The Men Behind Father And Son Day

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The Men Behind Father And Son Day

Words by Mr Adam Welch | Photography by Ms Amber Rowlands | Styling by Ms Sophie Hardcastle

17 June 2015

MR PORTER partners with a new charity initiative to raise funds for The Royal Marsden, a world-leading cancer centre .

There are many formative experiences you might, as a young man, expect to go through with your father. Your first bike ride. Learning how to shave. Football.

Serious illness isn’t usually one of these. Neither is it likely to provide many fond father-son memories. And yet, even in an era when men are much more in touch with their feelings, it can take something as traumatic as illness to get two of us to really open up to each other and talk. By which we mean not just discussing the latest episode of Daredevil or opining on which Tangerine Dream album is the best, but checking in about the important things –­ such as personal health.

This is obviously not an ideal situation. When it comes to cancer in particular – the latest statistics say it kills upwards of 80,000 men a year in this country alone – survival depends on early diagnosis. Which becomes much less likely if you don’t talk about yourself and your body. This is where the stereotypical father-son dynamic can often fail people; a manly hug or gruff pat on the shoulder doesn’t really ask the important question: are you OK?

Father and Son Day is a charitable campaign that is looking to change all that. Launching this month, it aims to get men talking to each other by asking them to post photographs on Instagram – with the hashtag #fatherandsonday – of themselves alongside their fathers, sons, friends and male mentors. In conjunction with this social activity, the campaign will raise money for London’s world-renowned cancer research and treatment centre, The Royal Marsden, through a range of donation options.

After posting a picture you can text MARSDEN to 70800 to give £5 to the cause, or if you want to make a donation of a different amount you can visit the Father and Son Day page on The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity’s website. Alternatively, you can shop on MRPORTER.COM – from now until 25 June we will be donating all profits from the sale of a selection of blue shirts to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity in support of the campaign. As Father and Son Day co-founder Mr Daniel Marks (pictured above, right) puts it: “It’s probably something you need in your wardrobe anyway…”

Mr Marks, a director and partner at leading communications and strategic brand-development agency The Communications Store, came up with the idea for Father and Son Day with creative director Mr Jack Dyson (pictured above, left) after the two met through work and discovered they had remarkably similar experiences with cancer. Both were diagnosed with testicular cancer at a young age and both subsequently saw their fathers go through their own struggles with the disease. This, naturally, made for some difficult times: Mr Marks’ father survived but, sadly, three years ago, Mr Dyson’s father passed away. However, out of these experiences both came to realise the unique, dignified and deeply meaningful relationship a man can have with his father. And now they want to celebrate it.

Mr Daniel Marks and his dad Mr Ken Marks on his godfather’s boat, Lymington, England, 1988

“The tagline ‘Inspiring Men’ has a fairly obvious meaning,” says Mr Dyson. “Because we’re finding inspiring men and we’re using them to inspire others – just facilitating that conversation, that flicker of awareness, that recognition. And it might help people look at their fathers or sons – or their own relationships as a guy – in a different way.” As far as Mr Dyson is concerned, although fundraising is a key part of the campaign, the simple act of posting a father-son photo has its own benefits. “If you see two people in a photo instead of one, they’re sharing, because they’re both in it together,” he says. “They’re sharing an experience. So it goes from there.”

“The whole point is that guys have this stereotypical view of being strong, silent types and not talking about things,” says Mr Marks. “This is not a loud campaign. It’s about the very real, very intimate conversations between guys that say, ‘I’m not feeling very well. Is this normal?’”

This is not a loud campaign. It’s about the very real, very intimate conversations between guys that say, ‘I’m not feeling very well. Is this normal?’

“We’ll talk about anything but our personal health,” says Mr Dyson. “We might touch on how we’re feeling emotionally – ‘Oh, she dumped me, I feel terrible’ – but we won’t say ‘I’ve got this cough that won’t go away’. And so, in celebrating the father-and-son bond, or the mentor bond, and its reciprocity, we’re also waking guys up to this idea that it’s not only OK to ask for help but it’s there for you regardless.”

Though Father and Son Day might sound, in name, like a one-off event, it’s an ongoing initiative designed to build over time, much like the relationships that inspired it. It’s also a name intended to reclaim the second-fiddle status of Father’s Day as a calendar event and turn it into something more meaningful. “My dad’s always saying, ‘Oh don’t worry about Father’s Day, focus on sending your mother some flowers on Mother’s Day, don’t worry about me’,” says Mr Marks. “I think Father’s Day has that slight connotation of being yet another thing that we’ve imported; that it’s more of a commercial opportunity and doesn’t really have a purpose.”

Mr Marks is keen to point out that, conversely, Father and Son Day has concrete aims. All money raised by the campaign will be going directly to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, which will use donations to fund two projects inspired by the campaign’s message.

The first involves the creation of a fellowship to train surgeons on the latest “Da Vinci” robotic micro-surgery equipment, which not only allows them to work flexibly and quickly across multiple areas of the body but also drastically reduces surgery and recovery time for every patient. The second area is psychosocial care, in particular for young men suffering from cancer – a group of patients to whom Mr Marks, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 17, can fully relate.

We’d love to get anyone involved, from somebody who wants to post a picture or text to donate five pounds, to those who can give us a platform like MR PORTER has done

“I think what’s important for us is that all the money being raised is being invested in people,” says Mr Marks. “The money coming in is being used to train up incredible surgeons and counsellors. And The Royal Marsden has the capacity to train as many of those people as we can raise funds for. For decades. It’s exciting to be part of something where you’re working alongside an incredible institution that’s known around the world. And these surgeons and counsellors they’re training, yes they’ll work at The Royal Marsden, but they may also go off and work elsewhere and take those skills with them. There are things being learnt and developed through our funding that will go around the world.”

Mr Jack Dyson and his dad Mr John Dyson on the grounds of Ramster, Surrey, England, 1981

And so, although the campaign launches this month, Messrs Marks and Dyson are already anticipating its future. “If MR PORTER selling blue shirts encourages other brands to get involved and sell blue shirts… great,” says Mr Marks. “But we’d love to get anyone involved, from somebody who just wants to post a picture, or text to donate five pounds, to those who can make a big donation or give us a platform, like MR PORTER has done. We’ll adapt to whatever comes our way. And we have the energy to do this for many years to come.”

You can support Father And Son Day by posting a photograph of yourself with your father, son, friend or mentor and donating £5 by texting MARSDEN to 70800. Alternatively, you can go shopping – all profits from MR PORTER’s selection of Father And Son Day blue shirts will go directly to the cause.

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From now until 25 June we will be donating all profits from the sale of a selection of blue shirts to cancer research and treatment. See the full selection here.