Real Life

Are you my father?

Her mother’s bombshell has had sad repercussions for Michele Mackenzie.
Michele Mackenzie

Michele Mackenzie had always believed that while our lives may change, one thing always remains the same – where we come from. But eight years ago, the 56-year-old’s history was suddenly erased when she found out her “dad“ was not her biological father and that as a child, she had been hidden away from her real dad, a man named John Owen Williams.

“My whole world just came crashing down around me,” Michele begins. “Where you come from isn’t supposed to change, not when you’re nearly 50! It was like my whole life had been a lie and I suddenly had all these questions. Who’s my father? Where’s my father? And what happened?”

Sitting in her mother Marguerite’s Snells Beach home, north of Auckland, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she recalls the day the 92-year-old revealed the secret.

After suffering a stroke, her mother would suddenly become agitated, saying she needed to find documents. Michele put her mumblings down to her condition – and wasn’t prepared for what she was about to find out when the pair were out driving one day.

“Mum kept saying, ’I’ve done something terrible, the police are going to be involved, it’s going to be in all of the newpapers and you’re the one who’s going to be hurt,’” Michele recalls. “I don’t know what on earth made me say it, but I asked, ’Is Dad not my father?’ and she said, ’He loved you like his own from the first moment he saw you!’”

Michele says she almost drove off the road in shock. Following her confusion, she was filled with immense anger towards her mother and also her dad, Gordon Mackenzie – who had passed away from cancer 10 years earlier – for not making his wife tell her.

Michele with her brother Grant, who remembers John as a man who drove a black Citroën.

“What gave them the right not to tell me, and what were they hiding that they couldn’t tell me? I don’t think the answer’s going to be good, nor do I think what I’ll find is going to be good, but I need to know.”

It took Michele months before she could speak to her mother again. Marguerite was deeply upset too, and while she tried to answer her daughter’s questions about her father, she struggled to remember all the details. What she did say was that John was in Michele’s life when she was a little girl and that he adored her and she adored him.

Since her mother’s death four years ago, Michele has learned more. Marguerite and Gordon bought a house in Whenuapai, west of Auckland, when she was around four years old and they had an unlisted phone number. Michele now believes the house was bought to hide her away from her real father.

“I was taken from him. I feel lost and I won’t give up until I’ve found him,” Michele says through tears. “I’m hoping he’s still alive.”

Michele has been told only sketchy details – that John Williams suffered a breakdown, that he was not listed on her birth certificate because Marguerite was already married to Gordon when Michele was born, and she was separated from Gordon for at least two years to be with John before returning to him.

“It wasn’t a one-night stand – it was a love,” Michele insists of her mother’s relationship with John. “Mum and Dad didn’t get a divorce, so I went down as Gordon’s daughter on my birth certificate.”

Michele’s brother Grant, who is 11 years older than her, can remember John only as a man who drove a black Citroën and took him to the movies. The only living relative who can shed more light on the matter is an aunt, who’s refusing to divulge anything more.

Marguerite was 92 when she told Michele the name of her birth father.

While Michele’s had help from friends and a genealogist, with a name like John Williams, it has taken eight years just to find out her father’s birth date. Running out of hope, she sought help from TV3 show Missing Pieces three times and came close to being featured on it when she was contacted by them last year. She says she was told to get a valid passport and find a support person to take with her overseas if required, but the producers never contacted her again.

“You can’t help but get your hopes up,” she confides. “What makes me more emotional still is the thought that my father may be all alone in some rest home.”

Missing Pieces’ producer has since revealed that their research led them to a man they thought might be Michele’s father a year ago, but another person, who they won’t reveal, was refusing to co-operate and confirm the man’s identity. They won’t pass on that information because they may look into the case again.

John will be 88 years old now and with time of the essence, Michele is stepping up her search. Renowned private investigator Julia Hartley Moore has agreed to try and help her track John down, and Michele is appealing to Weekly readers to assist her too.

“I cannot, until the day I die, stop looking for him,” she tells.

Words by: Anastasia Hedge

Photography by: Caren Davis

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