power of family reconciliation
October 27th, 2010
By Paul Sanchez
On Oct. 9 when Beatles fans across the world will commemorate what
would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, many will still be
unaware of unique aspects of the famed rock star's storied life. The
famed singer/songwriter/guitarist of The Beatles was not a Catholic,
but during his post-Beatle years he became a staunch advocate for the
rights of Catholics in Northern Ireland and even gave financial
support to some Catholic priests in Northern Ireland who fought for
civil rights. In addition, Lennon's personal history conveys a strong
message in favor of reconciliation between estranged family members
by reconciling with his estranged father while the elder Lennon was
dying in a cancer ward.
Lennon, whose great-grandparents James Lennon and Jane McConville
Lennon were Catholics from County Derry in Ireland, was an Anglican
as he was raised by his mother's family who were both Anglican and of
Welsh descent. At age 11, John Lennon was permanently banned from his
Anglican parish while serving in the children's choir for "repeatedly
improvising obscene and impious lyrics to the hymns." John's
grandfather, minstrel singer Jack Lennon, had a brother William who
was a Catholic priest in England. In his post-Beatle years, Lennon
began to identify himself as "Irish" rather than British or Welsh.
During the 1970's, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono regularly
participated in protests against British rule in Northern Ireland as
well as ones in favor of the IRA. In fact, Lennon donated the
royalties from his politically charged song "The Luck of the Irish"
off of his 1972 "Some Time in New York City" album to Irish Northern
Aid, an organization that gave financial support to the families of
imprisoned IRA members. Though Lennon was heavily involved in lending
his name, his time and his money on behalf of the civil rights of
Catholics in Northern Ireland, he never embraced Catholicism himself
despite regularly boasting of his Irish Catholic background.
The rock star also financially supported some Catholic priests in
Northern Ireland who worked on behalf of promoting human rights in
the Six Counties. However, the highly controversial 1988 biography
"The Lives of John Lennon" by Albert Goldman claimed that Lennon's
support for the IRA was more than humanitarian. Goldman claimed that
the ex-Beatle made large monetary donations to the IRA while at the
same time introducing IRA operatives in New York to an underground of
wealthy radical activists who likewise made monetary donations for
armed struggles. Goldman's book made numerous unsubstantiated
allegations while critics and Beatles fans alike pointed out many
factual errors that are not characteristic of a major biography.
Two Beatles were raised Anglican: John Lennon and Ringo Starr; while
both Paul McCartney and George Harrison were raised Catholic.
McCartney's father was Anglican and his mother Mary was a staunch
Catholic. Paul McCartney and his younger brother Mike were raised as
church-going Catholics. In the Beatle years, McCartney would identify
himself as "agnostic," but in the early 1990's McCartney and his late
wife, the former Linda Eastman, who was an American raised in the
Jewish faith, listed their religious affiliation as being with the
Church of England.
George Harrison came from a devout Catholic family with Irish
antecedents. "The Quiet Beatle," as is well-known, drifted into the
Hindu faith in the mid-1960's to become a lifelong adherent to
Hinduism until his 2001 death, as is his widow, the former Olivia
Arias, who was born in Mexico and also raised Catholic. Harrison's
spiritual journey has been the subject of recent books, such as "Love
There That's Sleeping: The Art and Spirituality of George Harrison,"
by Dale C. Allison, and "Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and
Musical Journey of George Harrison," by Joshua M. Greene.
Nearly 50 years after The Beatles' first record appearing on the
British music charts, "urban legends" and false myths still abound
that Alfred "Freddie" Lennon, John's father, abandoned him as a
youngster and then re-appeared with his hand out after the Beatle had
found fame. Nothing could be further from the truth as Freddie Lennon
tried his best to be a good father to John despite many unfortunate
Freddie Lennon was born in Liverpool in 1912 and as a youngster was
placed in an orphanage after his father's death because his mother,
the former Mary Maguire, felt she would not be able to provide him
with any type of education due to her illiteracy. Alfred worked in
various positions on a cruise ship. He married Julia Stanley in 1938
and two years later their son John was born on October 9, 1940,
during one of the most destructive Nazi air raids on Liverpool.
Freddie was away at sea for long periods of time and his absences put
a definite strain on the marriage. When Julia informed him that he
wanted a divorce, Freddie went made many pleas to keep the marriage
together for the sake of John.
When Freddie returned home after a long period at sea, he was
dismayed to find that Julia had left John to be cared for by her
sister Mimi while Julia pursued her free lifestyle. At this time,
Freddie's brother Sydney and his wife loved John and efforts were
made for the childless couple to formally adopt John; when the plan
fell through, Sydney never spoke to Freddie again. Then, Freddie
retrieved the five year-old John from Mimi as he had made plans to
take John to New Zealand so the two of them to start a new life
together. Freddie took John for a long vacation of several weeks at
the seaside resort of Blackpool where father and son walked together
on the beach several times a day. However, on June 22, 1946, just as
plans for the move to New Zealand had been finalized, Julia appeared
at their door with her boyfriend Bobby Dykins and wanted to take back
John. Freddie made another plea that they try to patch up the
marriage for John's sake. Freddie was shocked that Julia did not
object to his plan to take John to New Zealand, saying that he must
love John if he was willing to start a new life with him. Julia asked
to see her son one more time and John was asked if he wanted to go
back with her or stay with his father. John emphatically said, "I'm
staying with Daddy." But as Julia left the house and began to walk
down the street, he ran after Julia and yelled, "Come on, Daddy!"
That same day Julia Lennon left her son John to be raised by her
sister Mimi, which meant that the five year-old John Lennon lost both
of his parents in the same day. Shortly after Julia re-entering
John's life on a more regular basis during his teenage years, she was
killed by a car crossing the street in downtown Liverpool when John was 15.
A couple of years later, Freddie contacted Mimi by mail in an effort
to get back into John's life, but Mimi threatened him by saying she
would tell John of his father's minor arrest and very short stint in
jail which occurred after a night of carousing with his friends. He
did not want John to be shameful that his father was a "jailbird."
The pain of losing his beloved son John lingered with Freddie for
years. In the summer of 1963, with the Beatles on top of the charts
in England with three consecutive number one hits, Freddie Lennon was
working as a kitchen porter near London, and would entertain his
co-workers by singing in the kitchen. One day, one of his colleagues
said to him that he sounded like the new group from Liverpool called
The Beatles and added, "Did you know that one of them Beatle boys is
named Lennon like yourself? Perhaps he's some relation of yours he
certainly looks the spitting image of you." The statement of his
co-worker had no effect on Freddie as he had never heard of The
Beatles, and made absolutely no connection with the name.
The winter of 1963 found Britain grasped by Beatlemania and the group
would soon cultivated the same hysteria in the U.S. prior to their
February 1964 visit. Freddie Lennon knew about John Lennon but could
not be totally certain he was his son on account of minimal
information about his family background. Freddie decided to meet with
his younger brother Charlie to discuss the matter. The very first
words out of Charlie's mouth were, "You know that John Lennon the
Beatle is your son, don't you? The papers are running stories that
you abandoned him as a baby. What the hell are you going to do about it?"
Freddie decided to take the initiative to try to meet his famous son
on his own terms before the press exposed him. A meeting was arranged
that lasted about ten minutes. The first thing John said was, "What
do you want, then?" Freddie told him he wanted nothing but to try to
set things straight. The ten minute meeting was neither a disaster
nor a success, and afterwards it was reported that John was telling
people how much he loved meeting his father and how he was in awe of
However, being told by his Aunt Mimi throughout his childhood that
his father had abandoned him, John did nothing to follow up with his
father. A short time later, Freddie was convinced by Tom Jones'
manager to record a record, which was a good idea to Freddie because
he could couple that with an interview with the press to put an end
to the lies they were printing about him. Freddie penned a song about
his tumultuous life on the sea entitled "That's My Life," which was
Freddie's way of saying he was thankful for his life despite his
lifelong economic and personal hardships. Receiving airplay and
predicted to top the British charts, Beatles manager Brian Epstein
used his newfound influence to have the song removed from the play
lists of all radio stations in the U.K. as well as preventing the
song from entering the United States. Ironically, "That's My Life"
lives on in the age of YouTube so many decades later.
Near Christmas of 1966, the 54-year-old Freddie began the courtship
of 18-year-old Pauline Jones
and soon proposed to her. Taking a job as a tutor in Paris, Pauline
went to pray at her favorite church, the Basilica of Sacre Coeur in
Montmarte, which she had visited many times in her life. It was there
after two hours of silent contemplation before the Cross that she
felt God's blessing in marrying Freddie.
In that time period, Freddie once was in John's neighborhood and rang
his doorbell only to have his estranged son slam the door in the
face. Upon hearing of John's action and long being horrified by the
vicious press attacks on Freddie, Freddie's loyal brother Charlie
wrote his nephew John a letter without Freddie's knowledge in which
he did not mince words. Charlie, who used to enjoy looking after John
on occasions when John was small, exonerated his brother on the false
charge of Freddie "abandoning" him as well as explaining the hard
facts of the break-up of his marriage to Julia. John had been totally
unaware of his mother's infidelities and his Aunt Mimi's campaign of
lies about his father. He wrote to John, "There are two sides to
every story, John, and I would suggest you forget everything your
aunts have told you about your parents." He suggested that the famous
Beatle invite his father into his home so he could talk to him and
make up his own mind about him.
A most surprised and enlightened John responded to the letter by
writing to Freddie and saying that he would love to meet him after
his return from a month's stay in India. True to his word, Freddie
was surprised by John's driver appearing at his residence and
demanding that he come to John's grandiose Kenwood estate. After a
half an hour of talking over tea, John shocked Freddie by demanding
that he go home and collect their things because he insisted that his
father come to live at the Kenwood compound in the guest quarters.
Freddie would live with John for awhile and then decided he would be
better off in a small flat nearby, while Pauline would work for John
as a nanny to his son Julian as well as answering some of his fan
mail. However, over time Freddie and John would become estranged
again as John would experience many changes in his life, such as the
break-up of his marriage to wife Cynthia and the entrance of Yoko Ono
into his life.
Freddie and Pauline, who married in 1968, would move into a house in
Brighton bought for them by John. In 1969 they would have a son,
David Henry Lennon, and in 1973 they would have another son, David
Henry Lennon. Their parents gave the boys these names specifically so
that if their surname became burdensome, they could simply drop
"Lennon" and go by "David Henry and Robin Francis."
On Oct. 9, 1970, Freddie and his family were summoned to John's house
on the day of his thirtieth birthday. Looking forward to the reunion
after two years of not seeing John, they brought him a modest
birthday gift of aftershave lotion. However, John had recently gone
through the Janov Institute for Primal Therapy, founded by
controversial psychologist Arthur Janov, the author of The Primal
Scream. The therapy included regressing into painful experiences of
the past and screaming to heal yourself. The first words out of
John's mouth to his father were "I'm cutting off the money and
kicking you out of the house. Get out of my life get off my back."
He then began screaming at Freddie at the top of his lungs, blaming
him for his all of his personal problems. Pauline pointed out that he
could not put all the blame on Freddie and that his mother was just
as much to blame for his problems.
The soon-to-be ex-Beatle screamed at his father, "Have you any idea
what I've been through because of you? Day after day in therapy,
screaming for my Daddy, sobbing for you to come home. What did you
care, away at sea all those years…. I'm bloody mad, insane. I'm due
for an early death like Hendrix or Joplin, and it's all your fault!"
Other parts of the maniacal tirade included swear words and off-color
references. Sadly, it would be the only time that John would meet his
Freddie and Pauline immediately left John's home that day and agreed
to put the ugly incident behind them. A couple of weeks later, John's
business manager sent them a letter saying that the house John had
given them was actually in John's name and they had to leave immediately.
Afterwards, Freddie and Pauline Lennon were intent on living in
obscurity and instructed their solicitor never to reveal their
whereabouts to John. Freddie mostly stayed at home with David, and
later Robin, while Pauline worked. It was foremost in Freddie's life
to be a better father to his two sons than he had been to John.
In 1975, after the birth of his son Sean with Yoko Ono, Lennon became
more interested in family history. He contacted Freddie and Pauline's
solicitor for their contact information, but was not given any.
Freddie and Pauline could not be sure if John's wish to contact them
would include more verbal abuse. However, tragedy would strike a few
months later when Freddie, who had never been sick a day in his life,
was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer. As his situation began to
deteriorate in the hospital, the couple made the decision that to
contact John as death was imminent. Upon calling an executive
assistant at Apple Records, Pauline was told that John had been
constantly bothering the Apple staff to track Freddie down. Within
hours of giving the assistant Freddie's number at the cancer ward at
Brighton General Hospital, John placed a transatlantic call.
At the time of the call, the famed celebrity was unaware that his
father's condition would soon dictate death. As a result, John talked
about plans of the two getting together once he was well, discussing
the past and putting it entirely behind them once and for all. John
had grandiose plans of them re-establishing their relationship and
starting anew. Freddie told John he read about his new son Sean and
congratulated him, while John was thrilled to know that he had a new
three year-old half-brother Robin. Not having seen John since 1970,
the elder Lennon gave belated congratulations to his son on his
worldwide smash hit "Imagine" in 1970. John gave Freddie his phone
number at the Dakota in Manhattan and urged him to call once he got
out of the hospital, mentioning he wanted to bring Freddie and his
family to New York for a visit.
After his highly positive conversation with his father which seemed
to put their differences in the past, John spoke with the attending
doctor and was told the truth. That a day a massive floral
arrangement arrived at the hospital, the biggest that hospital staff
had ever seen. The card read "To Dad Get well soon with much love
from John, Yoko and Sean." Freddie Lennon was thrilled to receive it,
and proud that the people in the hospital knew it was from his famous
son John Lennon.
Freddie Lennon died a short time later. While till the end his
painful relationship with his son was foremost in his mind, Freddie
Lennon was ecstatic that he was able to make a deathbed
reconciliation with his famous son and end his life on that positive
note. Freddie's will provided to give to John Freddie's unpublished
autobiography that he wrote specifically for John to know the total
truth about his life, marriage to Julia, and his many unsuccessful
attempts to be a good father to John. Fourteen years later, Pauline
would use Freddie's unpublished autobiography as the basis for her
book "Daddy, Come Home: The True Story of John Lennon and His Father."
About a year after his father's death, John Lennon was interviewed on
a New York FM rock station. In the interview, he made the astonishing
remark, "I once told my father to get the hell out of my life and it
was the biggest mistake I ever made because he died last year and
I'll never be able to tell him I love him again."
It is ironic that John Lennon had such Catholic ties in his life
despite never being Catholic. John Lennon's reconciliation with his
dying father is a strong testament of the need for people to mend
family issues before it is too late and look to Christ for guidance
in such family conflicts.