Thursday, April 10, 2008

MY FATHER, FORREST "SONNY" ROCKNEY


FORREST "SONNY" ROCKNEY

U. S. NAVY, WW II

**********

This is going to be such a difficult post to write. I can scarcely continue. One of the reasons I started my blog 15 months ago was to write this very post.

I grew up not knowing who my natural father was. I have written previously that my mother was a Florence Crittendon girl - a young pregnant woman who went away to have her baby at a home for unwed mothers.

Mom never shared my father's name with me, and never once said anything about him. Even my blabbermouth Aunt Mary never mentioned him.

I had given up ever knowing anything about my father's side of the family. But three years ago, I learned the truth. It was a lovely April evening, and Dan and I were watching the UND Sioux hockey team play in the national Frozen Four championship (as they will be tonight).

The phone rang and I answered it. A male voice on the other end said he was looking for relatives of Myrtle Munro of Crosby, ND. That was my mother, I said. Well then, he said, I'm Mark, your second cousin.

Mark, from Missouri, is the official genealogist of my father's family. He became the caretaker of a packet of letters and cards my father left behind after his death. Knowing my mother's maiden name and hometown, Mark tracked me down via the Internet after my Uncle Dave's obituary was published in the Divide County (ND) Journal.

We talked. Or rather, Mark talked. I cried. I cried a lot. I hung up dazed. After 55 years, I finally knew the truth.

Over the next few months, Mark called, sent me DVDs, and emailed me photos, a genealogy chart and family histories. I learned that I was 1/4 Irish, from my grandmother Hazel Johanna Cody.

One precious evening, Mark phoned to read me the entire series of letters and cards that my mom sent to Forrest. They started out on such a light note - all about their dates, and how much my mom enjoyed his trips to Crosby, where he worked in construction. Then came the letter that began something like, "You know how you mentioned that I was getting fat the last time you were here..."

Obviously, the news did not go over well. And who could blame him, I think in my more rational moments. To learn that he's going to be a father would be hard on any single young man (he was 24), especially back then. I could tell that my mom was in love with Sonny, but he was distancing himself more and more over time. One of her last letters before I was born says, "You promised to pay for half of my fee here, but you haven't sent it." So it had come down to mere money.

Mom sent Sonny news of my birth, about how difficult it was. But there was no offer of marriage, perhaps even no acknowledgement. If you're a regular reader, you know that my mom, bravely, did not give me up for adoption, but brought me home to live with her, my grandma and aunt and uncles. Surprisingly, mom wrote Forrest a couple of letters over the next two years, and included a picture of herself with "little Julie".

Forrest kept that picture and letters all his life. Does that mean he cared about mom and me? Did he follow my scholastic career, which was easy enough to do. Did he ever intend to track me down, or did he close that chapter on his wayward young life forever?

Forrest never married or had any other children. Mark told me he died in Denver, Colorado, in 1982, alone and probably "from the drink," as the Irish say.

I have written before what it felt like to be "a little bastard" in the 1950s. I have not written about the anger I felt that my real father never came to rescue me from my stepfather. Yes, that's how I pictured it - being rescued by a knight in shining armor whom I could call Daddy.

After I saw my grandmother's photos I was angry all over again - angry that I was denied knowing her too. Did she even know she had another granddaughter? Apparently Forrest - called "Uncle Sonny" by his nieces and nephews - was great with kids. Why couldn't he have been great with me?


FORREST AND HIS MOTHER, HAZEL, 1950s

**********

It would be terrific to end this post on a happier note, telling you that Mark and I are still in touch and that I am still learning a lot about my family. But that is not to be. I haven't heard from Mark since August 2005. He abruptly - childishly, I feel - cut off all contact after I declined to attend the Rockney family reunion. I could not afford to fly to Missouri, and I would not accept his offer to pay for the plane tickets. More to the point, I also felt that I didn't want to be thrust into the spotlight in the midst of a bunch of people who were still very much strangers to me.

I have come to accept the fact that Mark has dropped me as quickly as he found me. What I cannot accept, cannot tolerate, is the fact that Mark is still in possession of my mom's cards and letters - letters that Mark promised he would send me. I feel that these letters - sent by MY mother to MY father, belong to ME. I have emailed and written Mark; I have threatened him with legal action, to no avail.

Going back over Mark's emails today, I realize I learned quite a bit about my mom and dad's relationship. But really, I haven't learned much about Forrest's family. Yes, I can now say I'm 1/4 Irish, and I can add another 1/4 Norwegian from my Rockney grandfather, so I'm finally able to complete my genealogical "pie".
The Rockneys farmed near Jamestown, ND. My dad fought in the Pacific in WWI and my grandfather Clarence fought in France in WWI. I'm related to famous football coach Knute Rockne and may be related to Buffalo Bill Cody. Who knows, Mark might have made that connection by now. He might also have tracked the Codys all the way back to Ireland by now.
It suppose I'll have to be content with what I do know. Fortunately, I have quite a few pictures. It's more than some people have.

35 comments:

mermaid musings said...

First:
Huge HUGS !!!!
and more!
I can sense you!
please know it.
And I am hoping those letters come to you real soon and yes they belong to you!
And I think Mark cared about you in a strange way but he did, yes.
Love and light to you dear mermaid Celtic Julie ;-)
p.s. this was hard for you but healing

Bimbimbie said...

I'm letting out a heavy sigh! I was hoping you were going to say your Mum's letters had been given to you in the right spirit of things by Mark. The fact that your father kept them all these years has to be a positive thing for you. Perhaps it was pride on his part - he didn't want his mother to know that he had a child. And then as the years went by he beat himself up for letting your mum down, keeping them as a reminder of what might have been. If he hadn't kept them you would never have been given those extra pieces of the jigsaw you had been longing for ... perhaps view Mark as the mailman between your father and you after all the lost years. Rainbow Smiles to you dear Julie x *!*

Jocerane said...

Why would not you contact other people from your father's family? Some of them probably want to know you. And search on Internet : If they have genealogy meeting, they probably have a site and a family tree. It's great for you to finally know who you are! It's true most of the time, those stories remain secret!

AnnieElf said...

First i shake my head in wonder. Then, like mermaid, haul out the big hugs. But most of all, my thougths mirror JOCERANE. If you can, Julie, please try to contact someone else. It is unfortunate that Mark seems to have taken a wrong turn in how you could be more gently introduced to the family. It is expecting a lot to feel a person could walk into the midst of strangers. I'm sorry yet hopeful that there might be another path for you to pursue as well. Love, Annie

GreenishLady said...

I can imagine the heartache of all of that - during your childhood, and after you'd learnt what Mark did share with you. I find his attitude really strange. I'm sorry you had to go through all of that. It's given you some of the informatin you longed for, and left you with so many other questions. Dear Julie, my heart goes out to you tonight, and wishes only peaceful rest for your heart.

Charli and me said...

Life is very hard. I am so sorry. I also hope you get the letters as they belong to know one but you.

Diana said...

What a sad story Julie. I'm so sorry you had to grow just not knowing anything. At least you can stop wondering and rest knowing your mother was a wonderful, strong woman you can be proud of.
Yes, I've been stopping by your blog now and then checking up on you (quietly lurking mostly) :) Glad you found ME too!

kim said...

I think I said it before, that your mother was an amazing woman.

That being said, maybe that WAS why your father never married. Maybe he was too ashamed. Maybe he was afraid of rejection. Maybe he wanted too but something/someone was making decisions for him.

It is sad that there are so many unanswered questions.

I think this Mark is being selfish. He should give you those things. He should also provide you with a list of family members. There may be others who want to have a relationship. A genuine relationship.

But then again, has something happened to him that he cannot get into contact with you?

I am sending you a cyber hug!!!

Kelli said...

This is such a sad story, Julie and I'm sorry you have so many unanswered questions. I feel that those letters and photos belong to you, and I hope that you get them someday. Sending ((((Hugs))))
~Kelli

Autumn said...

Julie
I can't begin to understand how you must feel, but I suspect cheated is a good word. Not only were you cheated out of knowing your dad, now your cousin is keeping the letters from you. How unfair. I too think you should contact some of the other family members on that side. I am sure they are not all selfish like Mark. Prehaps one of them can get the letters from him. It is worth a try.

LW said...

I am truly sorry that you never were able to meet your biological father
and have so many unanswered questions.

I hope that Mark will choose to do the RIGHT THING and give you the letters, we can only hope.

Hugs,
Louise

smilnsigh said...

Interesting.

- "Sonny" dropped your mom, when the going got rough.

- Mark dropped you, when you wouldn't agree with his demand that you attend the family reunion.

Interesting family trait there, hu? -sigh-

I agree, you have a right to that which your mother sent to your father. But I also don't see you getting them. This family seems to make up its mind, and not change.

-sigh-

Mari-Nanci

smilnsigh said...

I'm also very sorry about the finances and house issue. Sorry, beyond measure. I so hope you find a job soon... and will be able to wipe this worry, away.

Mari-Nanci

Leanne said...

oh julie, i realised when i reached the end of your post that i was holding my breath. I was waiting for the happy ending too.

Dont give up. dont settle for part of your history. you'll never be content Julie. You are amzingly sttrong, and i am sure youi will find a way to obtain these rightfully yours letters etc. I am sending you such a hug Julie, i hope yuo can feel it

Leanne x

Joyce said...

Julie,
That was a wonderful photo of your Daddy. I'm glad you have it and also know the roots of your heritage. I think your Mother was a great person for giving you life and for loving you and taking care of you all those years. I know it must have been humilating to her to be unwed. I know MANY, stories like yours and it's part of who we are and we just press on ward.
There is some sort of rejection thing that wants to keep coming after you ...through your Daddy and through your cousin...and I say...don't let it get you!!
Your too nice of a person. You can find out more information through other ways too.
Mark may soften up as well. Maybe you could try writing him again?
Just some thoughts...
Hey, my Grandfather fought in WWII in the Pacific and is in Mo. as is most all of my family too.....hummmm. When I saw that photo....it so much reminded me of him. HA! Maybe they were friends....HA! Who knows...but we can find out some more I bet you!
I loved your story though. We all do wonder about things that "may have been" don't we??
I'll write you more later.
Joyce

lila said...

I can see that he is definitley your biological father. The photo is wonderful and there is a strong resemblace in the smile and the eyes!
I'm sorry that it has been hard to get close to him or any of his family. I think the advice others have given you is good! (I wouldn't want to meet a "new" family at a big reunion either!)
Sending lots of (((hugs)))!

Grace said...

I haven't visited here in some time, and the passion and pain and longing in this post is heartwrenchingly touching.

What a blessing that your 'wish' finally came true,,,, to finally know who your father was.

What a blessing to have so much information on him.

Since this is still an unfolding story ;-), I send you lots of healing thoughts of peace, acceptance and faith.

Gemma said...

I read this on the computer at school ....there are filters and I couldn't comment....making me so frustrated because my heart was so touched by this post. I'm home now and going to eMail you.
LOVE YOU!

Lady P said...

Geez, you want me to go kick his ass on your behalf? Then take those letters which rightfully belong to you? What a selfish, nasty man he is; he obviously had a hidden agenda.

As to your biological father...I'm sorry. How many men dropped the ball back then? How many women were left holding the bag? He did not even have the decency to send your mother money after he promised to help. If he did, indeed, die with the "drink" as put by that dear cousin of yours... your life may not have been decent if he'd been in it either.

Why not put an advertisement in the local paper where all these relatives live? A request for those letters and in a public manner so that other relatives might see it. Perhaps they are not aware he even has these letters? Contact a lawyer and ask for a quick consult; those initial talks are free and you could easily discover if there is a case against this fellow. It seems that as his biological daughter you stand to inherit what was his at the time of his death - those letters included. That nasty cousin. Ooooooo; all of us lurkers will go straighten him out for ya!!!

IsabellaCloset said...

Julie, The tears are streaming down my cheeks after reading your post. How my heart goes out to you.
I'm sorry Mark has not returned your Mothers letters or gotten back in touch with you. Shame on him for not doing so!
You are a great lady and I'm sad to see you so upset about all this.
Thanks for sharing the post with us even though it was so difficult for you.
I wish you a day filled with sunshine & smiles my sweet blogging friend :-}
Hugs {{{{Julie}}}} and much love ~Mary~

PEA said...

Good morning dear Julie,

After reading this post, I can understand why it would be so hard for you to write. Goodness, Julie, I can't even imagine all the feelings you've gone through with all of this. To finally learn who your father was must have been awesome but then wondering why he never came for you must be frustrating. I don't blame you at all for not wanting to go to that family reunion...you just weren't ready for that. It's a shame Mark has reacted by ceasing all contact with you...those letters definitely should be yours. My heart goes out to you...sending you big hugs. xoxo

Janet said...

Oh, Julie. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes after reading this. How sad for everyone involved but most especially for you. I hope you're able to get those letters someday because they really do belong to you, and I hope you get to meet others from your dad's family. They might shed more light on things. But overall I think you can be proud of your mom and how she was able to handle what must have been a difficult situation. I can see why she fell for your dad. He's very handsome....and I see a lot of him in you. The resemblance is strong.

((((Hugs))))

judie said...

Brave post, girl! Maybe you will get brave enough to find more of your family and perhaps someday Mark will understand your initial fear. Hugs to you!

Janice said...

Julie, What courage to pursue the part of your story that was hidden from you. And what courage for you to tell this remarkable story. I can only add what all the others have said, gentle healing light is sent your way.

You are so brave to write about such a painful part of your life, especially because the issue of your mother's letters remains unresolved.

I have a strong sense this issue isn't over. There are many options for you to pursue, as others here have suggested.

With all of this amazing concern and love flying across cyperspace something good is bound to be in store.

Hugs from Janice

Night Owl said...

{{{{{{{{{{hugs}}}}}}}}}}

Finding your family is such an emotional rollercoaster. I've had some ups and downs on mine with my mother, but nothing like your story. That must have been really hard to write.

Britt-Arnhild said...

And now you also have this blog entry.
How brave of you Julia to share this all with us.

Sheila said...

Julie, my Mom's early years were the same as yours, and she never really knew who her father was. It was something she thought about constantly, and wondered about.
I guess somethings are never meant to be known, or understood.
At least you are able to share it, and talk about it, even though it is difficult. My Mother told me, but not my younger sisters, and even her half brothers and sisters didn't know until after her Mother's passing.
hugs
xx

nonizamboni said...

Julie--my heart ached for you as I read this sad and wonderful post. Blood isn't always thicker than water I guess. You have a brave soul forged in the fire of loss and unfairness. I hope that this chapter will have an ending and a new beginning that will be satisfying and worthy of the wonderful person you are. Take heart and know I sent you hugs too!
Mary Ann

Lynda said...

I hope someday Mark will have the good sense to give those letters to you! I'm so sorry that you had to go through all of this, Julie!
xo,
Lynda

Lady Laurie said...

Dear Julie,
I am sorry you have been through so much. It would be nice for you to have the letters, maybe someday he will realize the letters should belong to you...
Sending you hugs.

barbara said...

Hi, Julie - what a heartfelt post. We've had a similar situation in our family with an absent father, other relatives wanting to be in contact ... it's just so complicated. I guess it's left me with the sense of being even more grateful for my husband and kids and the sense of family I hope we've created for them. I hope you can find peace. Sending wishes your way...Barbara

Val said...

I stand in awe of your bravery, and send you all good wishes for your continued journey of self discovery - outward and inward.

I too would want to hold those letters, those links with the past. But maybe its not to be, and you have to journey on with just the knowledge in your heart.

Best things to you.

Naturegirl said...

Yes dearest Julie you do have more than some..I have a similar story that haunts me from time to time.My mother did marry my father and after they imigrated to Canada he comitted suicide taking with him all the contacts of family we might have had. I wonder still to this day where my fathers family is..are they alive...the war was happening then so my mother has few memories..now she has dimentia ...I will travel to Belgium the place of my birth (this fall)but who knows if any relatives are there...yes my dear friend some of us don't have happy sugar coated childhoods as some people I've seen post.
Be thankful that you have bits to hold close to your heart...mine is a hole that will never be filled..more sadness to tell you but now's not the time.
A child who always wishes"if only he lived..my life would have different." tears now are filling my eyes. hugs soulsister aNNa xo

Mary said...

Julie, I returned to read this post several times and just couldn't comment because I was so sad. Everyone else seemed to say the things I was thinking - I was concerned you would get depressed - I pictured you crying as you read them.........I just didn't know what to say to make it better.

But you are a strong woman and have made a life for yourself despite family rejection by some. Your father was the loser!
With love - Mary.

KJ said...

Wow... This is chalk full of emotion and discovery and anguish. I am one to stare into old photos for quite awhile. I keep hoping that I'm going to see or learn something... Your father was definitely cute. I kept wondering about what influenced his decisions and why he never married.

I'm glad that you have this information and sad that Mark shut down the communication. He probably doesn't want to part with the letters because he considers them to be too valuable to his research. I feel your sadness, Julie, because those letters should be in your possession.

{{{{HUGS}}}

On another note, I enjoyed your writing exercise that explained your room and computer desk. Very sweet.