Breaking the abandonment cycle – how Julian Lennon took a sad song and made it better
At the age of 59, Julian Lennon released his seventh album Jude, the title boldly referring to The Beatles’ iconic Hey Jude. Originally titled Hey Jules, the 1968 song was penned by Paul McCartney to console the sad and angry three year old Julian, who was just abandoned by his famous dad.
Hey Jude went on to become one of the most loved, most played tunes in music history but to Julian, it remains a bitter, inescapable reminder of painful times and the deep scars that took a lifetime to heal.
“Although it was a song of support and love” explained Julian, “it’s also a dark reminder of what happened at that time when dad walked out the door and just left mum and I.. the fact that I rarely saw my father again ever – a lot of people don’t quite get how intense, how emotional, and how personal that is.”
The three year old went on to have fits of anger, screaming and asking his mother where his dad was – “I grew up longing for more contact with my dad” he said years later, “but felt rejected and unimportant in his life.”
It took the battered Julian Lennon his entire life to find the strength to act upon Hey Jude’s advice to ‘take a sad song and make it better’ – naming the album Jude was part of this healing process. The photographer, philanthropist and musician has had a self imposed intervention where he looked in the mirror and asked honest questions about himself. “It was a time of reflection, coming of age” he explained recently, “taking ownership and finally coming to terms with who I really am, taking the reins.” At the end of the painful journey of discovery awaited personal freedom – “probably for the first time in my life I feel whole” said Julian, “I feel balanced, I feel hopeful, more at peace than I’ve ever done, its like a clean slate.”
Facing childhood demons
Unlike most people, Julian faced his childhood demons and freed himself from the abandonment-hurt cycle. “It is a painful awakening process that most people would rather avoid” said Refuge founder Erin Pizzey, who has dedicated her life to highlighting the devastating impact of generational abuse and trauma. “Most people would reject the idea of becoming aware because it’s too painful” she explained, “it’s a process full of awful tragedies and challenges that make you grow, but too many people refuse to accept those challenges so they never break the hurt cycle. Its a tragedy because you can’t live fully unless you’re willing to accept pain – you have to face your demons even if you think that they might devour you. Far too many of us, with waring parents, carry the invisible scars into our adult life, just like John Lennon did – John’s childhood scars are the very reason he was able to abandon Julian.”
But John did not abandon his second son Sean. In fact, the famous Beatle raised countless eyebrows when he decided to step out of the music business to raise his new son. The reason for that was John’s own awakening. In 1970 John Lennon underwent primal therapy with Arthur Janov, at his home and at the Primal Institute in California.
The intensive sessions gave birth to the autobiographical song Mother – a haunting revelation of the Beatle’s own childhood abandonment trauma.
‘Mother, you left me but I never left you’ sings the emotional John Lennon, ‘I needed you, you didn’t need me, so I gotta tell you, goodbye.’ In a second, equally chilling verse, Lennon accuses his dad of leaving him, singing ‘father, you left me but I never left you, I needed you, you didn’t need me, so I just gotta tell you goodbye.’
The childhood trauma song ends with John’s gut wrenching pleas, repeatedly screaming the words ‘mama don’t go, daddy come home’. John’s awakening journey continued with him attending one of Dr Warren Farrell’s 1970’s men’s groups, formed on behalf of the National Organisation of Women. This is where John Lennon reflected on his past and asked himself deep questions about his life. Here he decided to take ownership and correct the past mistake of abandoning Julian, by dedicating his life to raising Sean.
Years later Warren Farrell met John Lennon who spoke of raising Sean as being the best decision of his life. I asked Farrell about the chance encounter and the heartfelt, hour long conversation with the late Beatle. “He spoke of how he gave up his job to focus full-time on raising his son, because he had neglected a previous son that he had, how he felt that he made a mistake doing that” Farrell told me. “Lennon said how meaningful his life has become since he’s been raising his son describing it as the best decision of his life, he told me that his soul and heart opened up, and that he has discovered the true meaning of love.” Interestingly, Lennon also noted that the life long issues he has had with his own father, seemed to be healing too.
Breaking the abandonment cycle
“If you go back one, two, even three generations, you will see a pattern of abandonment” explained Pizzey, “you will see that John’s own father, Alfred Lennon had abandoned him and was absent when he was growing up.” Going back even further, I found that Alfred’s own dad has died when he was little, and that his struggling mother has placed him and his sister in an orphanage. But John’s early years were marred by more than just his father’s abandonment . His entire childhood was turbulent, marked by a series of traumas.
“His story is made worse by his mother abandoning him in a way” explained Pizzey, “she did visit him as much as she could, almost every day I think when he was with his Aunt Mimi, but it’s not the same thing, you’ve been given away, and so for him, it must be enormously painful – something that would stay with you for for life.”
His mother Julia, lived with, and had children with a man whilst still being married to John’s absent seaman-merchant dad. This ‘living in sin’ situation was frowned upon by society and Julia’s own dad, it led to a strained relationship which must have affected John. There was further turmoil for John when in an attempt to raise him, his mother has at least once taken John from Mimi’s house for a short period, but for various reasons ended up returning him to his aunt.
John’s seaman dad was overseas throughout his childhood, and drama surrounded the very few occasions where he did show up. When John was five years old his dad took him to Blackpool on holiday but fears soon grew that the boy was being kidnapped overseas. After a dramatic exchange on the Blackpool shore, John’s mother brought little John back home. When he was 14 John lost uncle George, the father figure in his life. At the age of 17 disaster struck again when his mother was killed in a car accident which traumatised John. For the next two years he drank heavily and frequently got into fights.
It could be said that John lost his mother twice – once as a child, and as a 17 year old teenager. Much like Julian who lost his father twice – once as a child, and once at the age of 17 when John was murdered.
The devastation caused by father absence
Julian rarely saw his father as a child – it was May Pang, John’s girlfriend during his separation from Yoko Ono, who encouraged him to see Julian, which led to several enjoyable father-son encounters. Pang’s striking photograph of 7 year old Julian is the cover of the Jude album, and the word Jude is Paul McCartney’s own handwriting.
At the age of 59 Julian stopped putting a brave face on what he has termed “a traumatic life” – no longer ‘the fool who plays it cool, making the world a little colder.’ Recognising the deeply seeded hurt caused by his father’s rejection, he acted on the advice to ‘take a sad song and make it better – with his album Jude he turned the page, forgave his dad and let go of life-long anger. His triumph is ignoring the lines ‘and anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain, don’t carry the world upon your shoulders’ – Julian accepted the pain, carried the heavy load upon his shoulder and gained freedom as a result.
It is remarkable to learn that 1960’s McCartney, while working on Hey Jude in the studio, was uncertain of the words ‘don’t carry the world upon your shoulders’, it was apparently John who wanted to keep this line – sending a fatherly, somewhat prophetic guiding-hand to future Julian.
The Lennons’ is a sad tale of generational abandonment. John was absent from Julian’s life, just as John’s father Alfred was missing from his. Alfred himself lost his dad at a young age and grew up in an orphanage. Abandonment is a trauma. It breeds deep anger, anxiety, depression and bitterness that unless acknowledged, last a lifetime. It can emotionally cripple the child, creating ever-present feelings of rejection, self doubt, depression and often, debilitating low self esteem.
Buried deep in the subconscious it impacts our actions for life. We need to preach forgiveness as a way to release suffering teens and adults from the shackles of the past. Perhaps most importantly, we should recognise the devastation caused by father absence brought about by parents’ separation. Abandonment is a trauma and in Mother, John Lennon wrote what many consider to be its anthem – the ultimate testimony to its life-long impact.