My Real-Life Mystery

Someone on Goodreads recently asked me a question: What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book? My answer was that I never knew my father. My mother divorced him when I was 9 months old and refused to answer my questions. Here’s the full story.

As a little girl in Scotland, I lived with my mother and grandparents. When I started school, it dawned on me that everyone else had a daddy. Occasionally, I would try asking my mother about my father, but soon learned this wasn’t a wise move. She would get The Look, meaning her face crumpled, and her big, blue eyes filled with tears. Guilt is a wonderful deterrent.

I imagined my father was dead. Or worse. Certainly, nothing good. And I couldn’t shake the feeling of being incomplete.

As the years went by, my mother re-married, and we moved to Canada. I avoided pestering her about my biological father for fear of hurting my step-father’s feelings. And incurring The Look.

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 continued to be evasive, but finally revealed that he’d been a bad lot, she’d divorced him for unspecified but justifiable reasons, and good riddance. She also told me his name: Wilfred Hackworthy.

So he wasn’t dead. I started thinking of him as Wilf.

Through relatives, I learned Wilf had moved to Australia, but tracking down someone who lived halfway around the world before the internet existed wasn’t easy. Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted to find him. 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. One sunny day, 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, and I started at the other. To be fair, the number of phone books was surprisingly small. A thousand max. And how many Wilfred Hackworthys could there be in Australia?

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

When we got back to our 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.

Over tea, Belle filled us in on my father’s life: He’d mentioned a daughter, but nothing more on that subject (I figured it was a case of out of sight, out of mind). She and Wilf had no children, so no half brothers or sisters for me. No one knew why my parents had divorced, but it happened after a huge fight.

Turned out my grandfather (Harold) had severed all ties with his son. Wilf had re-married and pursued a career with the Merchant Marines, spending much of his life at sea and away from home. He’d died in a car crash only blocks from home while returning from a stint at sea. After the war, Wilf received the Order of the British Empire for his innovative work on submarines, employing the use of sonar to triangulate the presence of enemy subs. Belle gave me his medals and the OBE citation, signed by King George IV.

Now comes the best part of the story. Belle also told me I had an uncle (now deceased) and three cousins. Since then, these three phenomenal women have embraced me with open arms. Being with them is natural and unforced. We’re family. I see a small part of me in each of them. One is logical and organized, even worked for SAP (like me). One is involved with spirituality and mystical pursuits such as Reiki (like me). One is introverted, prefers small groups of people, takes her time getting to know you (like me).

Based on their recollections, my cousins also added a little more information about Wilf, none of it flattering. In short, he was a charming, brilliant, and selfish Bad Boy who liked his booze and women.

So although I never met my father—and, in retrospect, that may have been a blessing—I now have an extended family and  I no longer feel as though a piece of me is missing.

Thanks for stopping by. I would love it if you would leave a comment about a mystery in your life that would make a great plot for a book.

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