Call me crazy but I think my father has reincarnated as AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys.
My dad, Donald Alexander McLean, who died in Orlando, FL in 1974, now has tinted glasses, tattoos and a goatee, and goes by the name of "A.J." Not long ago, he finally got married at the relatively advanced age of 33. Marrying late is kind of a tradition in our family. And yes, his new bride looks an awful lot like my mother did in her 1944 wedding photo.
Apart from sharing the fairly uncommon name, "Alexander", A.J. McLean really LOOKS just like my dad, is the exact same height and colouring, has the same receding hairline, and shares all the same talents and interests. A.J. has also revealed one of my father's major traits: a tendency to depression, for which he received treatment in a rehabilitation facility in Florida. My father was also hospitalized for depression for a couple of weeks in the early 60's at the Allan Memorial Hospital where he came in contact with the staff of the late, notorious, CIA-funded Dr. Ewan Cameron, but I'll save that story for another time.
When I last saw my father in the fall of 1974 he was driving down to Florida with my mother to spend the winter. He was 72 years old, a retired music teacher and choir director, and he was starting to lose his hearing. Two weeks later he died of a sudden heart attack in a hospital near Orlando. Three years later, A.J. McLean was born -- in Orlando, Florida, and early in life showed signs of singing ability.
So far it doesn't look like much, but when you add up the coincidences, a picture begins to form.
"A.J. McLean" (short for Anne Julia) also happens to be my real name, under which I am listed in the Montreal phone book. Back in the winter of 1999-2000 I received two separate phone calls from Back Street Boys fans wanting to speak to AJ. I ignored the first one, but the second time it happened, I went to the Backstreet Boys website and sure enough, there was A.J. McLean, then 22.
The physical resemblance struck me right away. Comparing my father's life to A.J.'s, I could see that this young singer was fulfilling a dream my father died without being able to realize. There was another psychological likeness -- the fact that A.J. refers to himself as "very old fashioned." My dad (who also was known by his initials, "D.A.") was born in 1902, and while I was growing up I was always pointing out how old-fashioned he was.
He grew up in a sleepy village, the oldest boy in a large farming family of seven brothers and sisters. The McLeans were well-known in their community for their singing -- they would go to church and belt out hymns in five-part harmony.
My dad moved to Montreal during World War II where he met and married my mother. His dream had always been to be a professional musician but the war and -- later -- fatherhood got in the way. So instead of performing, he taught vocal music for 15 years in local high schools where he used to direct the choir and organize the annual music recital.
When I was growing up, my father hated rock and roll, especially Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones because, in his narrow view, they couldn't sing. Strangely, when I first saw the Backstreet Boys on MTV a few years ago, my immediate reaction was "Dad would have liked these kids! They sound just like a barbershop quartet."
Little did I know the one with the tattoos was actually my father, getting back at me.
When I found out A.J. McLean is also noted for his work in promoting music programs in high schools -- I thought it couldn't get any weirder. When the realization struck me that that my father and "AJ McLean" had just too much in common, I went for a walk to think things over. Crossing the park in front of my house, I posed the question to the universe: "Could it be? is it possible? A.J. -- are you my father?"
The answer came, a few seconds later, in the form of two young boys who were strolling toward me, swinging their arms and singing. As our paths crossed, they raised their arms in the air and suddenly sang out "Backstreet's Back, all right!" and continued on past, performing their own little medley of BSB hits.
Coincidence, you say? Or was the universe talking back?
Not long afterwards, I rented a Backstreet Boys video. Naturally, I couldn't take my eyes off A.J. -- he seemed so strangely familiar. Like my dad, he acted both angry and shy. Like my dad, his eyes kept sliding away from the camera.
What clinched it was an interview where he appeared wearing a Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater. Needless to say, les Canadiens were my father's favourite team back in the heyday of the Rocket.
Back in 1999, I found it peculiar having a father who is 22 years old, and already rich and famous. I thought of trying to write to him, the way long-lost children sometimes contact their birth parents, but what would I say? "Welcome back, Dad! It's me, your daughter, Ann!"
After all, I'm old enough to be his mother.
Back when I first blogged about this, someone must have tipped off a Toronto radio station, because they posted a link to my AJ webpage on their site. Suddenly I was inundated with e-mails from outraged Backstreet Boys fans who said I was insane to imagine A.J. is my father. A handful were encouraging, and suggested I try to get in touch with him. I am still hesitating. I wouldn't want to add to a celebrity's headaches.
Still, one of these days I might get the urge to reveal myself to A.J., if I can get backstage after a concert. Who knows? -- maybe I could talk him into giving me an allowance.