you to leave him; even though I want to wail and pull at my hair with anguish; even though I want to cry to the gods to spare him I am acting in a way that he would understand and of which he would approve. I am being civilised, I am keeping calm and carrying on.
I’m not saying I haven’t cried; when I first took the phone call that broke the illusion of parental immortality and invulnerability I cried stormily (if quietly) for a few minutes whilst a friend looked on helplessly but then I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and got on with life. This is meant to be the time that you tell your loved-ones all they mean to you; relationships are meant to be thrown into relief and the unsaid is meant to be expressed but that is not who we are. We are a very English family.
Now, it may seem strange to say we are very English when you know that my mother and I are Irish but we are outnumbered and our Celtic passion and stormy emotions have always been strange to the rest of my blended family. They do not do emotion. They laugh a lot but they do not cry in public. They share jokes, meals, stories, bottles of wine but they do not share feelings. So, when I consider telling my dad how much he means to me, how grateful and proud I am he adopted me, how his love and care has shaped me, how I want to make him proud of me, I hesitate. I know that I would only embarrass him if I tried to express my love.
And so cancer, I ask you to go; respond to the chemotherapy and the radiation and leave him. Let him live for more years and let me go on showing my love in ways he finds comfortable. Let me buy him another pint or two in our local; let me share a train journey with him; let me listen to Bob Dylan with him (even though that nasal drone grates on me); most of all let me make him proud by making a success of my life.