Mr Driscoll here, I’m very a private person whom does not like sharing my feelings or thoughts in such a public way because as men it is drilled into us that we have to do everything in our power to be stronger and to keep away from anything that may put ourselves in a vulnerable situation but having your child diagnosed with a serious illness changes that.
My dad lost his dad to cancer when he was about Isaiah’s age. Throughout his dad’s illness he was always told to “man up” and “men don’t cry” so of course he too drilled this into me when I told him about Isaiah’s diagnosis he told me I had to “man up for his sake”. What does “man up” even mean? Us men are treated at times as a whole connected species who all act the same but that is the furthest from the truth. So how can we “man up” when we are all different? Whom do we compare us to?
I remember when my son was diagnosed it felt like I had the wind knocked out of me something I have not felt since I lost my first son 3 years ago. I remember feeling like I had to “man up” and be strong so I asked questions when my wife was unable to form sentences, I booked upcoming appointments and cradled my wife while she cried, I did all the things “men are expected to do”.
Isaiah has spent a few days in hospital recently due to a case of pneumonia. He’s home now and improving but there was a time where we thought his cancer had spread to his lung so while waiting for his PET scan results I looked at my obviously scared son and said something I regret daily. “You gotta be strong like a man” he looked at me blankly, nodded and formed his best fake smile. At the time I didn’t know it was fake I was just teaching my son the expectations of a man – I didn’t know how much damage it could do…
It was Monday night that the toll of seeing my son in such physical and mental pain the past week clearly became too much and I cracked. I went to the outhouse… I cried, I shouted, I chucked and broke things, I cursed at God and punched walls. My wife found me crumpled on the floor I felt sick to my stomach as she was seeing me at my most vulnerable. I was not a man, I was a sorry excuse for one. I refused to look at her, she was silent while she cleaned my tears and inspected my scraped knuckles she then grabbed my face to make me look at her and said: “You don’t need to man up, men cry, men are allowed to feel weak it’s okay”. Nothing else was said because that’s all I needed to hear.
As I laid in bed that night it dawned on me how much those words “man up” had affected mine and my dad’s mental health. How it had almost destroyed us on many occasions so I made the choice then that I did not want the same for my son. I wanted to break the cycle. So that morning I went to my son hugged him for the longest time and actually cried in front of him while spewing mutterings of sorries. He was so shocked and said, “Dad men don’t cry?”. I turned and said “Yes they do and it’s okay. I don’t ever want you to man up if you want to cry you cry, if you feel scared be scared we can cry and be scared together”. I knew that what I said that day had meant more to him than any “I love you”.
Childhood cancer is something I don’t wish upon anyone but it has taught me so much. It has let me embrace my vulnerability which has made me become a better father to my son at a time where he needs me the most. So for that Epithelioid sarcoma, thank you.
For any other dad going through this just remember it’s okay to feel, you don’t need to man up..not now not ever!!
Thank you for reading