More than anyone else, this blog is for JP.
In August 2008 I had been living in Sydney for eighteen years when I received an anonymous short message through Facebook that opened “Hi i am interested in finding the sons of the late John Robert Lentell…”.
The message was from JP. I replied to confirm I was indeed the son of John Lentell, asking why he might be interested.
His reply reassured me he had ‘no hidden agenda or suspicious intentions’ and went on to to say:
“I have been curious for sometime now whether or not to get in touch with yourselves, I remember speaking with one of you over the phone when I was about ten years old, I saw photo’s and heard all about you, from your father of whom, according to himself and my mother, is my biological father too! Your father unfortunately passed away a year later when I was 11 and I never really got to know if any of you were aware of my existence or were willing to accept it either! It has been a long time and I have since relocated to South Africa due to the political situation in Zimbabwe, the only thing I have of “my father” is a photo and a ‘sentimental’ wine glass of his, I am not asking for anything except I would like to know the other side of my ‘family tree’ if I can put it that way, it is half of who I am, I do know a bit about where your father was born, where he grew up, the three of you, but that’s about it. I guess I want to know more and perhaps your acknowledgement of me would mean a lot too! Other then that I am not looking to ‘attach strings’ if you understand what I mean! I do hope to hear more from you, if not I can accept that too.”
Well, as John would have said, ‘how about that!’. I checked out JP’s photos on Facebook and sent him a few photos of John to add to those he would see on my Facebook profile.
Many years ago John had mentioned that he’d had a relationship with a young woman whom he was also helping / mentoring at the time, that she’d fallen pregnant, given birth to a son and that he might be the father. I was living overseas at the time and knew my father would have enjoyed the telling of the story even it were only a remote possibility, so best to wait for the reality to present itself. Besides I was young and making my way in the world and couldn’t really deal with it anyway.
So twenty five or so years later the reality presented itself through Facebook. My partner at the time took one look at JP’s photos and commented “of course he’s John’s son, look at his nose”. She was right.
I’d recently ruptured an Achilles tendon and as a single parent running a home with three kids, I was feeling under the gun and a little sorry for myself. I found it increasingly daunting and cathartic as I started to think about JP’s question asking me to tell him about his (our) father whom he’d never known. It’s one thing to describe briefly and selectively one’s father to unrelated people, but where on earth do you start, via email, to tell your newly discovered twenty six year old old half-brother about your father whom he’d barely known. And John was not an easy man to describe, nor was he unblemished.
I thought I’d wait for the right time and head space to attempt answering his question. But of course, more than year later, despite my best intentions and growing guilt, I still had not replied. The only consolation was that we were connected on Facebook so at least we could share some of our lives that way. I also realised it would be a lot easier if we could meet and start the conversation face to face.
As it happened, just over a year after JP first contacted me a friend and I spontaneously decided to travel to Namibia. The flights took us in and out through Jo’burg.
So I took the opportunity to meet JP for a few hours one Saturday morning. It was great.
I’d always imagined how difficult it must be for JP, never having known our father or his brothers, to face the reality of making contact. At least my brothers and I had definition to our youth and lives – we had each other and we had two parents whom we knew and had lived with – whereas half of JP’s heritage was effectively a blank sheet. Much easier and emotionally more secure for me meeting him for the first time than him meeting me. During our conversation JP commented his partner and fiancée had observed that she’d never seen him more nervous than during the few hours before he to come and meet me.
I asked JP about his two year old son and what his name was. He explained it was ‘Devonte’. He and his fiancée had been chosen it because they liked French names and had found it during an internet search. They liked the sound of the name as well as it’s uncomplicated, uncontroversial French meaning of ‘man of Devon”. I immediately asked JP if he knew that John was born in Devon, England. He was speechless for a moment as he’d always understood John was from Taunton, Somerset and had no idea that in fact he’d been born in Barnstaple, Devon.
That karmic moment swept away any doubt that JP was indeed the son of John.
Having carried John’s ‘pieces’ around for many years without knowing quite what I’d do with them, the reason I started this blog more than any other was to start answering JP’s question, “can you tell me more about my father… “.