The incurable condition of parenthood.

This year my youngest son attempted to run the London marathon again. It was his second go at it. The first one two years ago ended as I dreaded it would. Love him though I do, and dearly, he’s not a graceful athlete, none of them are because they took no interest in playing sports as children, but as any sportsman will tell you, it’s what’s in your heart that makes the difference every time, and he’s got lots of that. He ran himself into the ground, to the point where he simply couldn’t continue; running on nothing more than determination and bloodied stumps.

I watched him the first time, beaming at him without saying a negative word or allowing that dread to show in my face, because you can’t deny a young buck the challenge of testing himself in that crucible of fire, but all the time thinking – just give up Kiddo, that’s all you have to do, just fucking well give up for God’s sake. He wouldn’t of course – too much heart. So I watched him dispassionately destroying himself. So terrible and yet at the same time so beautiful a thing, but it still stabbed right into my heart. That was a hard day on all of us.

His feet were in shreds by the time we got him home. We all worked on him together to pop the blisters after getting his feet into a basin of scalding hot water to soften the skin. I never for a moment doubted his guts and raw determination to achieve the goal he’d set himself, but it’s the mark of a man in how he accepts his defeats and whether he will lick his wounds and come raging back for another go. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

As someone who’s played sports most of his life, and still misses being able to do that because of the infirmities of old age, I in all honesty couldn’t call him a natural, but at the same time he’s one of those determined types who never gives up, so as a usually defensive back, I long ago learnt those are the guys you have to really keep a wary eye on. When they were younger, and the disinterested hand I’d been dealt with them on the sports front became obvious, I threw out or shoved all my old sports trophies in a bottom drawer in the study.

Forcing or shaming them into taking an interest in Dad’s love of sports would have been against the whole pleasure of the thing, and it’s a trip I’d seen that always ended badly. That was my bag and never would be theirs. The true point of playing a sport is in the memories, of comradeship, of defeat and of victory, which far outlast any tawdry piece of statuary that will become meaningless to anyone but yourself a decade or so down the line.

I couldn’t attend this year, but he had a whole support gang who went into London to cheer him on. He’d prepped a lot harder this time, but they too had some worrying memories of the last time. They are a good crew. He keeps his friends, most of whom he attended junior and senior school with, very close. Teachers have an expression about the pupil intake for certain years – a good tranche. It means the kids in that year all hang together well, and spark off each other to their mutual benefit. They’re all local and as they’re all cresting thirty and still friends, I’ve the feeling they’ll remain friends for life. He’s running with one of those old friends, a girl and now a woman who’s running for a charity formally called the Spastics Society which has been renamed to Scope.

He’s running for the same charity he did last time; Farleigh Hospice. It’s entirely devoted to those of all ages suffering from usually terminal illnesses, but it also provides respite breaks for those 24/7 family carers on the point of exhaustion. It’s an unfashionable charity that has few, if any happy outcomes, and at times you need some grit. Despite what you might think, it’s a remarkably light and cheerful place. Once you accept the inevitable, there’s a sense of both relief and liberation.

He works there, and as usual, you really don’t make good money working for a charity unless you’re on the board of directors. I’ve had that conversation with him – you’ve done your time, but at some point you need to move and get the real market value of the skillset you possess if you want to put some financial stability under your life. He’s not ready yet and I don’t push it, because I know only too well the feeling that you might be deserting those who need you. It’s only as I write this, I realise I never mentioned the charity work I used to do at his age. There’s a mentality there his father understands, though we’ve never discussed anything in that area, never mind my past in such hopeless causes. It’s another matter of heart.

It seems to take ages to get everyone marshalled for the start, which is understandable given there’s 40,000 of them, but eventually they’re off. I watch it on TV for a while, but the chances of picking him out from that throng of runners is slim to impossible, and also the commentary being provided by the enforced egalitarianism of a man and a woman duo grates. Both of them seem devoid of any personality and neither of them are offering any insights into what’s happening that wouldn’t have already occurred to a freshly hatched earwig whose parents just knew he was a “special” child.

So much for watching the TV to pick up the atmosphere, but as usual, the internet provides the hard data. There’s some freebie App I’ve been told I should install on my phone, which with the input of his running number, will keep me informed of his progress, or not, around the course.

I’m just not interested in watching some bloody pixel on my phone’s screen. I want eyes on reports by the crew on the ground telling me how my boy looks. It’s the hottest day of the year so far, obviously ideal running conditions for someone who’s never run the full twenty-six and a bit miles. We have a family chat group I set up using WhatsApp and the reports start to dribble in of how he’s doing. Looking strong at ten miles, jogging along with his running mate. They’re both looking good despite the heat.

Reports come in as the time and the mileage covered pass. They’re looking less fresh, but they’re still looking okay. He’s got through the distance where he had to stop last year, so that’s a good thing. There’s a nice steady reporting of his progress coming in to my phone on WhatsApp. The miles tick away and he gets over eighteen. I’ve told him – if you have to walk the last few miles rather than run them, that’s still a finish, and an honourable one.

It all goes silent; he’s gone off radar and nobody knows where the hell he is. At times I’m seemingly the last person in the world to have read classics, or know something of an ancient world and the ethos it threw into our more modern one. The Greeks beat Darius at Marathon, and reputedly Pheidippides ran from there to Athens to deliver the good news, we’ve won, but he also dropped dead immediately after delivering it. Don’t you fucking dare drop dead on me Boyo.

When it’s needed, there’s a certain distance in me which though an alien surprise to some people who thought they knew me, is what’s sometimes required to get everybody back home, especially those I love. I know in some situations, I can do a whole lot better for them in that mindset rather than being a dad. Totally bastard cold-hearted unforgiving bugger from hell, and no prisoners for the sake of niceness will be taken when it comes to my blood. It’s the necessary brutality in my personality which on occasion has to raise its head, and I make absolutely no excuses for it. It’s my nature.

The cold and calculating cyborg kicks in and I’m looking at his expected timings and running the numbers in my head. V = D/T. Velocity equals distance over time, but swapping around that equation, I get time on the left, and even assuming a 3.5mph walking velocity, he’s gone well over the time when I should have had a notification from the boots on the ground that he’s finished okay. It gives me where he should be on the course, but the people placed at those points haven’t seen him. Where the fuck are you, Drongo #3? Someone, somewhere, talk to me.

I resist nagging the support crew for updates over WhatsApp. I know there’s nothing they can give me or themselves until they know something and he resurfaces. They’d let me know in an instant. We all wait, in various stages of anxiety. He comes back on radar and I’m ticking off the waypoints as they come in, and the crew say he looks strong. The cyborg mentality backs off a bit.

Finally, the news comes in, he’s finished. Thank God. He’s over the time he thought he’d do it in, but he’s over the tape and reportedly in good shape. I head for the drinks cabinet and pour myself an extra-large double whiskey and water and because of the heat, decide to go for the addition of some ice cubes. To hell with fecking poverty, our baby has done it!

He had a target time he missed by some margin, but in the aftermath I find out that’s because his running partner hit the pain barrier and became distressed at the twenty mile mark. There is no fault to be found with any human being, male or female, who falters after running twenty miles on such a scorching hot day. He sat down in the road with her, rubbed the cramp out of her legs, got some water in her, and I’ve no doubt reassured her they were both going to finish. When she was recovered and in better spirits, they ran on, and they both finished.

As far as I’m concerned, not deserting your wingman when they were in dire straits was the big quality win of the day, with getting over the finish line just being the cherry on top.

They both ran their socks off for charities that do real good for ordinary people in trouble, so to donate to Farleigh Hospice, please click here, to donate to Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, click here, and to donate to Scope, click here. Whatever pennies you can spare, will not be wasted.


Related articles by Pointman:

Why do you come here? We’re never going to get better.

It’s 2.45 in the am and I’m reflecting on a long night’s journey into day.


Click for a list of other articles.


3 Responses to “The incurable condition of parenthood.”
  1. John Haddock says:

    A great story of what life’s about. Thank you.

    My daughter ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC a few years ago. Like you we were tracking her progress. Then just a mile from the finish, nothing. 10 mins go by – a lifetime for a father – then she reappears, bruised and bleeding but still running. She’d been knocked over, but had gotten up and stumbled on. So many emotions flood through you. But you also know for sure they’re going to do alright in life.


  2. Blackswan says:

    Your children are not your children. 

    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. 

    They come through you but not from you, 

    And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. 

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts. 

    For they have their own thoughts. 

    You may house their bodies but not their souls, 

    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 

    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. 

    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. 

    You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. 

    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. 

    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; 

    For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
    Kahlil Gibran

    Pointman – your aim has been true. A perfect shot. They are men of whom you can be justly proud.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Colin says:

    I totally understand your description of the Hospice as my wife was in a local one for the last 6 months of her relatively young life. Light and Cheerful. Never gloom and doom.


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