A dad who gave up work to look after his baby boy who was battling cancer has been chosen as the Victorian Father of the Year.
Drouin production planner Chris Youngman was unanimously chosen for the top accolade by YMCA Victoria in association with The Father’s Day Council of Victoria.
The 36-year-old’s story is one of sacrifice, determination and strength against staggering adversity.
It is about an ordinary dad, who constantly puts the needs of his family before himself. And despite the hardships and unknowns the family faces, counts himself as incredibly lucky.
Chris’ 30-year-old wife Alana Youngman nominated him for the award which earned him the title of the 63rd top dad in the state.
In the nomination she wrote: “He kept our whole family together which I feel is saving our son’s life. He has gone far and beyond as a father and a husband. His story is an inspiration to other fathers.”
Chris is the father to 22-month old twins Lucas and Noah and four-year old Ethan. For Alana and Chris, the last few years have been life-changing.
In 2017 the twins were born premature at 27 weeks. They were hospitalised for 10 weeks at The Royal Women’s Hospital, which was an exhausting time physically and emotionally for Chris and Alana. While Alana was recovering from a C-section in Drouin, Chris was dedicated, driving for up to three-hour trips to deliver breast milk to the twins in hospital.
The twins thrived and on their first birthday, Chris and Alana celebrated their milestone at a party at their Drouin home. Six days later, Alana was concerned that Lucas looked pale and unwell. He had bruising along his spine and she took him to the emergency department. The diagnosis was shocking: childhood leukaemia.
Chris said the blow was devastating. “After a tough year, we dared to take a breath. It was brutal.”
Lucas was immediately admitted to hospital and what followed was a whirlwind of doctors, specialists and social workers. Chris resigned from his job at Pure Harvest the day his son was diagnosed with cancer. And for the next nine months while Lucas was in hospital receiving chemotherapy and cancer treatments, Chris hardly left his son’s side.
Over the days and months, Chris noticed how important it was for their brave little battler to be with his twin brother, Noah and older brother Ethan.
Chris described a moment when the boys had spent a few days apart. Lucas was in his hospital bed cocooned in a sterile plastic wrap and the boys were eager to see him.
“The boys reached out and pressed their hands against the plastic to touch Lucas. It was only then that we realised how much they missed each other,” he said.
Chris also noticed Lucas slept and ate better when Noah and Ethan were around. The little boys needed each other. And it was Chris who made this happen.
Alana wrote in her nomination: “Chris has always been there when Lucas woke from bone marrow and lumbar punctures. He held him in his arms for hours on end supporting him through the pain of chemo as well as balancing equal time between all his boys and myself.”
But it wasn’t easy keeping the family together. Chris stretched out his remaining long service leave for income. The family had to move base eight times in nine months. They received minimal government support and were grateful for the fundraising support from the Drouin community and nine-months of accommodation at Ronald McDonald House, which gave them a solid base in the city.
In February the family moved into Alana’s parents in Gembrook and rented out their home to cover the mortgage.
Alana described Chris as ‘the rock,’ during this time.
Drouin local Samantha Harmes has been friends with Chris for 10 years and praised the humble dad. “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. I’ve been saying for years, Chris is just one of a kind,” she said.
However Chris describes himself as “just a guy in a family, in a situation that we didn’t ask for, just doing my best.”
Lucas is now out of hospital but still has lumbar punctures and bone marrow treatments every four to six weeks. He is currently in remission and quickly developing as a cheeky 22-month-year-old, but the family knows his future is unknown. This, for them, is the hardest thing.
Despite this, Chris and Alana are thankful for their good luck and support of family, friends and the Drouin community. Chris is now working a few days a week. He describes the traumatic experience as “giving me a good dose of perspective.”
“It’s surprising what you can do when you have to,” he said, “Being a dad, it’s something you don’t realise how hard it is until you do it, but it’s really rewarding.”
Chair of The Father’s Day Council Barry Novy said the award recognised the importance of fathering and family life.
“The Council and YMCA received more than 220 nominations from across the state for an outstanding father figure.
“Chris is a dad who has showed great strength and resilience when faced with hardship. He is a father trying to give his family the best life, despite the obstacles. He is a true role model.”
City of Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said he felt fortunate to attend the Victorian Father of the Year award ceremonies:
“It’s incredibly moving to hear stories of fathers and carers that have played an integral role in shaping the lives of youngsters across our state. As a father-of-two I know the challenges that come with parenting and have experienced the days when you wish there was a handbook or instruction guide.
“We are all doing our best and I am in awe of the fathers and father figures that have faced extreme challenges and remained an inspiring role model for their kids,” he said.
Since 1956, The Father’s Day Council of Victoria has chosen a Victorian Father of the Year, to celebrate and recognise the important role fathers and father-figures play in family life. For the past 14 years the YMCA has partnered with the Council and co-ordinated the Local Community Father of the Year in every region where there is a YMCA. The Father’s Day Council of Victoria considers all Local YMCA Community Father of the Year recipients when choosing the winning dad. Chris joins a long list of past top dads including: Bob Hawke, Andrew Gaze and Bert Newton.