Star's bid to help find father

THE Evening Star's unique finding friends website has helped to unite people from all corners of the globe. From school pals who have drifted apart, to long-lost relatives family members feared they would never see again.

THE Evening Star's unique finding friends website has helped to unite people from all corners of the globe. From school pals who have drifted apart, to long-lost relatives family members feared they would never see again.

Now we have been handed one of our greatest challenges to date. The story, which starts in Canada and could lead right to the heart of Suffolk, is one of the most moving tales you will ever hear and anyone could hold the key to unlocking its secret.

TINA HEATH reports.

On March 9 1974, in the maternity ward of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, two sisters made a secret pact that would change their lives forever.

Linda Rackham would adopt her sister's newborn baby and bring him up as her own, never telling him the truth about his birth.

For 16 years Sandra played out her role as doting aunt, never living very far away, she watched as her son Jonathan grew up by younger sister's side until, when he was 16-years-old a bitter family dispute exposed the incredible love triangle.

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Now happily married and living in Canada, Jonathan and his wife are expecting their first child and he feels ready to bring this story full circle - by searching out his natural father through The Evening Star's unique finding friends website.

When Jonathan is asked about family medical history he can only shrug his shoulders. With his first child due in just a few months, questions about the possibility of hereditary diseases are inevitable but he knows virtually nothing about his father's side of the family.

His mother, Sandra, never told anybody she was pregnant. "He was 6lbs 3ozs and she never had an antenatal class, never took a vitamin," says Linda, Jonathan's adopted mother and Sandra's sister.

"I got a call from my brother saying my sister had been rushed to hospital with an appendicitis. He said she was screaming in pain, I just got down there as fast as I could."

When staff directed her to the maternity unit she thought there must be some mistake, until she set eyes on the child, crying alone in his cot, and her sister exhausted and tearful, in complete denial. Jonathan was two-hours-old.

"When I saw him, even though he wasn't my child, he was my sister's child, my nephew, there was an instant bond, a love," says Linda.

"Then for somebody to tell you they don't want him. I just couldn't let him go. I couldn't imagine waking up every morning and wondering what had happened to him. It was like an instant thing, if she didn't want him, I'm going to take him. I decided in that instant."

Linda was just 20-years-old when she carried Jonathan home in arms. She recalls how the nurses had done "everything they could" to unite mother and child, feeding and bathing the tiny infant in front of Sandra but "all she did was put her head under the covers and not look at him".

Sandra agreed to give her unwanted child to her sister on the condition that she never tell him the truth about his birth. Her relationship with the father had ended when she was just a few months pregnant. He never knew she was expecting and the sisters vowed to keep their secret within the tight circle of closest family.

Linda went home to Rackham Road in Norwich, and the house she shared with her husband Robert.

Sandra (nee Cutting) resumed her life with her three-year-old daughter Sara in nearby Lakenham. Four years later Sandra moved to Canada to be near her parents who emigrated there in 1972 and a few years later, when Jonathan was six-years-old, Linda and her family followed, leaving the vast gulf of the Atlantic between them and the birthplace of their secret.

Jonathan Robert Michael Rackham chokes back tears as he describes what he would say to his father if only he could find him.

Now 27-years-old and with his first child due in April he wants to tell him: "Only that I was brought up okay. That if he isn't already, he is going to be a grandfather."

He wants to know where his blue eyes, tall stature and dimpled cheeks come from – not his mother's side, that's for sure. His love of the outdoors, fishing and swimming must come from someone.

"It's like a big puzzle and my father is a piece I need to find," he adds, any trace of a Norfolk burr transformed into a characteristic Canadian inflection, the pitch of his voice rising as he completes each phrase.

Jonathan, who now lives with his wife Racheal, 28, in Tillsonburg, south of Montreal only found out that aunt and mother had swapped places when he was 16-years-old during a bitter family dispute. His entire family pack had to be reshuffled. For a while he was left disorientated, shocked and hurt.

Now, although Sandra refuses to expand much on the subject, he feels he has come some way to understanding why his natural mother had to let him go.

"I haven't alienated her for not telling me. We are still basically friends. I understand the predicament she was in. I'm just glad I wasn't put up for adoption outside the family. That's why I feel so lucky, I'm still part of the family."

Surprising it is Linda - who went on to have two more children Daniel, 26, born in the year Jonathan was legally adopted and Laura, 19 - who speaks of a strongest sense of guilt, for not telling Jonathan the truth sooner and for keeping it from his real father.

"I've always had a – guilty makes it sound like I did something wrong," she stumbles, struggling to express complex emotions.

"I always felt I should have contacted him back then to let him know Jon was with me. Since Jon knew I have always known he wanted to find his real father and now he's having his own child I can see the longing in him. It's open and raw like a need deep within him and I have a need to help him make this story come a full circle."

Linda's marriage ended in divorce in 1983. She said: " John never had a good relationship with my ex husband and I always felt guilty for that. When I saw Jon in the hospital and made that decision I know it changed the course of my life

"If I had my time again I would have been open and honest and contacted this man, but when you make decisions you scratch by. Now Jon comes first."

The trouble is so little is known about Jonathan's natural father. His name was Robert Myhill and at the time of his brief relationship with Sandra he was living in the Lowestoft area, although the family believe he may have roots in Norfolk.

They think he was working on an oilrig, but again they can't be sure. (Linda only met him once and at the time had no real reason to take a keen interest in her sister's casual boyfriend).

He was more than 6ft tall and had a sturdy build. By now he would be between 45 and 55 years old.

Various attempts have been made to find him in the past. On one trip to England, Linda tried calling every Myhill in the phonebook and just before Christmas she wrote letters to every Myhill on the electoral role but has met with a disappointing response.

"We're not looking for anything from him. We don't need handouts or financial help or anything like that," insists Linda, 48, who lives in Sault Sainte Marie on Lake Superior, just across town from Sandra, 49.

"Robert has no reason to feel guilty or punish himself, he hasn't kept a secret. He has no problem to look back and say 'I should have done this, I should have done that'. I just feel it would be wrong not to tell him now."

N If you think you have any information which might help Jonathan in his search please contact the Evening Star

on 01473 282386 or