I Never Knew My Father (Reprise)

I published this blog post last year. In honor of Father’s Day, 2015, I’m re-publishing it, along with minor changes.

Meet Wilfred Hackworthy, my biological father, a man I never met (or at least don’t remember ever meeting).

Wilfred Hackworthy - 19380218_A

As a little girl, I lived in Scotland with my mother and my grandparents. When I started school, it dawned on me that everyone else had a daddy. I remember coming home and asking my grandfather if he would be my daddy. He replied he’d be whatever I wanted. Occasionally, I asked my mother about my father, but soon learned this was a bad move on my part. That was because she got The Look, meaning her face crumpled, and her big, blue eyes filled with tears. Guilt is a powerful deterrent.

I imagined my father must be dead. Or worse. Certainly, it was nothing good. And I never shook the feeling of being incomplete.

As the years went by, my mother re-married, and we moved to Canada. By then, her new marriage was heading downhill. I didn’t want to pester her about my biological father for fear of incurring The Look. And causing their divorce.

But on the birth of my first son, I cornered my mom and demanded a few answers. This time, when she threw me The Look, I stuck to my guns. She was evasive, but finally revealed that my father had been a bad lot, she had divorced him (for unspecified but justifiable reasons) when I was a baby, he’d moved to Australia, and good riddance. She also told me his name: Wilfred Hackworthy.

I started thinking of him as Wilf. No wonder I had abandonment issues and felt as though part of me was missing.

Back then, the Internet didn’t exist. Tracing someone who lived halfway around the world was almost impossible. Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted to find Wilf. Shoving the mystery of my father to the recesses of my mind, I got on with life.

Fast forward two decades, my second husband and I took an extended leave of absence from work to travel around the world. We ended up in Australia. While in Sydney, we walked past a building housing the national telephone company, home of every phone book in Australia. My husband dragged me inside.

He started at one end of the room, I at the other. The number of phone books for the entire continent was surprisingly small. A couple of hundred, maybe three, max. And how many Wilfred Hackworthys could there be in Australia?

Turned out there was only one, and he lived in Campbelltown, a suburb of Sydney. It had taken only an hour to find his name. I felt nauseous. This was, after all, the mystery man who had abandoned me so many years earlier, and never tried to make contact.

When we got back to the hotel, I was reluctant to phone the number we’d jotted down until my husband pointed out that I owed it to my sons.

The woman who answered the phone was Wilf’s second wife, Belle. She knew who I was immediately, and informed me that she’d been waiting for this call. Unfortunately, my father had died several years earlier, but would we come to tea the following afternoon?

When Belle answered the door, she simply stared at me for what seemed like an eternity, then threw her arms around me. Turns out my eyes and nose are exact replicas of Wilf’s. I also have the same dimple in my chin.

Wilfred Hackworthy - In Uniform-WW2_A Wilfred Hackworthy - In Uniform-1950s_A Wilfred Hackworthy - Painting Ship-WW2_A

Over tea, Belle filled us in on Wilf’s life. He’d admitted to her that he had a daughter, now in Canada, but nothing more on that subject (I assumed it was a case of out of sight, out of mind). She and Wilf had no children, so there were no half brothers or sisters for me. No one had a clue as to why my parents divorced, but there was a huge fight (later, I figured out it was probably over booze and/or another woman). Even my grandfather, Harold, severed all ties with his son due to many arguments over a dissolute lifestyle. After leaving the navy at the end of WW-2, Wilf pursued a career with the Merchant Marines, spending much of his life at sea and away from home. He died in a car crash only blocks from home while returning from a posting at sea (years later, I learned about his love of booze, and suspected he’d been drinking). After the war, Wilf received the Order of the British Empire for his innovative use of sonar to triangulate and thus detect the presence of enemy subs. Belle gave me his medals and the OBE citation, signed by King George IV.

Now comes the best part. Belle also told me I had an uncle (Wilf’s younger brother, Douglas), who had three daughters. Sadly, my uncle is now deceased, but these three phenomenal women have embraced me with open arms. We’re family, and it feels natural and unforced. I see a part of me in each of them. My eldest cousin is logical and organized, even worked for SAP (like I did). My middle cousin is involved with spirituality and mystical pursuits such as Reiki (like I am). The youngest of the three is introverted, prefers small groups of people, and takes her time getting to know you (also, a lot like me).

Based on their recollections, my cousins added more information about Wilf, mostly unflattering. In short, he was a good-looking, charming, brilliant, and excessively self-centered player who liked women and booze, not necessarily in that order.

So although I never knew my father—and, in retrospect, that’s probably a blessing—I now have an extended family to call my own. In fact, all three cousins plus husbands are coming to Ottawa this summer for a visit. And although those pesky abandonment issues still still jump up and bite me in the ass occasionally, I no longer feel as though a piece of me is missing.

Thanks for stopping by. In closing, I would love it if you would leave a comment about your father and his impact, positive or negative, on your life.

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6 Responses to I Never Knew My Father (Reprise)

  1. Carly Carson says:

    Hmmm well I don’t want to be smug but I have a wonderful father. The interesting thing is that he did not have a great father and decided he would be different from his dad, and he succeeded at that. Raised five children (with our mom) and we are all devoted to him to this day. There are plenty of great men out there. Maureen, I would put your husband in that category, for encouraging you to do what could be done to fill that hole caused by your father’s absence. Interesting essay.

    • Maureen Fisher says:

      I agree, Carly. There are many great men out there. And yes, I place my husband in that category even though his parents were about as far as nurturing as you could imagine. Thank you for your encouraging comments.

  2. Suzanne says:

    What a touching story. It brought tears to my eyes. As for my father, well, strict, unreachable, not much loved shown. I’ll leave it at that. 🙂

    • Maureen Fisher says:

      Thank you for your kind comment, Suzanne. I believe many men simply do not know how to demonstrate love. It was never demonstrated to them, and so the ability to show affection is propogated.

  3. Colleen Colpitts says:

    I wish I could dredge up something nice to day about my Father but that would be too much if a stretch. He was an alcoholic Irishman who charmed so many people. None of them lived with him. He was extremely disrespectful of my brilliant Mother. He whipped me with his belt buckle because I refused to drink my sour milk. He liked to cop a feel. Not a nice man. He died alone drunk in a hotel room in Winnipeg. He made me feel that all men were like him. I was so lucky to meet & marry Allen!!

    • Maureen Fisher says:

      Good grief, Colleen, I had no idea. How awful. The more I hear about people’s stories, the more I see how much alcoholism touches our lives.

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