Edinburgh mum-of-two on writing a children’s book to help sons understand dad’s terminal illness

Michaelagh Broadbent, with husband Harry, and sons Harry junior (left) and Alex (Andrew Cawley / DC Thomson)

TO Harry Broadbent, his dad is a superhero.

But the five-year-old knows he might not always fly by his side.

Harry’s mum Michaelagh has penned a children’s book to help her two sons understand their dad’s terminal illness.

And the Edinburgh-based author hopes My Daddy Is A Superhero, published this month, will help other families like hers.

“I’m not a grief counsellor or child psychologist, I’m a mum who has written this from her heart in a way that I want my children to hear it,” said Boston-born Michaelagh.

Her first book is an illustrated poem that celebrates her husband, Harry.

The 34-year-old from West Yorkshire was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2009 when he was 25 and successfully underwent surgery and radiotherapy.

The couple, who met at Camp America in their early twenties, married in 2011 and Harry junior was born on their first wedding anniversary.

But in 2015, just three weeks after Michaelagh learned she was pregnant with her second son, Alex, dad Harry was told his brain tumour had returned.

Then the couple faced the daunting prospect of explaining to their son, then three, what his dad was about to go through.

“My instinct was that we eventually had to explain to my son that his dad had a brain tumour and would be away while he had surgery,” said Michaelagh, 33. “We wanted to be honest in an age-appropriate way and for him to understand his dad would look different and have to rest when he comes home.

“I didn’t want my son to feel like he was in trouble or that it was his fault. It was daunting but once we started the conversation and gave him an opportunity to ask questions, he understood the basics.”

(Andrew Cawley / DC Thomson)

Harry had further surgery and treatment in 2016 and is stable once again. But with his future uncertain, Michaelagh wanted to give both herself and other parents a way to start that difficult conversation with a child.

My Daddy Is A Superhero is written in Harry junior’s voice and is aimed at children aged three to 10.

“Harry is well at the moment but it’s not curable. How do I explain this to my children when the time comes?” she added. “I turned to books in 2016 but nothing hit the nail on the head, so I thought I’d just write one myself.”

Her book is about a little boy and his dad doing things together, like bike rides, playing with trains and going to the park. The book subtly explains that the dad is ill and can’t do some things he used to. But he’s still a dad, who reads to his son at bedtime, and eventually is gone but not forgotten.

“It’s such a natural way to sit down with and talk to a child,” Michaelagh added. “I made it feel exactly like their other books. It’s written on their level with lots of bold illustrations.

“I see this as a tool for parents. It doesn’t address everything but helps start that difficult conversation with a child in a way that’s familiar, not scary.”

The stay-at-home mum, who has a background in publishing, says the project has been therapeutic for her and her husband. “Creating something beautiful, practical and positive out of a very difficult situation that will benefit my family and others has been very healing,” added Michaelagh.

“My husband is really proud and loves that I’ve done this for our children but it’s emotional too. He’s struggled with the idea that at some point he is going to miss out. I think it’s comforting to know that this book will be there when he needs to have that conversation with the kids again.”

Michaelagh will donate some of the book’s profits to Maggie’s Centre in Edinburgh, which supported the couple through Harry’s two diagnoses.

She added: “I’d love to write a book in Alex’s voice about the idea that after loss there are still other people in your life – that my boys will still have each other and that their dad will still be with them in everything they do.”

My Daddy Is A Superhero is published by North Staffordshire Press.