I’d previously had a similar request underway from a guy called Darren who was looking for his Dad, Dave.
Dave remains illusive, as I can only assume does the hope his son, Darren, has of my promised helpfulness. It’s breaking me not having found anything other than a few dud leads. The past few months have been littered with the lighthearted, but these requests are rife with emotions and life changing consequences. The difference of which I truly hope I knew from the start. I think I did.
Perhaps looking back, me wanting to help Darren came from a place inspired by the prospect of that best possible outcome, regardless of the odds, without proper consideration for the added pain he must feel from having expectations raised and then duly diminished.
This search has been the only project keeping me up at night. Having lost my own father to a daze of alcoholism for 15 years, physically not seeing him for 5 of them, he’s become a best friend of mine in the 2 years since his last drink. Whilst the plot of my own experiences differ from Darren’s, I know what being reunited with the man who’s 50% responsible for me being here feels like. I know what it did to my heart, head and happiness and god damn do I want Darren to experience the same.
So a few days after a I took part in a US radio interview, I received an email from Jill in California, explaining that her husband, Ian, had been unsuccessfully searching for his English father, Frank Morley Renton. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of my name (and location), she asked if I could help. Surprisingly though, given the nature of my experiences with Darren, I said I’d love to.
Confident with my new found (and as yet unproven) detective skills, GenesReunited subscription and desire to succeed where I’d previously failed, I set out to find what I could about Frank, in the meantime being careful not to promise Jill and Ian anything over and above what they already knew.
A google search found nothing. But only a few hours later, armed with a lead that offered a possible living location, as well as the name and year of birth I already had, I’d clicked my way through to something that pushed a smile from ear to ear. It was late past midnight and in contradiction to the dark outside, muggy London heat and snoring girlfriend, I felt an instant joy, alive with clarity, purpose and achievement. I’d done it! A son has his father. A father, his son. All I’d expected to feel was there inside me but with this added, unexpected and perhaps selfish sense of pride in being the person that had made it happen.
Maybe only a second or two past but one of the best moments of my life was quickly followed by one of the worst. I was looking at Frank’s Death Certificate.
The mind does funny things when blindly sprinting around emotions both good and bad, especially when tired and conscious of the decision to try and get some sleep. Eyes wide, I spent the next few hours staring at my bedroom ceiling in constant disagreement with myself.
“Perhaps some closure for Ian may be an adequate compromise?”
“Frank would have been 89 by now. Maybe he’d be expecting this news?”
And then, alongside a slow sinking feeling came one final knockout thought….
“Oh god, how on earth do I even begin to tell someone who I’ve never even met that their father is no longer alive?”
Eventually, with a slight respite in realising how utterly dreadful my attempt at a DIY paint job the previous week had been, I rolled over, ignored my ceiling and what I could of the challenge ahead, and fell asleep.
The following morning I pieced together an email to send to Jill. In a sheepish way, I felt fortunate to be able to explain my findings to Jill rather than directly to Ian himself. It can’t have been easy for her to relay the news, but in a funny kind of way, it was nice to imagine in the following few hours how the importance of having people you love around you makes the bad times better, as well as the better times brilliant.
Later that day, I received an email from each of them saying thank you. Jill pointed out that they were both adopted and that she’d been interested to now learn that both sets of birth and adopted fathers were born and passed away in almost exactly the same years. All living to their 70′s. I liked her for pointing this out although I’m not sure that I can explain why. The coincidence was indeed interesting, but her interest was comforting because it felt rational….. something I hadn’t felt but had been searching for since late the previous evening. I smiled.
I promised to send them over a copy of the death certificate and had found out the location of Frank’s resting place which they hope to visit should they head to the UK anytime soon. Sadly, having made a few phone calls, the few ‘Rentons’ that I’d found in the nearby area knew nothing of Frank and were probably left perplexed at the complete lack of eloquence with which I tried to explain the ins and out of who, why and how I had picked up the phone to them. At least I wasn’t selling them payment protection insurance.
It’s been a week now and I’m not sure how all this has made me feel. I feel helpful but only just. A bit like a food processor I guess. I’ve served a purpose but it’s been brutal, only to have had to clean up more than that was needed before. I had an emotional drive for this to come through, and have learnt that success achieving what you set out to do doesn’t always look the way you imagined and hoped it would.
Pragmatically thinking, perhaps my job here is one better than where I’m currently at with Darren’s search but I can’t claim to feel any better off. Where a question mark now sits with Darren and his needs, lies a sense of loss and finality in Ian’s. Which, thinking about it, makes complete sense actually. When is there ever cause for celebration and achievement from the knowledge that a heart that used to beat no longer does? Never. But as Jill and her endearing curiosity showed, even in the face of life’s worst bits there’s space somewhere there for progress. It comes in many forms but it’s a nice way to think that if you look hard enough it’ll be there.