30/10/2015 13:12 GMT | Updated 28/10/2016 06:12 BST

I Am a Widowed Dad and in Time I Will Learn to Do My Daughter's Hair


HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

I've had a very heightened awareness of October creeping up on the calendar over the last few years. Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October is without doubt the awareness month that stands out the most. And rightly so, too, because it focusses on the most common type of cancer: breast cancer.

Each year, charities, fundraisers, organisations and individuals work hard to drive awareness of the disease and raise millions in the fight to beat it. It's humbling to see the effort that people pour into making a difference.

October does, however, also bring with it that stark reminder that it was breast cancer that took my beautiful wife, Mair, from me at the young age of forty-one. I was just thirty-two at the time, and our children, Martha and Merlin, were just three and ten weeks old respectively.

That was back in 2012. Mair was gone in less than six months after her diagnosis - a diagnosis that took place when she was twenty-four weeks pregnant.

October, however, is a rather conflicting time for me because it also brings back many happy times. Our wedding anniversary is on 27th of the month - a day filled with wonderful memories of a stunning autumnal day in the Lake District surrounded by family and friends.

I recently contributed to Afterwards: Reflections on Life Beyond Breast Cancer, a new book for The Estée Lauder Companies' Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, when I found myself in quite an odd place, emotionally. I was suddenly reflecting positively on what had been the most traumatic time in both my wife's life and mine. How can you look back that way at trauma? Well, because in the midst of the worst thing you can ever go though as a family, as a couple - as parents, even - you may see the true meaning of the words 'in sickness and in health'. And we did; love conquered all.

I remembered the tender and intimate moments that we shared in those six fateful months: the shaving of her head, the birth of our second child, Merlin (named so because he brought a bit of magic in the midst of the terror unfolding around us), and the nights of us simply holding each other tight, crying. Also, the conversations in which she feared not being here for the children and for me.

When Mair died following a secondary cancer to her brain, the ultimate tragedy hit our family. I don't know why but I never got angry about what happened. Perhaps I did in my own way, but if so then the anger was certainly ploughed constructively into making a difference to others in a similar position to my wife when I set up a charity called Mummy's Star.

A cancer diagnosis, going through treatment, or going through a loss changes your perspective on absolutely everything. Recently, I commented on my vehement dislike of the phrase "Oh, you will get back to normal. It'll just be a new type of normal." I dislike this phrase so much because I find it limits people either when they are diagnosed with cancer or in my case when they are widowed.

I haven't got used to a new type of 'normal'; I have had to learn a completely different life to the one I had before.

Being a widowed dad was a very daunting prospect, but not because I didn't think I could do it.

Millions of people bring children up on their own. You crack on and do the best you can for your children. I have had many people say to me, in the loveliest way possible over the last three years, "I don't know how you do it", but the truth is, I am doing the same anyone whose partner has left them, whatever the circumstances. I am bringing up my children with all the love and support I find in me.

Yes there is a subtle difference, and that is the irreplaceable loss that my children and I have experienced. My children cry and miss their mum and I cry and miss my wife. But we seem to pick each other up and know that Mum is a constant figure in our lives.

I think society has a strange view on men bringing up children alone. I guess people presume that because women generally take the lead in parenting, another familiar female figures will intervene if the wife or partner is not there. Perhaps people assume that a man is somehow not capable of doing what a woman can.

But, do you know what? We aren't inept human beings. We aren't useless parents. We are dads and we can do anything we put our minds to. In time we can learn to do our daughters' hair. We can lift our children high upon our shoulders, and we can hear them say, "Wow! I can see the whole world from here, Daddy."

The e-book 'Afterwards: Reflections on Life Beyond Breast Cancer' is available via to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month and to support The Estée Lauder Companies' global Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign.

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