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"Mama Don't Go, Daddy Come Home"
 
By Danielle Flood

The distress John Lennon felt due to his father’s repeated absences, then his abandonment, was also part of his success as a musician and songwriter, for it permeated some of his work. A college friend said that it formed him, caused the leader of the Beatles to have “an aggression towards life.” He was known for his outspokenness and his anti-authoritarian attitude. The six-word refrain – “Mama Don’t Go, Daddy Come Home” – in one of his songs captures how he felt about the time each of his parents spent away from him. Lennon published that song in 1970, but it would some time before his father would admit he understood the pain his absence had caused his son.

 

The minor details of Lennon’s disordered childhood vary from author to author. John was born in Liverpool on October 9, 1940. It is agreed that his father, Alfred “Freddie” Lennon, was most often at sea working as a ship’s steward, as a head waiter or as a Merchant Seaman during the first five years of his son’s life. Though he said he loved his first wife and John’s mother, Julia, his second wife wrote: “…there was another side of him which was in desperate need of freedom, which needed to keep constantly on the move, and which caused him to feel immensely frustrated if he felt pinned down. As a typical Sagittarian, Freddie Lennon was a traveling man, like his father before him, and in order to settle down ashore it would have been necessary for him to sell his soul, something he was not prepared to do.” Support from Freddie was inconsistent or nonexistent, sometimes due to his sometime incarceration. He urged his first wife to go out and enjoy herself while he was away.

 

While her husband was at sea, John’s mother, Julia, became involved with at least two men who would father John’s three half-sisters, one of whom was put up for adoption during World War II. Julia then lived with a headwaiter named John Dykins. The Liverpool Social Services department found that John had no room or bed of his own in the Dykins’ flat and required that he live elsewhere. Thus John began living with his aunt, Mimi Smith, who was childless and fond of him. He would continue to do so for the rest of his youth.

 

His home life with his Aunt Mimi was interrupted at one point when he was five. His father had heard John was living with his aunt and invited him for a visit – two sources say it was for two weeks, one says two months --  to Blackpool. He had a plan to take his son with him to New Zealand. This was stopped when Julia found John and Freddie in Blackpool. In an unforgettable incident that would affect him for the rest of his life, John was asked to choose between his parents. His father says he chose his father. But, Freddie says, when his mother left the Blackpool flat, John, crying, went after his mother. (The accounts of this story in various books were published after John’s mother died in a car accident when John was 17, so they are his father’s word.) John’s mother returned her son to her sister’s home in Liverpool. She then had two children with John Dykins.

 

John did not see his father again for some 20 years, including the period during which he grieved for his mother. During part of these two decades, his father lived “on the road” doing odd jobs, having been turned away from the seaman’s union. He was working as a dishwasher in a hotel when he came back into his son’s life. Again the accounts of John and Freddie’s reunion differ.

 

In the 1988 memoir of John’s sister, Julia, John is quoted as saying: “I never saw him [Freddie] until I made a lot of money and he came back. I opened the paper and there he was, working in a small hotel very near where I was living in Weybridge. He had been writing to me for some time before that, trying to make contact. I didn’t want to see him though. I was too upset about what he had done to me and my mother, and the fact that he hadn’t bothered to turn up until I was rich and famous.”

 

In Roy Coleman’s 1984 biography, the first meeting between John and Freddie took place at John’s home in Weybridge in 1965, where he was living with his first wife, Cynthia. Coleman says it was a surprise visit and Freddie “had his foot in the hall before she [Cytnhia] could react.” Coleman quotes Cynthia as saying that John was “embarrassed” by his father’s unannounced arrival at his home and that Freddie’s “main object was to rip off some cash from John.”

 

In the 1990 memoir by Freddie’s second wife, Pauline, reporters for a newspaper, the Daily Sketch, arranged a visit between John and his father at the Scala Theatre in London. There had been press reports that Freddie was living in poverty as a dishwasher and Freddie ostensibly wanted to assure his son that “he hadn’t any intention of pestering him” or embarrassing him in the press and that he just wanted to say, “‘Good Luck, son,’ although he was also aware that even that intention would be misconstrued by some.”

 

Freddie did receive money from John, and John did invite Freddie to live in the attic of his large home at Weybridge and later when that didn’t work out, helped him get a flat to live in, and gave him an allowance. Then when Freddie fell in love with a college student, Pauline Jones, 35 years his junior, John and Cynthia hired Pauline to help with fan mail and care for their son, Julian, until it was decided that the situation wasn’t working out. John also helped his father and Pauline with a three-week trip to Scotland when they eloped. When John’s half-brother David Henry was born in l969, John bought the couple a small house in Brighton.

 

But questions festered between John and his father.

 

At one point Freddie’s brother wrote to John in an effort to balance what John had heard from his aunts as he grew up, Pauline Lennon reports. John reported about the letter to his father, “He [Uncle Charlie] mentioned that you weren’t to blame when you and Julia split up.” Freddie reportedly said: “It’s true that she left me for another man. But I suppose I must also have been to blame for driving her into his arms.”

 

John wanted to know why Freddie didn’t come to see him, nevertheless. Freddie said the reason was “pride and principle,” although this was not clarified.

 

Later, on John’s 30th birthday in l970 following his intense sessions with primal therapy, in which one relives childhood traumas, John invited Freddie, Pauline and his young half-brother to Tittenhurst Park, where he was living with Yoko Ono near Ascot. Pauline reports that John blew up and told Freddie he was severing his financial support and requiring that Freddie leave the house that John had bought for him in Brighton, unless he paid him rent for it. He also blamed him for the hell he had gone through in primal therapy and told him that he had treated him like “shit,” and that he had had “nothing” from his father all his life. Pauline claims that John also threatened to have his father murdered and his body dumped at sea if he ever published anything about him without his approval.

 

Five years later, Pauline writes, John asked to know his father’s whereabouts, though his father declined.

 

Pauline Lennon says that when his father was dying, she contacted John through Apple and that he sent his father a huge bouquet of flowers and spoke to him at length on the phone.

 

Three years later, John Lennon was murdered by Mark David Chapman, in front of his apartment building, The Dakota, in Manhattan.

 

“Some parents,” John told friends, “just can’t take the responsibility of kids. I realize that now. I would like to have had a better relationship with him [his father], but we didn’t and that was OK, too. It’s the way it was meant to be.”

 

SOURCES:

 

 

“A college friend said…”: this was Thelma Pickles, from Ray Coleman’s biography, “Lennon,” (McGraw-Hill, 1984)

 

“One of his songs…”: Lennon’s song, “Mother,” from his “Primal Scream” album.

 

“but it would be some time before his father…”: from Pauline Lennon’s memoir, “Daddy Come Home,”  (Angus & Robertson, London, 1990), much of which is based on Freddie Lennon’s unpublished autobiography.

 

“…there was another side of him…” from “Daddy Come Home.”

 

“Support from Freddie…while he was away.” From Daddy Come Home and “John Lennon, My Brother, A Firsthand Account of the Formative Years by his Sister, Julia Baird, with Geoffrey Giuliano, (Henry Holt and Company, 1988).

 

“and required that he live elsewhere…” from John’s sister’s memoir.

 

“having been turned away by the seaman’s union…” from John’s sister’s memoir.

 

“…Freddie’s brother wrote to John…”: from “Daddy Come Home.”

 

“Freddie said the reason was…”: from Ibid.

 

“Some parents just can’t take the responsibility…”: from Ray Coleman’s biography.


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John Lennon, 1964

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