Arran

So, that’s week two of my chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment over!

R10/20, C2/4.

I almost didn’t make it to the hospital today.  We woke up to find out that it had been snowing all night and – as the Rossendale Valley is twinned with Narnia – we were snowed in.

Kirsty called the hospital to ask what the procedure was.  The radiography department insisted that I make it in, switching my appointment from this morning to this afternoon and – if required – this evening.

Under no circumstances was I to miss this session.

Thankfully, the snow thawed enough for me to be able to get the car off the drive in the early afternoon, so I was at my radiotherapy session for around 3pm.

I’ll write more about that later…

I want to cover a different topic in this post because today is quite a special day in the Donbavand household.  It’s my older son, Arran’s, birthday.  He’s 17!

Arran on a visit to the Scream Street set last year.

I’m very proud of Arran for many reasons, among the main of which is this little secret…

I’m not Arran’s real Dad.

Well, not in the biological sense, at any rate.  That spectacular waste of DNA didn’t stick around to get to know him.

I first met Arran when I met his Mum, Kirsty.  He was 6 years old.  And he had a lot of problems.

The main issue was that, like his two older sisters, he was separated from his Mum – although that wasn’t anything to do with her.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll have come to realise that Kirsty’s immediate family were… well, let’s just say they never had her interests at heart.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say they actively disliked her.

And that’s putting it mildly.

She was abused at home, spent time in a children’s home while her Mum was in prison, then separated from her brother when he was adopted away.  For more on that, see: Kirsty

By the time I met Kirsty, she had three children – all of whom lived in Coventry with her Mum.

As I now know is common in cases of domestic abuse, Kirsty switched between moving out, starting to get a new life – then returning to the abusive environment whenever she was pressured to do so.

It was like a bad marriage, only with her own mother.

When I showed up, Kirsty was living alone in Bedlington, Northumberland.

Why? Because at the end of yet another cycle of abuse, she had left to find yet another place to stay – only to return to collect her kids and discover that her family had been to court, claimed she had abandoned them, and received a residency order to keep them away from her.

She was allowed to travel to Coventry to visit her own children once or twice a month – and that was if and when the family were bothered to bring them along to the contact sessions.

As you can imagine, this was tearing her apart.

But if things were bad for Kirsty, they were a lot worse for Arran.  You see, his older sisters were savvy enough to realise that if they played along with the family’s anti-Kirsty tirade, they got an easy life.

Arran, however, just wanted to be with his Mum.  And they treated him horribly for it.

Many was the time we’d collect him for a weekend contact and he’d tell us he’d been hit, or that he didn’t have his glasses because they’d been slapped off his face and broken.  Allegations which, of course, were all strenuously denied in court.

But, there was no way that Kirsty and I were going to let him down.  We fought on in court for another three years to have his residency changed.

It was a horrible period of time.  As if going to court regularly wasn’t bad enough, Kirsty’s family started to turn on me for supporting her.

I received a solicitor’s letter claiming I had physically assaulted Kirsty’s Mum in the court waiting room.

Questions were raised before the judge as to whether it was safe to leave me alone with children.

And my parents, siblings and even publishers received ‘anonymous’ emails claiming that I was being investigated by police for soliciting prostitutes.

Horrible.  But we weren’t going to give up on Arran.

Eventually, we won.  He was nine years old when he finally came to live with us, only a few weeks after Sam was born.

This picture was taken the first time they met…

Arran and Sam

Suddenly, I had a family!

And the best part of it was, because Arran looked a little bit like me, no-one ever suspected that I wasn’t his real Dad.  In fact, it’s something we don’t even think about these days.

However, despite the happiness, it was the that I began to realise the true scope of Arran’s problems.

He suffers from DCD (a developmental co-ordination disorder which used to be known as Dyspraxia – think all over dyslexia), he has hyper-flexive joints, bad asthma, and he’s almost blind in one eye.

We were also told that, due to his limited abilities, he would very likely never be able to travel by himself.  He was at risk of getting lost, taking the wrong bus, or even getting into a stranger’s car.  I would have to drive him everywhere.

Because his ‘guardians’ hadn’t been interested in raising him – only using him as a tool through which to hurt Kirsty – he still couldn’t read or write, and his speech was so poor that more often than not, I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

They had never helped with homework, and so he was years behind at his new school just around the corner from us.

Yet, he remained so upbeat, and happy to back with his Mum.

So, I sat him down and made him a promise.  I promised that, if we worked hard together, I would teach him to read and write, and we’d work hard on his speech.  The plan was that, by the time he reached secondary school at 11, no-one would ever know he’d had these problems.

And he did it.  Not me, not we.  He did it.

By the time we moved to Lancashire, he joined his new primary school in year 5 able to read, write, talk – and he was only a little distance behind his year group.

He was also a fan of Eoin Colfer’s great Artemis Fowl books…

Arran meeting Eoin Colfer

We had spent every day playing word games, reading together, practising tongue twisters, spelling lists, writing stories and much much more.

And it was a lot of fun – with a few laughs along the way…

Please note, I’m not including these examples to ridicule Arran in any way – it’s just a fun way to show his progress.  He laughs about them just as much as we do.  Honest!

Thanks to his DCD, Arran used to have a very poor memory (we invented memory games to help with that!), and quite often he would grasp somewhere around 10% of a subject, forget the rest and fill in the blanks himself.

This led to some very interesting after school comments…

“Jesus was born in a gingerbread house in space, Dad!”

“Hmm… I’m pretty sure, he wasn’t.”

“Yeah – Miss told us!”

This transpired to be the fact that there is a star painted on the ground where the stable is supposed to have stood in Bethlehem.  A house on a star, therefore in space.  I’ve still no idea where the gingerbread bit came from.

“We’re writing about the story of Easter, Dad!”

Me, sipping tea: “Are you?”

“Yeah, it’s really horrible!”

“True, it does come with its very own gory ending…”

“Too right!  Jesus was juicified!”

Tea.  Everywhere.

And, my all time favourite…

He was 100% correct in his written homework about Charles Dickens’s classic, A Christmas Carol.  He just had trouble spelling the word ‘visited’…

“Scrooge was fisted by three ghosts during the night.”

I’ll just leave that image there for you… 😉

Secondary school was where Arran was really challenged.  He was initially missed off the special educational needs list due to an error, and things didn’t go much better from there.

Arran's first day at secondary school

He battled through year 7, keeping up with his schoolwork and doing well.  Then, early in year 8, his asthma took a serious turn for the worse, and he missed a few weeks from school.

Kirsty was telephoned almost constantly by his head of year and, despite being able to hear Arran’s horrific hacking cough in the background and the fact that we had a note from the doctor, she insisted we bring him to school the very next day.

“He’s not well enough!” Kirsty insisted.

“I understand that,” came the reply, “but if he comes in and tries, then I can find him, see he’s not well and send him home.  That at least gets him a mark in the register.”

So, against our better judgement, we drove Arran to school the next day.  He struggled through his first few lessons (despite teachers complaining about the volume of his coughing!), then made his way to see the head of year first thing after lunch.

We’d told him how this would go; she would call us to collect him, and he’d get his mark in the register.

But that didn’t happen.

His head of year took one look at him, said “I’ll decide if you’re ill or not!”, and sent him straight back to class.

He was in tears and still wheezing when we finally picked him up at the end of the school day.

I demanded a meeting with the head of year.  She agreed, on the promise of prosecuting Kirsty and I for keeping Arran at home for an extended period of time.

I was ready for this.

My first question was to ask the head of year for a list of her medical qualifications.  She blinked in surprise, then assured me that as a teacher, she didn’t need medical qualifications.

“So, how can you possibly tell Arran that you will decide whether he is ill or not?”

Shields were raised at that point…

I asked her what she knew of Arran’s special educational needs and health problems.

“Only what’s on the school files,” she said.

“Show me what that says,” I continued.

With a sneer, she logged into the school computer system, and brought up Arran’s file…

…which was completely empty.

They’d lost everything.

There was no mention of his DCD, dyspraxia, joint problems, eyesight issues, chronic asthma.  Nothing.

Just a blank screen.

You’ve never seen anybody back-pedal as quickly as that woman!

It was fantastic!

By the time we left the school, Arran had been called out of class for an apology, and he was shown around a section called Stage Two.  Normally reserved for disruptive pupils, Arran was offered a separate desk away from the rowdy kids in there along with a permanent pass for him to simply get up, leave class and work alone if he ever felt unwell.

He was also given a laptop for his schoolwork, and extra time was added to all his exams from that day forward.

Chalk one-up for the Donbavands!

Arran continued to work hard, and get exemplary reports throughout his time at that school.  He had decided that he wanted to work in the computer games industry, and chose his options based on that career.

His next move, after taking his GCSEs, would be to move up into sixth form and do A Levels in Physics and Mathematics.

A place was set aside for him.

Physics and Maths A Levels – for the kid who couldn’t read or write just seven years earlier.  He had to work SO hard to get there, harder than any of his classmates who didn’t have the problems he faced every single day.

He passed all his GCSEs.  Seven Cs, and two Bs.

We were so proud of him.

Then came the day he went in to take up his sixth form place. I drove us up to the school but, because it was so busy, there was no room to park.  So, Kirsty took him in to sign up, and I drove around the block, returning to collect them a short while later.

To find Arran in tears.

The head of sixth form had told Kirsty – in front of our son – that he didn’t believe Arran had an aptitude for learning, and they were rescinding his previously offered position in the sixth form.

Never has an individual been so lucky that I had nowhere to park my car!

But, we weren’t beaten. We raced home and immediately went online, discovering that Accrington College – a mere ten miles away – was running a course in computer games design and programming.

And today was the open day.

We took Arran in for an interview where they were so impressed with him – and his exam results – that they skipped him passed the entire first year of the course, and put him straight into the second level.

Many of the students were also having to retake certain GCSEs alongside their new course – but not Arran.  His English and Maths results were just fine.

Now, two full terms later, Arran leaves the house at 7am to head to college on the bus every day.  On his own.  He hasn’t got lost once.  Here is is on his first day…

Arran's first day of college

His tutors tell us he’s expected to ace his course with at least four distinctions.  From there, he plans to switch to the college’s own software development course before either university, or a job in the games industry.

Arran hasn’t really spoken to me about my cancer since I was diagnosed.  He’s sat and listened whenever I’ve news to share with the family and he helps look after 9yo Sam when I have my hospital appointments (the two of them are as thick as thieves, most of the time) – but that’s about it.

I suspect he’s hoping that, if he doesn’t talk about it, it isn’t really there.  Well, it is really there, mate.  So, if you read this – a) clear the empty drinks cans out of your room, b) – get your hair cut, and c) – you can come and talk to me any time at all.

Well, that’s my son.  That’s my Arran.  That’s how hard he was worked to get to where and who is today – a wonderful, kind, intelligent young man with a dazzling future ahead of him.

He’s my hero.

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22 Comments


  1. He sounds wonderful 🙂 The funnier of those stories had me laughing so hard. And what a lot to go through! A brave and tough family, the lot of you! Hope his birthday was great.

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    1. He spent the entire day in his room, on the PS4, playing a series of rampaging and slaughter games with his mates – only surfacing for meals and to grab cold drinks.

      His perfect day.

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  2. How wonderful for all of you! Arran sounds like an incredible and impressive young man and you’re rightly proud of him. I too am proud to say that I teach in an FE college and supporting individuals so that they reach their goals and realise their dreams is what we do. I’m glad Arran found his place and would like to see those stupid people’s faces, those who didn’t believe in him, when he gives his first tv interview!

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    1. He’s a different lad now he’s been allowed to just be himself and learn. Some days he doesn’t start his lessons until around 11am, but he still sets off at 7am to get some of his own work done.

      Oh, and ambush the free toast pile in the canteen. Apparently, our toast isn’t good enough any more… 😉

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      1. Ah, college toast! It’s the best. And I bet the canteen staff are always good for a nice chat too.

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  3. Oh my goodness. Arran sounds like a beautiful soul. I’ve been through hell with my twin girls and their school over the last couple of years and it makes me so mad that they only see what they want to see. Well done, Arran, for proving them wrong. And well done to you and Kirsty for raising such an outstanding young lad.

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  4. Well done Arran keep up the great work

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  5. Tommy, somehow, goodness knows how, I’ve managed to read all your other posts without tears. Not this one. Bloody hell. Bloody hell.

    You are one amazing family.

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    1. Sorry, Nicola! I’m very lucky indeed with my family – and I think we’re so close because of what we had to fight through in order to be together.

      I can’t go into too many details of the endless court battles – but we were certainly a tight little unit by the end of it all!

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  6. I do hope you have informed his school about how wrong they were to refuse Arran his place in the 6th form. Just maybe, it will make a difference to some other young person.

    My daughter has EDS, which in her case means she has extreme joint mobility, and is in constant pain. She also has POTS which means she faints a lot. This started when she went to 6th form college. Possibly because she had been home-educated until then, they thought she was attention-seeking (not sure I understand the connection myself, as she was never short of attention) and sent her for counselling. This turns out to be a good way to mess with someone’s mind! After a year, they chucked her out.

    I have since written to the college to explain that she had a diagnosed physical condition, in the hope that they might be more understanding in the future. Though I have to say they were completely defensive about their actions.

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    1. I wrote to the Head and Governors but didn’t get a reply, which is pretty much what I expected.

      And, looking back, we’re now delighted that they dealt with Arran that way and didn’t let him in to sixth form. He would have missed out at all the excitement, enthusiasm and experience he gets at college.

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  7. What a lovely tribute Tommy to you, the family and especially Arran. I remember some of the discussions we had about the education system failing Arran but down to all your support and the sheer tenacity he has obviously inherited from his amazing mum he’s trod his own path and will I’m sure be very successful. And now I’m off for another hankie as reading this post has got my tears flowing. Hang in there pal and keep fighting.

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  8. No wonder you’re proud of Arran – what a lot he’s achieved! Well done to you and Kirsty for building such a strong family. Hope the rest of the treatment goes well and good luck for the next few weeks.

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  9. God Tommy, to think if you hadn’t got cancer, you wouldn’t be posting all this – not that I’m saying there’s a silver lining but your posts are enriching my life so much I can’t tell you. That soudns so incredibly selfish but I want you to know how much you are giiving. Though am crying my eyes out actually- this touched so many personal nerves… and can I just say, you clearly are his Dad. Being a dad has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with love. You guys are lucky to have found each other xxx

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    1. That’s really kind of you, Kathryn. Writing about my life – and not just the bits the cancer is affecting – is proving to be very therapeutic for me.

      I had to remind Kirsty the same thing about biology – albeit in the opposite direction – regularly when we were going through court… Yes, that woman is your biological mother – but a ‘real’ mother wouldn’t put you through any of this, or any of the crap she has done since you were a child.

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  10. God sake, Tommy. I’m a Scottish male. It’s just not on to reduce me to blubbering tears like this.

    You’re a hell of a dad, a hell of a man and have a hell of a family. It’s a privilege to know you, even online.

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    1. Thanks, Stuart – but I’m sure it’s probably just a touch of hay fever!

      I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned from cancer – it really makes you realise exactly what you have, and what you shouldn’t be taking for granted. My posts on this blog are helping me do just that.

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  11. What a lovely post. I am appalled by the way this lovely boy has been treated, but most of all how much he is loved comes through – and how proud you are of him. And I will try to pray for you all every day and wish you a complete recovery from this awful illness.

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  12. That’s a truly beautiful post, Tommy. Your family sound pretty amazing to have overcome all the obstacles that have been so unfairly strewn in their path.

    If I ever meet any of you – and I hope I do – I’m going to give you all a massive hug!

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  13. Good for Arran, and good for you! My youngest daughter is dyspraxic with hyper-mobility, and her primary were fab, but for each of her first three parent’s days at secondary I had “Her presentation is dreadful, her writing is messy, she forgets her homework” and had to go through “She’s dyspraxic. That means….” After getting past three years of being put in the “neurotic single parent” box (in a very happily married area!) I finally demanded a meeting with the SENCO and raised Cain. This got the extra time etc put in place, but of course it should never had had to get to that. Since then, after getting her first degree in Forensic Psychology with First Class Honours she took a Masters in Social Work and is now a Child Protection social worker in the inner city.
    Please give your wonderful son my love, and tell him that what you’ve both realised is true, with your loving and supportive family anything is possible. For both of you.

    Reply

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