In the two years since the lives of Chris Youngman and those of his young family lost all sense of normality, the thing that’s kept him going is a very humble dream that most people take for granted — the hope of one day seeing his kids playing together in their backyard.
“The thought of having the kids play in the backyard and we can just sit out on the back verandah and have a quiet drink and watch them,” Mr Youngman told Yahoo News Australia.
“We took it for granted as well.
“We just thought it would happen and it was all taken away.”
The 36-year-old dad from the small Victorian town of Drouin, about 100km east of Melbourne, gave up his job and then his house in order to support his family through a situation that went from bad to worse.
In late October 2017, Chris and Alana Youngman’s twins were born premature at 27 weeks via C-section.
As the twins fought for their lives in hospital and Ms Youngman recovered in Drouin, her husband completed the three-hour round trip between their hometown and The Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne several times a week, ferrying the preemies breastmilk.
Then, just as the parents allowed themselves to breathe a sigh of relief as Lucas and Noah celebrated their first birthdays, the family was dealt another brutal blow just days later.
Lucas had childhood leukaemia.
“After a tough year, we dared to take a breath,” Mr Youngman said of the short lull that came in between the family being tossed from one upheaval to the next one.
“It was brutal.”
The day they got the cancer diagnosis, Mr Youngman left his job.
A few months later, as the family’s finances became further strained, he put their house on the rental market, moving everything they owned into their in-laws’ place in Gembrook, 55 km south-east of Melbourne.
“There was a lot of upheaval,” the dad told Yahoo News Australia.
“One of us had to be with Lucas more or less all the time, and the other one had to be taking care of the other two.
“We were basically doing split-parenting for quite a bit of the time.”
The family was spurred on by the “light at the end of the tunnel” of eventually having him back home.
Lucas finished his intensive chemotherapy at the end of July this year and was finally allowed to leave hospital to continue treatment at home.
While Mr Youngman has recently been able to return to work too, thanks to his supportive employers.
Father of the year and ‘one of a kind’
But the young dad dismisses the notion that any of the sacrifices he made or selflessness he displayed was extraordinary. He was just doing his duties as a dad and a husband.
His family and friends however, thought differently.
“He kept our whole family together which I feel is saving our son’s life,” Ms Youngman said of her husband in the nomination form for Victorian Father of the Year.
“He has gone far and beyond as a father and a husband. His story is an inspiration to other fathers.”
Drouin local and long-time friend to the couple, Samantha Harmes, agreed.
“Not once has he ever complained. He’s never said, ‘I’m so tired,’ or ‘It’s so hard.’ I don’t know anyone like that,” she said.
“I’ve been saying for years, Chris is just one of a kind.”
So when Mr Youngman discovered he had been shortlisted for the Victorian Father of the Year award he was “shocked”. Then, he learnt he had won.
“I was a bit overwhelmed in a way,” he said.
“I saw what I did as the normal reaction to a situation that a guy had been put in with his family.
“I did what I had to do and saw a lot of other guys doing the same.”
Throughout those two years Mr Youngman said he was surrounded by dads with sick kids doing the same as him — and, in some cases, he believed, were in much tougher situations to his own yet never waived in their dedication.
“I saw a lot of dads in very similar situations to me — you know, in and out of hospital, some of them weren’t fortunate enough to be able to stay, they had to go back to work. Or they’d only get to come down on weekends [to see their kids],” Mr Youngman said.
“I saw one dad who was a schoolteacher during the day who would stay at the hospital overnight then get up and go [to work], 9 to 5.”
With that in mind, it made winning Victorian Father of Year all the more “humbling” for him.
The biggest reward though is still the hope of one day being able to watch his twins play with their four-year-old brother Ethan in the backyard of their own house.
“We’re hopeful, but you can never plan too far ahead,” he said.
“Now it’s something we look forward to again.”
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