I'm running the marathon for my dad who had IPF

Fraser lost his dad to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) when he was young. This year he’s running the London Marathon to give hope to people living with IPF.

Fraser and his dad

My dad was a funny man to be around. Not in a clownish way, but he was quick-witted. Always the first to the comment and the pivotal character in his friendship group. He was a funny dad too. He’d always try a new way of convincing me that he’d knocked a nail through his hand at work, and things like that. He was a silent movie.

When he was diagnosed with IPF, it was only the physical stuff that gave it away. He goofed around as best he could. And I remember that even at his worst, he still wrote me postcards from hospital addressed to the ‘world smelly feet champion’ with notes full of in-jokes. Mine was a childhood measured by laughter.

Because of the way he’d make light of things, I was always shielded from just how hopeless his situation was, and his death was a shock. I couldn’t understand how or why. I wouldn’t reason with it. Life wasn’t funny for a long while after that.

He died in 2001 aged 47. I was only 12.

When I turned 25, I’d reached an age where I’d heard enough second-hand stories of my dad to wonder what he’d laugh about with his friends. I’d often daydream about which stories he’d tell me if we could spend another evening together, and which stories we’d make each other promise to keep secret.

I’d often daydream about which stories he’d tell me if we could spend another evening together, and which stories we’d make each other promise to keep secret.

But like all daydreams, half of the conversation was made up. I was guessing. So, in 2014 I decided to spend 18 months tracking down some of his oldest friends. Connecting old dots became an obsession. It took me from London to Russia to North Carolina in America.

When I asked his friends about what he was like, most would hint at stories that they shouldn’t tell me. A couple of beers later, the stories would come out and they were as hilarious as they were unprintable. I got to see sides of him that I never thought I would – from the younger stuff when he was just like me, to a time when he became known to his heroes, to the stark realities of what it was like living with lung disease in his last years.

Trying to recover the humour that IPF stole from me left me feeling that I was living with re-emerged grief. No matter how much I learned about him, I knew that there was something missing – a proper ending.

Knowing my dad better than I ever thought I would, I knew he’d want someone to have more of a chance of beating IPF than he had. If his lungs had held out, I reckon he would’ve done something about it. That’s why this year I’m running the London Marathon and raising money for the BLF. I want someone somewhere to have a better chance to chuckle for longer.

Knowing my dad better than I ever thought I would, I knew he’d want someone to have more of a chance of beating IPF than he had.

My dad didn’t leave me with any running ability, but watching him fight with IPF for so long gives me an idea where the grit will come from when the marathon is at its toughest. If nothing else, as I wobble around the course I’m sure he’ll be laughing along with me – all the way to the end.

Fraser wrote a short book about his adventures across the world meeting his dad’s closest friends. You can read his blog and buy his book on his website.


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5 April 2018