Gerard Stokes, the former Kiwis rugby league player and father of England cricket star Ben, has revealed he is battling brain cancer.
Ben Stokes arrived back in New Zealand this week to be with his seriously ill Dad, and is in managed isolation due to coronavirus safeguards. He left the England squad during the recent Pakistan series to be with his family.
"I didn't sleep for a week and my head wasn't really in it," Ben Stokes told the Weekend Herald. "Leaving [the team] was the right choice from a mental point of view."
In an interview with the Weekend Herald at his Christchurch home, Gerard Stokes, 64, revealed he was diagnosed with the illness in January on his return to Christchurch from South Africa. He, wife Deb and eldest son James were there to watch Ben represent England in four tests against the Proteas.
Stokes senior was admitted to hospital in Johannesburg ahead of the Boxing Day test due to a brain bleed for which he required surgery. It was reported at the time as a "serious illness". Further tests on his return to New Zealand revealed cancer.
"They had to assess how I travelled and from that they discovered I had a couple of tumors on my brain as well," Stokes says.
"So, basically brain cancer. How that came about nobody knows but obviously I've had a few bangs on my head through my life so that's probably contributed to it."
Stokes, a well-known Canterbury league identity, coached professionally in England for a decade before returning home seven years ago. Once back in Christchurch, the qualified builder and a man notorious for his toughness led a large team who worked with inmates at Rolleston Prison, a role which he says taught him a great deal about empathising with those less fortunate.
Ben, 29, one of the world's best allrounders, was just 12 when he left Christchurch with his parents to live in the north of England; a journey which put him on the path to cricketing stardom.
He played a key role in England's dramatic World Cup final match against New Zealand at Lord's last year which was won on countback by the home side. But he acknowledged that his dad, known as Ged, plotted a path in a different and no less significant way.
"He was tough [on me]. But as I got older I realised it was all for a reason. He knew I wanted to be a professional sportsman and he was drilling that into me as I started to make a career in cricket."
Ben also says his dad's illness had given him a new perspective on suffering, adding that he now pushes himself a lot harder on the cricket field. He says his innings of 120 against South Africa in Port Elizabeth a few weeks after his dad's emergency surgery was hugely emotional.
As has become traditional, he recently celebrated a century against the West Indies in Manchester with a three-finger salute, a tribute to Ged, who dislocated a finger during his league days and requested an amputation in order to get back on the field quicker.
"His reputation sort of speaks for itself," Ben says. "You speak to anyone who knows him, played with him or worked with him, they'd all say the same thing. Most people acquire a softer side with age and sometimes with dad that has been quite weird to see.
"What he's going through has brought that side out as well – we all knew he had it, he just didn't show it that often."
James, Ben's brother, says of his dad: "He has never taken a backwards step in life and never lost his sense of humour, even when life threw him a few curve balls."