When our youngest daughter Hannah was born in 1985, I thought our family was complete. Leah our eldest doted on her and as they grew and played together I was the proud Father of two very pretty little girls while Julie was the hard pressed mum who had her patience tested as they grew older. Then on February 12th 1989 my niece, Clare was born, Julie and I went to see my brother, Nigel and sister in law Barbara and to meet Clare.
When we arrived home, Julie was quiet. In fact Julie was exceptionally quiet, she usually had a lot to say after spending a day with my family. Once the girls were in bed I looked at her because I had an idea what was going on in her pretty little head. “You want another one don’t you?” I questioned “Yes I’d love another, but do you mind? After all you’re the one who has to go out and earn the money my darling” came the reply. How could I resist the longing look in those beautiful brown eyes?
So on February 27th in the midst of a storm at Blackbrook Hospital in Fareham, in the middle of the night Julie gave birth to an 8lb bouncing baby boy and we named him Nathan Thomas. If ever a child was conceived and born out of love it was that little boy, not that our daughters weren’t but Julie had this idea that three children were better than two! Five days later Nathan and Julie came home and from that day on our son was smothered with love.
Leah and Hannah loved the idea that they had a real live doll to change and feed, in fact I think Julie was glad of the help. In the coming years she’d often remark what an easy baby Nathan had been. When Nathan started crawling, then walking, as soon as I came home from work and sat on the sofa he’d be on my lap giving me a hug. In fact I too was smothered with love by all of my family and I enjoyed every minute. We never had much money back then but walking down the beach, going for picnics seemed to suffice and our children remained close as they were growing up, always looking out for one another. Of course as Leah and Hannah grew up and became teenagers they became more independent and started leading their own lives but they were always there for their brother.
Julie and I had always bought our family up to be kind to each other, polite to all and to not fight, each other or anyone else. Of course this was an almost impossible task but they listened it seemed. One day Nathan came home from school and said he’d been bullied for some time. As a parent and any of you will know who are parents, my initial reaction was anger towards this bully. We sat down and talked about this problem in the evening Julie and I. Julie’s solution to the problem was to go and talk to the head teacher at the school but as I pointed out to her, I felt this would make Nathan a target so we agreed I would talk to Nathan.
Nathan was never a tall boy, but he’s always been physically strong so after he relayed the various bullying incidents to me I gave him my opinion. “You know the thing with bullies son, they pick on you because they think because you’re polite and have manners you’re weak. You and I know that’s not the case and I’m afraid sometimes you have to fight fire with fire” I explained. “You mean I’ve got to fight him Dad but I’ll get hurt!” Nathan replied. “You’re not made of glass son and yes it might hurt but believe me it’s the only way to stop the bullying. Remember though there’s no such thing as play fighting so make it count and know when to stop!”
A few days later I was in the garden and Nathan came to me and said “You were right Dad I’m not made of glass”. That’s all he said, no elaboration or bragging. I was a proud father that day.
As time went on my son would come to work with me from time to time, during school holidays and just to earn a bit of pocket money. Even at fourteen or fifteen I used to watch the way he talked to my clients, he always shook their hands when he was introduced and answered when he was talked to. Many times the clients complimented me on how polite my son was and I relayed this to Julie. “Where do you think he gets that from Kev?” She asked ” You I suppose, you’re the educated one” I replied. ” Don’t be daft, he gets it from you. He watches you my sweet, you’re his Dad and his role model!” You know I’d never thought about any of this at all deliberately but it was then I realised what a great responsibility it was to be a parent and I was closing in on fifty years old by then. How easy it would have been to have got it wrong, how different things could have been! I remember a feeling of relief, thank god I had Julie by my side!
Julie and were on holiday in Gran Canaria when we got the call. We had watched the Gran Villa del Conde hotel being built over previous visits and I promised her when it opened we’d stay there, we weren’t disappointed. Nathan had just finished college and had met an Australian girl. We’d met Natalie a couple of times and she seemed nice enough. “Dad, how do I go about getting a visa to Australia? I’ve sorted out my passport” he asked. “I’ve no idea my son, ask your mum, she knows about these things” I passed the phone to Julie and she walked away talking to Nathan.
When Julie returned I asked her what was going on and she explained our son, who had always seemed to be a home boy had been invited to go to Australia by Natalie and he seemed determined to go. “Well he is eighteen and it’ll be good for him to see somewhere else I suppose” I thought out loud, not believing for a minute he’d go. Nathan had a job in a factory packing surgical needles and he’d always been a saver so I assumed if he did go he’d have the financial side covered.
About a week later we returned home and Nathan told us he’d sorted his visa, a two year working visa. So he was going then? “I’m flying out in ten days time!” He explained. I saw the look on Julie’s face, the look of worry only a mother can carry. “I’m going to stay with Natalie’s mother in their house in Perth” he continued “And find a job when I’m there”. Julie of course had many questions. “But who are these people? We don’t know them! How do we know you’re going to be alright?” “Mum, I’ll be fine, Natalie knows places where I can get a job. Anyway I think my chances of getting a job out there are better than here, don’t worry!”.
Once alone, I tried to allay Julie’s mind, telling her he was a man now and could make his own decisions, then explaining he needed to spread his wings and we should be supportive. Julie understood all of this of course but it didn’t make things any easier. So there it was, after a family get together, ten days later we took Nathan to Heathrow Airport and sat with him for three hours before he boarded a Boeing 747 bound for Perth. Did I detect a flicker of regret in his eyes as he went through into the departure lounge? Julie cried all the way back from the airport, she was inconsolable but we had another family crisis to deal with once we returned, you’ll read about that in my book though.
Every night Julie cried herself to sleep for a month, it was hard. We kept in contact with Nathan through email and he told us he was working driving a truck delivering something or another so we were relieved. Then a phone call. “Dad, can you send me some money? I need to find somewhere to live! Natalie’s fallen out with her mother and her boyfriend and we’ve nowhere to go!” “So what are you going to do son? I asked him. “Buy a tent until we can find somewhere to rent, just need somewhere for a couple of weeks”. “Ok, ok, tell me what to do and I’ll get you some money over”. Nathan told me what to do and what office to transfer the money to and I did straight away.
I have to say there is much more to the story but that’s for another time. Needless to say I was proud of Nathan for sorting the problem out and then happier when he told me Natalie and him had found a place to live. We were able to Skype by then, which was better I suppose, then one day Leah dropped another bombshell. Nathan was planning to get married. ” You can’t tell him I’ve told you dad” she said “He’ll never forgive me!” Julie of course was upset and angry. “What do you think about this then Kev?” She exploded. “I think Julie I’m not going to lose my son and the way I see it he knows his own mind and they may be young and if it works then so be it and if it doesn’t well it’s a tough learning curve for both of them!” “Well, I’m waiting for Nathan to tell me himself, I’m not accepting that news second-hand!” Julie stated with both anger and disappointment in her voice.
Nathan did tell Julie and she accepted the fact then a couple of months later we found ourselves on a plane bound for Perth along with Julie’s mum and dad. Julie and I had arranged to meet Nathan and his future wife in the reception of our hotel prior to going for a meal to meet Natalie’s mother. Nathan entered the reception and although I was so happy to see my son for the first time in well over a year, I was shocked by the change. The slightly shy teenager who Julie and I had seen off at Heathrow had become a determined confident man but they both seemed happy together so who was I to judge? After all our love for our children had always been unconditional. So we went for the meal, Nathan’s future mother-in-law seemed very flighty but when I asked her how she felt about the wedding told me she though Nathan was a lovely hard working man and she gave her blessing. Of course in that May of 2009 when asked by Nathan if we’d help with the wedding preparations Julie and I readily agreed, then on the Saturday in Kings Park the wedding promises were made in a beautiful setting and all seemed good. Nathan by this time had made many friends and was working for a finance company. His boss had nothing but praise for him and his skills. Life seemed good. During our stay, Nathan and Natalie made us welcome and showed us around Perth and introduced us to their friends, Julie and I both agreed this was certainly the life for a young couple. The time passed all too quickly and soon after many more tears, we returned to the UK to carry on life as we knew it!
Christmas Day 2009 where was I at 5.30 in the morning? Waiting for Nathan to come through the arrivals gate at Heathrow! My son-in-law Simon had insisted on driving up with me. Nathan landed back in the UK with 6cents, his marriage had collapsed, his wife had taken everything, the dream was over.
It was a sad time, the confident man Julie and I had left in Australia was now a darker soul, full of cynicism, mistrust and anger. Off course he was welcomed back with open arms by Leah, Hannah, Simon and us, but how do you help your son when you can see he’s crushed? We just loved him and over the next few months coaxed him back to life, encouraged him to live his life. Of course there were times I could see he was hurting and that hurt not only me but his sisters and mother.
For his part, Nathan built and sold two cars over the next couple of years while learning his trade from me. I had forgotten just how quickly he learned and how intelligent he was, at times I found it difficult to keep up with his thirst for knowledge. Nathan met his now fiancée Georgia in 2012, the change in him was apparent within weeks, he became a much happier and settled person, I’m pleased to say.
Everything in your life happens for a reason though and Nathan’s return happened for a reason. When Julie was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 Nathan came into his own. The girls did their part too of course. Leah ferried us to and from the railway station every time we had to go to London to The Royal Marsden Hospital and that was frequently. Hannah left work early once a week to spend time with her mum, then called in as often as she could. Nathan though lived at home and saw Julie’s suffering on a daily basis, tending to his mum at the times when we had to wait for an ambulance, watching his mum in intense pain but never panicking. Nathan took the reigns of the business during that most difficult time of my life, working hard and troubling me only when he needed a second opinion.
Now as we approach Nathan’s 27th birthday on the 27th of February I want to tell you what’s prompted me to pay tribute to this man who has made my life so much easier over the last months. Last Thursday he did a little thing which meant so much to me, he called me upstairs and said “Dad, shall we go out for dinner tonight? I’ll pay!” That was the first time we’d been out for a meal together since Julie died and I really enjoyed it.
So my son, I’ve watched you grow and learn, I may even have changed your nappies once or twice, been there when you’ve been hurt, seen you at your worst but I couldn’t wish for a more hard working, supportive friend and I wish you all the luck you deserve as you and Georgia look forward to starting a life together in your own home some time this year.
You’ve been through a lot Nathan in your first twenty seven years but that is what shapes you as a man and you couldn’t have made me more proud!