“My name is Tom and I might be your son”


A little over a month ago I got a letter from Traceline saying that they thought they’d found my father. At the time I was in San Francisco attending a one-day workshop presented by Cal about Flickr and running around like a mad thing between conferences, parties and lots of neat companies . I managed to bury the whole family drama in the back of my mind at the time. I had too much else to do.

Unfortunately, the pace hasn’t let up one bit since I got back to the UK. I’ve spent much of my time writing up my Supernova notes, working on strategic stuff at the BBC and launching the Listen Live widget. And around me the world has gone nuts – first London won the Olympic bid, then we all stood firm against terrorists, bore silent tribute to the victims of the first attacks and then – before the dust had cleared – found ourselves in the middle of another bout of terrorism. My brother came for the weekend, Open Tech happened all over the place, Matt Biddulph announced he was leaving the BBC and Odeo launched. And there was Live8, of course. And I turned 33

All in all, it’s been a bloody hard and tiring month, and the backlog of important things that I really want to do has got larger and larger. And at the top of that pile has been the most nerve-wracking project of all – finding my father – and the next step in that project: writing a letter to him to try and persuade him to re-establish contact after nearly thirty years.

Throughout the rest of this process with Traceline, I’ve been publishing regular updates to the web for everyone to read. By putting it all in public I’ve been able to keep some of the emotional aspects of the whole enterprise at arms length and to look at it slightly more dispassionately. It’s also somehow given me the nerve to continue – feeling that other people are somehow rooting for me and deriving value from this experience (one way or another) has been, I think, profoundly helpful.

But writing this letter has been harder than I expected. It’s taken me all morning, wrangling with words, trying to get something assembled that is open and honest without being too scary or intimidating. I’ve been trying to find the right set of words that suggests how easy the next stage should be, while recognising how profoundly impactful it might seem. I’ve tried to communicate how deeply I feel the need to keep going, to find my father, without making him feel that need directly as a burden.

It’s been a bloody hard few hours and the result is an unusually bald piece of writing for me. It’s not got much of my normal ornamental style, it’s almost completely lacking in curlicues. Too keep it real, I’ve had to strip all that stuff away, get rid of the posing and camoflage and just say what’s going on in my head. As a result, I think it would be too difficult for me to the letter out in public. So I’m not going to. I’ve reread it a number of times, I’ve sent it to some close friends for their comments and thoughts. And now I’m going to sit on it for a couple of days. If it still feels right on Monday morning, then it’s in the post. And then God only knows what happens next…