Skip to main content

John Lennon and his dad, Fred Lennon, had a fraught relationship for most of Lennon’s life. They went for years without speaking, and their first reunion after years apart was tense and uncomfortable. After a particularly bitter fight, Fred even believed Lennon was making plans to murder him. Despite this level of animosity, Lennon made amends with his father before his death. 

John Lennon and his dad reconciled in 1976

After reuniting in the mid-1960s, Lennon and Fred fell out of contact again in 1970. Lennon had recently undergone primal scream therapy. When Fred arrived at his party, Lennon confronted him about the issues that had come up during therapy, Fred’s abandonment chief among them.

“As his voice tailed off, his rage seemed to change to anguish and for one moment I thought he might even begin to cry,” Fred’s wife Pauline wrote, per the book Lennon: The Definitive Biography by Ray Coleman. “I felt genuine compassion for him and the trauma I knew he had suffered as a child, but this was quickly replaced by a sense of indignation at the apparent unfairness of the attack on his father.”

A black and white picture of John Lennon's dad, Alfred Lennon, washing dishes.
Alfred Lennon | J. R. Watkins/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Pauline claimed Lennon told Fred that if he told the press about his outburst, he’d have Fred killed and his body dumped at sea. Fred echoed the same story in a letter to his lawyer.

“There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind, that he meant every word he spoke, his countenance was frightful to behold, as he explained in detail, how I would be carried out to sea and dumped, ‘twenty — Fifty — or perhaps you would prefer a hundred fathoms deep,'” Fred wrote, per John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman. “The whole loathsome tirade was uttered with malignant glee, as though he were actually participating in the terrible deed.”

Six years later, Fred was on his deathbed, and his son reached out to make amends.

“I’m sorry to have treated you the way I did, Dad,” Lennon said over the phone, per Pauline’s book Daddy Come Home. “I should never have gone to the head shrink. It was a big mistake.”

“Forget it John,” Fred replied. “It’s just bloody marvellous to talk to you again.”

John Lennon and his dad had a complicated relationship for Lennon’s entire life

Given Lennon and Fred’s complicated relationship, it’s not exactly surprising that Lennon boiled over in this way. Fred was a merchant seaman and was often away during Lennon’s early years. He vanished entirely in 1943, with his wife Julia not hearing from him until 1945 when he returned to Liverpool.

Julia asked for a divorce, and Fred asked if he could take Lennon on vacation to get to know him. His true intention, though, was to take Lennon to live in New Zealand with him. Julia realized this and confronted Fred. According to some accounts, Julia and Fred asked Lennon to choose which parent he’d like to live with. However, other sources have countered this story, saying that Fred and Julia agreed Lennon should stay with his mother.

The Beatle had a similar relationship with his own son

Lennon lived with a deep well of hurt because of his relationship with his father. As an adult, he did the same to his son, Julian. 

Lennon divorced his first wife, Cynthia, after an affair with Yoko Ono. While he saw Julian sporadically after this, their relationship was not a close one.

A black and white picture of Julian and John Lennon sitting on a bed next to a large stuffed koala bear and a stuffed panda bear.
John and Julian Lennon | Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

John Lennon Shared His Memories of Writing Most of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ With Paul McCartney

“It was still very distant. I probably knew him as much as I know you,” he told a reporter for The Telegraph in 1998. “That’s about how warm it was. There were cuddles now and then but there was always an uneasy tension.”

While Julian eventually forgave his father, he believed he was a hypocrite. Lennon spoke publicly about the value of peace and love, but he couldn’t extend either to his family.

“I have to say that, from my point of view, I felt he was a hypocrite,” he said. “Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces – no communication, adultery, divorce? You can’t do it, not if you’re being true and honest with yourself.”