I woke up this morning to gifts of home made lemon meringue cake from my daughter and a “King Dad” Toblerone from my son George. It’s Father’s Day in the UK – a day to be proud of your kids and I am very proud of both of mine.
When George was born with Down Syndrome, we had a lot of questions and concerns. The first few days and weeks of his life were a blur – living in the Leeds General Infirmary, watching him shrink every day as he struggled with a heart condition. Surgery at 6 weeks was essential.
I have a number of standout memories from that time: tube feeds every three hours, with an endless cycle of breast pumps, feeding, cleaning equipment and holding him tight as the milk slowly dribbled through the naso-gastric tube; the sheer love and care of the NHS staff and Leeds Mencap team supporting us; and taking him home for the weekend before surgery so we could have that family memory, just in case he died during the operation.
One of the clearest memories I have is of asking the consultant and the nursing staff what he would be like when he grew up? Would he go to school? Talk? Get a job or a home? They wisely said that we should just enjoy our baby – who was very beautiful it’s true – because who knew what the future held. Down Syndrome affects people in different ways.
Little did I know that George would grow up to be the most hard working and inspiring son I could have wished for. He is such a positive force in the lives of many people and faces the world with an attitude that he can succeed at anything. He doesn’t always succeed it’s true. But he has achieved things I couldn’t at his age and that fill me with hope.
Let me give you an example. This weekend was the Annual Parkrun Conference. This is the time all of the Ambassadors for Parkrun get together to talk about supporting the phenomenon that is Parkrun.
George has been involved in Parkrun for the last few years – as a volunteer at Woodhouse Moor Parkrun and also running Parkrun once a month. He is a fixture, has many friends and is very popular for the encouragement he gives everyone and the positivity he brings.
George was invited along to speak at the Conference and to be unveiled as one of the people taking on a new Parkrun role. He is now a Parkrun StAR – Storyteller, Advocate and Role model. He will be working in schools and communities to help encourage people to get involved in Junior Parkrun and Parkrun. The Parkrun volunteering team, led by Jaz Kaur Bangerh asked us to attend the Conference in Ashridge. We prepared his talk in advance and worked with Rowan Ardil to make sure that the interview between them covered the right ground. George was undaunted and happy to speak.
Following a beautiful run at Tring Parkrun, which George ran in 43 minutes with Sam Dooley and Frank Jones helping avoid the cows on the track, we got ready.
As George and Rowan got on the stage and discussed the new role and George’s experiences I looked out at a sea of faces. People laughed at his jokes – usually at my expense – they cheered at how much he loved Parkrun and they drank in every word. Clearly a few people were in tears.
“Tell us why you will be good in this role George” asked Rowan
“Because I am a good role model for adults and kids especially, and I think Parkrun is great!” said George.
As I sat listening to the claps and cheers, I understood that he’s right. And that he is role model for me too.
I was then asked what Parkrun has done for us as a family. Alongside fitness and friendship, I said that the biggest gift was that people had stopped seeing George, the child with Down Syndrome. They just saw George, their mate, a volunteer and someone who always looks ahead with positivity and passion.
And what more could a Dad ask for than that? Happy Father’s Day.
I would like to thank Paul Sinton-Hewitt for being a visionary, all of the staff & volunteers who run Parkrun, all of the people at Woodhouse Moor, and all of the Ambassadors for making us so welcome at Ashridge. You are inspirational people and have helped us so much. And a big thanks to Jaz, Rowan and Cathy for thinking of us and making it possible.